Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Hastings Art School – looking back at 2023 and forward to 2024

Julia Kotziamani talks to Jude Montague about Hastings Art School, which set up last year as a low-cost and flexible alternative to traditional arts teaching and is looking forward to a “huge year” in 2024.

What is Hastings Art School? How long has it ‘been going on’?

Hastings Art School is an accessible alternative to higher-level arts education designed to meet the needs of the local community. We wanted to provide a really good alternative to what has become a rather institutionalised and pricey industry. We are unaccredited, nomadic, and artist-run, so fees are a fraction of the cost of similar programmes, whilst retaining all the best bits of a traditional art school. We run weekly seminars around themes designed to support your creative practice, critiques, tutorials and real-world opportunities to show and sell work, support the business-side of your career, build a network of relationships, and a 2000-book arts library.

We have been running since April 2023 and so far have welcomed more than 60 artists through our doors. The programme was developed to work around your life as an artist, so we have a flexible schedule including weekends and evenings, and we have just launched our first ever fully-digital cohort to support artists who can’t physically get to us. We don’t have any entry requirements and so have been able to invite artists with all kinds of experience and peer-to-peer learning is at the core of what we do. The timetable has options that fit around full-time work, the school-run and other care responsibilities, and we make sure we have lots of opportunities to show work in a wide range of exhibitions so that everyone, regardless of practice can have that experience. We also have lots of payment plan options, and have designed the year so you can drop out and pick it up again when it suits you.

Why did you decide to go ahead and do a Hastings Art School? What did you specifically want to encourage and offer?

I wanted to provide something that would make high-quality art development and community-level critical discourse doable for as many people as possible, so that’s where it started. I trained as a teacher alongside doing my own MFA at Goldsmiths as a completely broke, single mum of two, living in Hastings. I found it almost impossible to keep up with fees, travel costs, and had to forgo so many of the social and community elements of the course that really support your future career. I also struggled to find decent working conditions as a teacher and most jobs felt really exploitative, also I didn’t feel I was able to provide the kind of education I thought would be really helpful to artists. I think both of these experiences made me look for another way of doing things that would be tailored towards making connections and developing practice in a sustainable way. Our aim is really to make sure the programme is really supportive, challenging and applicable to artists at all stages of their careers, and that as many as possible can access it.

You have got some incredible partnerships going. I’m so impressed by the exhibitions that I’ve seen in Priory Meadow, bringing artists into the shopping centres. Tell me about about how that works and what you feel is happening here for the artists and for the visitors. I love it when worlds collide.

Me too! The whole ethos of the school is very much collaboration over competition and it’s meant we have had some incredible opportunities. Our space in Priory Meadow is provided by an organisation called Hypha Studios who connect artists with under-used commercial space. It’s been really amazing to have that space to run practical workshops, events and exhibitions as well as allowing us to be much more public facing.

All our Term 2 artists get the use of the whole space for a show, or workshop/event/performance, and it’s something that has had a great impact on their practice and on the local shopping community. Having the space has meant we have been able to properly support and pay local artists who run workshops, provide practical experience to our programme artists, and to connect with a group of local people who haven’t really been interested in art before. I honestly can’t thank Hypha enough for their support.

We have also just taken on a new studio in the Old Town where we will run our evening sessions, and some things which wouldn’t be appropriate for the shopping centre space. We have hosted a number of shows and events in other fantastic spaces around the town and are looking to develop more collaborative projects in 2024. Our structure means that we have lots of flexibility on how we do things like this. I am hoping to connect with more local creative groups and organisations and really make the most of the incredible creativity in the town.

Please share a couple of highlights from 2023 – of course it’s impossible to credit all the deserving artists and their shows here – but could you pick a couple of things of note from the past year?

Ooof, yes it is so hard to choose just a few. We have hosted more than 20 shows, events and workshops. For me some highlights include our recent show and talk event at Electro Studios ‘The Old is Dying’. We hosted a group of speakers from all kinds of wonderful organisations (including local groups like The Hastings Writer’s Workshop), and alternative education programmes, and speculated in a really positive way about what the future of creative education might look like. It also offered us a brilliant chance to really show off some of the larger and more ambitious work of our programme artists; it was a thoroughly brilliant weekend. We are looking forward to hosting our Summer Show there later in the year and to make this kind of event a more regular feature. On a personal note, I have also been able to give up my other work and focus on HAS full-time this year which is honestly a dream come true.

What have you planned for 2024? Any more exciting collaborations or consolidation and breathing space?

The pace is picking up this end, and 2024 is set to be a huge year for us. We have hit the ground running with our new Old Town space, and can’t wait to see how that unfolds. We have so many exciting things in the works including opening our library for public access so it can be used by the local community, providing accessible studio space for our artists, hosting a digital version of the programme, and bringing our programme to a totally new area to be facilitated by artists there. We also have a brand new mentor scheme, a lecture series which is shaping up to be hugely exciting, and a podcast in the works, so I don’t think it’s going to slow down much! We also have more than 45 artists currently enrolled and all of them will be showing work and/or running workshops/talks/events so it’s a very exciting time.

What would you say to anyone who was interested in joining Hastings Art School. And how could they apply?

I think the very best way to find out more about us is to come along to an event and chat to some of our current programme artists. They are really the heart of what we do, and are really brilliant at supporting each other and helping each other out. We also host fairly regular digital open evenings, and are always available to have a casual chat and answer questions. You can slide into our DMs whenever you like.

I think it’s really important to remember that we don’t have an application process as we are totally non-selective and have artists at all stages of their career. Some come to us having worked and taught as professional artists for decades, others with a good idea and a passion to get making, lots after a period of stagnation looking to reignite their creative urge, some at the very start of their artistic journeys, and all working in very different mediums and styles. It’s really all about jumping in and seeing what comes up for you individually and as a member of a wonderful network of other local artists. You can book via our website at any of the three intake times (Autumn, Winter and Spring).

What would you say in encouragement to adult artists who might be struggling with meaning and expression in their own work? Do you have any general philosophy that you’d like to offer?

I don’t think there is a creative soul alive who hasn’t felt a bit stuck or uninspired at times. My overall philosophy is definitely one of acceptance and immersion: accepting that as an artist everything we do can inspire and spur our work; the way we dress, cook, live our lives as well as the art we may or may not make. However, what will inspire us is a very slippery and unpredictable beast. Allowing your life to unfold and making the work from where you are, is much easier than trying to force a very specific type of work to happen when the conditions are misaligned.

Sometimes we have to accept that the work we thought we would make isn’t actually our practice after all, or that now is not the right time for it. And that’s ok. Acceptance of all the mistakes, and all the misadventures. Accepting ourselves for who we are and trusting we have something valuable to contribute.

Immersion is all about jumping in the deep end and surrounding yourself in every way you can with art, artists, life and inspiration. This can be signing up to a course like this, but also so many other things: looking at art; talking about interesting ideas; reading about everything; hanging out with wonderful people; consulting the sea; watching all the high and low brow culture you can; having your heart brutally broken…It’s best to become incredibly greedy and consume as much of life as you can until the urge to produce wakes you up in the night. It will. It always does in its own time.

Finally, do tell me a little about your own work – it must be hard to find time to do your own practice with so much going on.

My own practice has taken a bit of a hit over the last few years with the art school, but also with a new baby. I used to make a lot of installations, and very time consuming papercut work, but being a mum-of-three now and with the business, it’s not practical. For now, it has been more film and text-based. I took up writing as a creative outlet when my youngest (almost two) was born. I spent that first year in the newborn haze just reading ferociously and started to write short stories and some creative nonfiction to excavate things which had taken a long time to understand. I have started to incorporate this writing into films largely based around memes, short form content, and digital ephemera I find on social media. I am trying to embrace a much less hands-on process, but it’s still not quite refined. My work always seems to circle around themes of our relationship with institutions, the persona of the digital self, what it is to be a modern citizen, and the absurdity of all of our personal stories. I think I will do a show this year, but maybe not until the Spring, we shall have to see!

Hastings Art School operates from two venues:
Studio2Sixty8 in the Old Town & Hastings Art School x Hypha Studios in Priory Meadow

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Posted 16:43 Monday, Jan 22, 2024 In: Visual Arts

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