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Essay 7: A co-operative art school is pie in the sky

Sophia Kosmaoglou

… teaching strategies for creative subjects have an immediate fit with the principles of co-production and cooperation. The way we work is very student focussed with a co-production approach to learning and teaching. So it’s probably seen in the wider context of higher education as fairly alternative, but from our point of view, it’s fairly similar to the way that we’ve always operated as art tutors — Jackie Goodman, Feral Art School[1]

Art schools are widely posited as generators of individual achievement, but they are actually uniquely co-operative spaces. Consider the collectivity of the crit: when an artist presents their work for peer review, the work is developed through feedback in a dialogic process. A process that continues in shared studios and with guest artists, lecturers, and tutors on a daily basis. This ongoing discourse creates a common language, where meaning is collectively generated. It is through these collaborative exchanges and discussions that the work of art emerges. The influence that art students have on each other is often understated – especially by students themselves – because the art world is seduced by the cult of individualism. This might go a long way to explain the extraordinary fact that Feral Art School[2] is the only co-operative art school in the world.

There are myriad co-operative art schools just waiting to be invented: consumer co-ops controlled by students, workers' co-ops owned by teachers, and multi-stakeholder co-ops accountable to students, teachers, organisations and entire communities. Most co-ops are built from scratch, but existing organisations can be converted into co-ops too.

To start a co-op, you need a group of people with a common vision and commitment, and space and time to carry out research and planning: What is the purpose of the co-op? What are the membership benefits and responsibilities? How will the co-op be structured and funded? Next, your group needs to find a co-operative support organisation to help with the paperwork, enshrine your vision and values in your memorandum of association, and register your co-op. Then voila! The real work starts.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves dear reader, let's start at the beginning.

Art schools

Art schools are amazing, magical places. They are organic spaces, full of possibility, freedom, discovery, becoming. They nurture invention, challenge, experimentation, surprise, learning; they’re spaces for growing, creating, debating, struggling – in short, they are crucial places. But just as studio space in art schools has shrunk to little more than desk space, art schools themselves are also undergoing contraction and decline, threatened by the crushing forces of academisation, neoliberal management, and the commodification of knowledge.[3] The mechanics of consumer-driven education cannot address the long-standing problems rife in the field, from rising fees and living costs to shrinking contact hours and training; from nepotism and discrimination to financialisation and commodification; from flawed course rankings and league tables to top-down decision-making by management who have no understanding of what art education involves, but who justify their ruinous decisions with incomprehensible management-speak. The increased autonomy of senior managers equates to loss of independence for everyone else.[4]

This state of affairs disenfranchises learners and teachers, silences their voices, and denies them agency and self-determination in the learning process. Stefano Harney and Fred Moten suggest that the disavowal of ‘students as co-workers’ occurs because universities cannot afford to ‘acknowledge [the] co-laboring process.’ Students represent the condition of immaturity, the condition of ‘not-being-ready, [which] is also kind of an openness to being affected by others, dispossessed and possessed by others.’[5] This is what Jacques Rancière calls ‘incapacity’ in the ‘allegory of inequality.’ Inequality is reproduced through assigned roles in the hierarchy of the education system; only the designated authorities are allowed to impart knowledge, while others are expected to passively receive it. This is how conventional educational systems (and other disciplinary institutions), perpetuate and reinforce social hierarchies and inequalities.[6]

And after all this, what do art students have to look forward to when they graduate? Does art school equip students for the conditions they will encounter? Can conventional education adequately prepare students for the complex, global challenges we face? Or does it entrench power imbalances and failed structures? How can art education respond to the contradiction between traditional values of critical resistance and aesthetic transcendence on one hand, and the commercial demands of the culture industry on the other? How can art education square the model of the artist as social irritant with the rise of the entrepreneurial content provider?

Higher education needs a radical rethink

Education is inextricably linked to the formation of social and cultural values, material practices, and state policies. Addressing climate change, coloniality, conflict, epidemics, and financial insecurity requires radical change, vision, and participation. But universities are entrenched in the extractive principles of capitalism. They struggle to stay afloat and compete in a global economy, while dealing with opposition from students who aren't getting what they pay for, and internal conflict from staff who are forced to accept insecure contracts, increased workloads, and decreasing pay. It is clear that higher education needs a radical rethink. Art education is an ideal field in which to test alternative structures and pedagogical frameworks, because artists, unlike nurses or engineers, do not need a degree to practise their profession. As hotbeds of critical thought and worldbuilding potential, art schools could very well lead the move towards new models for education, but are so far actively resisting change because they are captured by the managerial culture of neoliberalism.

Replacing today's centralised, hierarchical management and debt-financed expansion, we need a multitude of small, autonomous, local and regional networked institutions, each experimenting with and developing new pedagogical models, alternative economies, and forms of production and exhibition. These must be flexible and responsive to change and to their stakeholders' needs, resulting in subtle but significant shifts in art and education, and their potential for social change. Unlike universities, which create homogeneous cultures that dominate their surroundings, small autonomous organisations would be embedded within their locality. They would be both dependent on and largely composed of people from their communities, with whom they’d share bonds of solidarity and responsibility. These organisations would be owned and controlled by their members, so instead of producing profits for shareholders, agencies, and other mediators, they would circulate wealth among their members and local communities. Instead of being obliged to fulfil state policy objectives, they would incentivise behaviours that reflect their own values and priorities

Alternative art schools

This multitude of organisations already exists. A diverse landscape of alternative art schools[7] has emerged and burgeoned into a movement across the world since 2010. Peer-led, self-organised, independent, and experimental organisations are exploring and developing free or affordable alternatives to traditional models of art education. Unfettered by public funding policies, regulatory bodies, and the demands of industry, these schools develop new and unique models of pedagogy and organisation. They are founded by groups with particular experiences, desires, and agendas and emerge organically from their specific contexts. These schools also challenge the established institutional models with respect to exhibition, distribution, organisation, and labour relations in the art economy more broadly.

The democratic process is an indispensable aspect of alternative art education. This requires inclusive, equitable, horizontal practices: co-operation, mutual aid, and collective decision-making, which reinforce community, effective communication, trust, solidarity, and commitment. The ideology of alternative art education is radically different from the consumer-driven, market-oriented, hierarchical, individualist, atomising, competitive, short-termist art world and the mainstream education that feeds it.

Being small-scale, alternative art schools are flexible and quick to change and respond; in small organisations, it's not so easy for people to fall through the cracks. Graduates of alternative or co-operative art education tend to get more out of their studies because they assume an active role and have more consequential relationships with their peers. Co-operation and collectivity encourage a tight-knit, meaningfully connected community, which often continues beyond graduation.[8] Empowered through this process, students become more self-reliant, they seek collaboration and mutual support, and create their own opportunities, initiatives, and institutions, instead of seeking validation and waiting for recognition.

Many alternative art schools have a formal constitution and the means to sustain themselves financially, either through affordable fees or public funding. These include Feral Art School, Open School East[9], The Other MA[10], and the New School of the Anthropocene (NSOTA).[11] Others are unsustainable in practice because they rely on volunteer labour, these include School of the Damned (SOTD),[12] AltMFA[13], Evening Class[14], and DIY Art School[15]. Volunteer-led organisations often enjoy an initial rush of momentum before work and family commitments, lack of resources, and burnout lead to dwindling participation, continuity, and care.

Despite their close ties to local communities and networks, alternative art schools are often isolated enclaves in the capitalist economy. They struggle to achieve visibility beyond their immediate communities and the artists who sustain them, which deems them ‘exclusive’ despite their intentions. Typically, it is until a student enrols in a conventional art school that they get to find out about alternative art education at all.

Despite the necessary work that they do, and models of collectivity that they promote, volunteer collectives can be exclusive and unequal. This is because they rely on unpaid labour, which few of us can spare. In turn, the volunteers who do much of the work that sustains these collectives get burnt out, while those who contribute little or nothing reap the benefits and raise their competitive edge. The mainstream plucks these artists from the contexts that nurtured them, impoverishing these communities as a result. The alternative landscape can be abused as a means, not an end, and in this way collectives inadvertently aid and abet competition in the art world.

Alternative art education has the potential to establish viable and sustainable alternative economies, making resources available by circulating and distributing them equitably. But alternative art schools must take into account the economic circumstances of their members and stakeholders, and consider how their informal organisation can be subverted.

Co-operative art education is a sustainable alternative

There is an alternative — Mike Neary and Joss Winn[16]

A co-operative art school[17] – an independent and democratic model of higher education that is subject to the collective decision-making of learners and teachers – can provide a self-organised but sustainable, local, and consensual alternative. This co-op will be built and run by its users, not managed from the top down. Co-operative art education has the potential to transform our understanding of education as a public good not through redistribution, but through common ownership, and our understanding of knowledge as a social process rather than a commodity. Bypassing both the profit-driven private sector and the policy-driven public sector, co-operative art schools can provide all the benefits of access to common resources and expertise, increased opportunities for collaboration, enhanced reputation and visibility, and equitable working conditions.

Co-operative art education can liberate artists by placing the means of production at their disposal. Students and teachers would have freedom to create, collaborate, experiment, play, and build, rather than being forced into perpetual precarity or bullshit jobs,[18] which disempower and divest us.

What is a co-operative?

… when people talk about co-operatives, most of the time they’re talking about a business. For us, it is broader than just business... This is about changing the culture. This is about having equality and equity in our neighbourhood... cooperativism is really an alternative for working class people, for poor people, or people who really want to do something and they don’t find a way in the capitalist system — Luz Zambrano[19]

A co-operative is an ‘autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.’ Co-ops are not just commercial enterprises,[20] they are constituted on the values of autonomy, democracy, equality, equity, self-help, and solidarity, and they put these values into practice following a set of seven principles:

  • voluntary and open membership
  • democratic member control
  • member economic participation
  • autonomy and independence
  • education, training, and information
  • cooperation among co-operatives
  • concern for community[21]

Co-operative legislation is complex because it combines legal constitution (a co-op can be either a charity, a limited company, or a social enterprise), and governance. Every co-op is unique, its constitution and governance is determined by the stakeholders that it serves. On top of these formats, art schools may also have an additional legislative level, namely accreditation and its corollary: assessment.

Among several higher education co-operatives around the world, Mondragon University (1997),[22] in the Basque Country of Spain, is perhaps the best known. The university is an association of four faculties, each with an independent co-operative structure with its own elected decision-making bodies. This promotes democracy and creates a sense of shared responsibility. The students participate in decision-making and have a say in how the university operates. Ownership of the co-op extends beyond the students to all stakeholders, including teachers, administrative staff, partner organisations, and consumers. The diverse membership of this multi-stakeholder organisation must be accountable to multiple and likely diverging interests. This promotes social responsibility, because the co-op must be inclusive and effective at addressing the needs of all of its members and local communities, rather than prioritising external investors or shareholders. This framework fosters a sense of community and belonging, which can be lacking in conventional universities. This co-operative university is decentralised, self-governed, non-profit, and sustainable; surplus income is reinvested in the co-op, and losses are set against the ownership stake of the worker partners.

In the UK, co-operative higher education was pioneered by the Social Science Centre (SSC),[23] which was active from 2011–2019. The SSC was democratically member-run and owned, and made no formal distinction between teachers and students; all members of the co-op were called 'scholars.' The curriculum was determined collectively, and teaching duties were shared by all members in the recognition that they all had much to learn from each other. The SSC offered courses in the social sciences, the history and practice of the co-operative movement, and ‘do-it-ourselves’ higher education. Without external accreditation, the SSC awarded university-equivalent degrees, based on peer assessment.

Mike Neary, Joss Winn, Dan Cook, and other members and associates of the SSC dedicated more than a decade to the development of co-operative frameworks and pedagogies for higher education. This work did not stop at their prodigious theoretical research, which addressed every aspect of what a viable model for co-operative higher education might involve. They also founded the SSC to trial their research and apply their constitutional principles and pedagogic theories in practice. Their work is widely available, providing both the inspiration and groundwork for those who wish to take it forward.[24]

What are the benefits of co-operative art education?

The single greatest benefit of co-operative education is the creation of horizontal spaces of mutual learning, followed closely by democratic control and affordability within a solidarity economy. The economy of a co-operative art school would eliminate capitalist imperatives from its constitution, with the aims of:

  • making affordable art education accessible to more people in a community environment
  • offering equitable, non-extractive working conditions and paying workers a decent wage
  • working with other co-operatives, thus
  • circulating the wealth within the community, and
  • sustainably growing the economy of the co-operative without extracting profit.

A co-operative art school could invest surplus in infrastructure to improve and expand the co-operative ecosystem with studios, workshops, exhibition spaces, libraries, co-operative housing, childcare – the potential is unlimited.

A co-operative art school would be a true commons; a way of pooling resources and taking control of the means of production to establish an alternative economy that sustains those who contribute and participate. It would circulate wealth within the community by excluding mediators and corporate profit. Co-operation involves shared ownership of and responsibility for a common resource that can eliminate the alienation of increasingly managed roles and lead to independence and self-determination in sustainable and equitable working and living conditions; address pressing financial insecurity; alleviate stress, anxiety and fear; and provide staff training and other common resources.

By welcoming people of all backgrounds and levels of experience, co-operative art education would remove the barriers that are often associated with art education. The emphasis on collaboration over competition could help reduce anxiety and stress, creating a more supportive and encouraging environment for learning. Without the disciplinary constraints of universities, co-operative art schools could be genuinely transdisciplinary. By offering subjects that are excluded from mainstream art education, such as permaculture, coding, somatics, and traditional crafts, co-operative art education would also be more welcoming to those who feel excluded by the elitism of the art world.

Alternative organisations often struggle to access resources due to funding limitations, but this also inspires fresh perspectives and inventive solutions. Alternative art schools are resourceful; they use what is available, create mutual aid networks, maintain a DIY ethos, and bring empty spaces to life. Co-operative education is not just an alternative economy for the medium-term. New social configurations propose new aesthetic forms and are often received as works of art in themselves, adding another chapter in the avant-garde narrative of the integration of art and life, creating socially useful art and realising the Romantic call for aesthetic education as a way of life:[25] simultaneously enacting a negative critique of capitalism and laying the foundations for a post-capitalist future. Co-operative art education can redefine art practice and place it at the service of people, empowering them to practise and participate in art that meets their everyday needs. It makes way for a useful art, that is less a commodity than a tool for social change.

How to start a co-operative art school

To establish a co-operative art school and reap these benefits, the meaningful contribution of all stakeholders and the local community is essential. Co-operative associations provide model governing documents, but these are just a starting point.[26] An art school is a complex configuration of different actors, agendas, and interests, and there are many different and often incompatible visions of what a co-operative art school can be and how it should work. To build the structure and governance model for such an institution from scratch requires extensive research and facilitated collaboration among stakeholders. Some key questions include:

  • What are the core aims and values of the co-operative?
  • How will the co-operative accomplish these?
  • How will the co-op be structured and organised?
  • How will the interests and needs of different stakeholders be balanced?
  • What will the membership benefits and responsibilities be?
  • What forms of income will guarantee the sustainability of the co-op?
  • What pedagogical approaches will the co-op take?
  • Will the co-op offer qualifications and what form would these take?[27]

A co-operative art school must be built through practice, starting in the middle, like a rhizome. Every co-op is different, and we can only discover the appropriate formats and structures through lived experience.

Co-operation and competition

I've always had the feeling that art really develops through a kind of general activity. You can have your isolated geniuses, but it's always been somehow or other a product of a kind of ferment — Burgoyne Diller[28]

You form a gang, turn it into a scene, and turn that into a movement — Peter Schjeldahl[29]

In our second year in art school, my peers and I began to worry about life after graduation. How would we build a career? Would we manage to keep making and showing our work, or would 9–5 jobs grind us down? We started a collective, we created our own opportunities, we got lucky; one thing led to another and we built momentum before we even graduated. Co-operation is a self-interested and ambitious pursuit. If we look at the original definition, it means the ability to accomplish things together that you cannot alone, for mutual benefit. An individual artist with no cultural, social, or financial capital has less chance of succeeding in the art world than winning the lottery. But what does success mean for artists? How would we define it?

The most insidious aspect of the culture industry is that it does not nurture cooperation. Instead, it creates competition; dividing, disempowering, depriving artists of the magic of collaboration and collectivity. All influential movements began with a group of artists who debated ideas and made work together. Today, every artist is expected to propose their own singular vision in an art world where other artists are adversaries, not allies. And yet there is a shift, a ground swell of activity that indicates a return to co-operative values and principles.[30]

The fast-paced, competitive, and individualist environments in which we work and live, and the economic pressures that we face, increase the urgency and incentive for us to build alternative economies. But it is precisely these pressures of time and space that also prevent us from realising this goal. To make things worse, we lack the necessary cooperative skills and the opportunities to practise them.[31] Group assignments in educational contexts do not usually account for group dynamics, informal hierarchies, and power relationships that underlie our social interactions – this is why they often end in disaster. In institutional contexts, we tend to relinquish our control to authority on the assumption that we do not have personal responsibility to the other. Centralised authority in capitalist and hierarchical institutions loosens the bonds of mutuality, solidarity, and trust between individuals. There is a huge knowledge base, and alternative organisational models abound,[32] but we do not get the opportunity to hone the skills of self-organisation and collective decision-making that are necessary to create and maintain commons-based economies and solidarity networks.

Co-operation is a skill and co-operatives provide regular training for their members, from writing business plans to consensus-based decision-making and conflict resolution.[33] Acknowledged as the 'single greatest catalyst for social change,' education is an inextricable part of co-operative identity.[34] This recognition dates back to the origins of the co-operative movement in 1844, when the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers[35] integrated education into the original formulation of the co-operative principles, and allocated a portion of their surplus to educational activities.[36] At a time when education was the preserve of the elite, early co-operators embedded education into their culture, from creating reading rooms above co-operative shops to the formation of the Co-operative College[37] in 1919.[38]

Pedagogy for co-operative art schools

All co-operatives are spaces of pedagogy and learning.[39] As members of a co-operative art school, students would be equal participants with voting rights and opportunities to hold elected positions. Co-operatives empower their members by training and supporting them to be active participants; making proposals, voting and working collaboratively to implement collective decisions, and sharing responsibilities and benefits. Co-operative pedagogy extends to the development of the 'co-operative identity,' which is ‘reinforced through co-operative association and reflective education and practice.'[40]

Although there are many practical incentives for alternative and co-operative art education, pedagogy sits at the heart of every decision; every element is considered in light of its pedagogical value. How do we study and teach art for the future? What are the pedagogical principles of the alternative? How do we equally prioritise art practice and making a living? Can there be an alternative if we keep reproducing the same structures and behaviours?

We have seen how inequality disempowers learners. Rancière argues that we must begin from a principle of equality in order to challenge dominant ideologies and promote genuine democracy and participation. This calls for structures that recognise learners and teachers as equal partners in the learning process. Malcolm Noble and Cilla Ross take this one step further to argue that the full participation of learners is necessary not only for mutual learning, but essential for a functioning pedagogical institution.[41]

‘Student as Producer’ is a pedagogical framework for co-operative higher education developed by Mike Neary with Joss Winn, Andy Hagyard, and others. Highlighting the exploitative conditions of the capitalist university, the theory posits teachers and students as co-workers in the production of knowledge, and encourages them to collaborate, not just in the redesign of the curriculum, but in the re-envisioning of the university via co-operative values:[42]

Student as Producer… seeks to reconstitute the ownership of the means of production so that academic workers, including students, own the means of production of the enterprises in which they are working.[43]

Linking the politics of education to the politics of labour, Neary and Hagyard propose a ‘Pedagogy of Excess,’ a ‘radical educational project without a curriculum: a course of action.’[44] The authors argue that to address global challenges, a radical pedagogy must focus on labour relations and the means of production (rather than the market economy), in order to challenge exploitation, division, and inequality. They argue that to produce new forms of knowledge, we must replace the exploitation of labour for profit with frameworks that are invested in social values. Rather than training students for enterprise and employability, the ‘Pedagogy of Excess’ urges students to exceed their role as consumers by collaborating with lecturers and each other in acts of intellectual enquiry. They direct us to the international co-operative movement for insights on collective decision-making and organisational forms that support participatory and collective activities, and address issues of ownership and control over the means of production through democratic processes.

Co-operative pedagogy is alternative merely by not being subject to capitalist imperatives and the prescriptions of regulatory bodies.[45] It is thus free to carve out an autonomous space without extraneous agendas and targets, and to embed pedagogical principles into the constitution. These principles may include active and collaborative learning, debate and discussion, investigation and experimentation, equality and horizontality, participation and accountability, inclusion and accessibility, openness and freedom, challenge and peer support, open access and open source.

Radical approaches to pedagogy, from Paulo Freire's critical pedagogy[46] to Rancière's ‘Ignorant Schoolmaster,’[47] and the co-operative pedagogy of the Social Science Centre, all have in common the decentering of the teacher's role in education. There is of course still a role for educators, but they are reconfigured as facilitators who create an environment where learning can take place among equal participants; a context where peers can ask and answer their own questions and teach each other what they need to learn.

Proposal for a federated platform co-operative of alternative art schools

As an active participant in conventional and alternative art education, I've experienced the benefits and drawbacks of both. In 2015, the idea to create a co-operative art school federation emerged amid the search for a sustainable alternative to the neoliberal university. The project involves the research and development of a platform co-operative federation; a support organisation for the archipelago of alternative art schools and related artists' collectives, peer support groups, and co-ops. In such a federation, each school would maintain its autonomy and unique identity, while benefiting from the critical mass of an interconnected movement.

The purpose of the federation would be to connect the organisations in meaningful ways and facilitate communication, collaboration, and collectivity; art practice, exhibition, and research; pedagogy and education. Working groups with representatives from organisations across the federation would enable collective projects, such as the management and distribution of common resources, or the creation of an alternative accreditation and assessment model. Bolstered by developments in platform cooperativism, Web 3.0, and net commons, the federation could provide the necessary digital infrastructure to support all these functions, raise awareness about the alternative art education movement, and support activities and services, such as event organisation, publishing, and research, as well as decision-making, administration, finance, and other aspects of running a co-op.

Founded on the principles of equality and autonomy, a formal association of alternative art schools could create an exemplary model of sustainable and democratic higher education. This federation could bring all these benefits to its members, with the potential to create not only an alternative economy, but a paradigm shift in art education and practice.[48]

Examples of alternative art schools in the UK

Feral Art School is a Hull-based workers' co-op and the only co-operative art school in the UK. It was founded in 2018 after tutors at Hull School of Art and Design were made redundant, leaving a gap in BA Art & Design provision. The school offers courses in drawing, painting, printmaking, and textiles, day schools in fashion and documentary photography, free courses for ex-offenders, and organises exhibitions and conferences in pop-up spaces. The school is nomadic, and without permanent premises they share studios and darkrooms on a co-operative and collective basis. They have developed BA and MA curricula with a view to providing degree programmes.

Open School East (OSE) is a free, independent art school and community space, founded in London and currently based in Margate. OSE hosts the Associates Programme, a year-long development programme for emerging artists; two development programmes for young people; and a public programme of events, activities, and short courses run by the Associates and invited guests. The school is a charity run by a board of trustees and sustained with Arts Council funding. It was founded in 2013 by the curators Anna Colin, Sarah McCrory, Sam Thorne, and Laurence Taylor with an initial backing of £110,000.

The School of the Damned (SOTD) is a free, self-organised postgraduate course, and undoubtedly the most radical alternative art school in the UK. It was founded in 2014 ‘as a reaction to the increasing financialisation of higher education’ by its first cohort. Each cohort selects the next through an open call and the school is handed over in its entirety to the new cohort each year, who re-write the manifesto. The school is thus constantly redefined. SOTD is decentralised with no physical location, hosting monthly meetings in different parts of the UK, where its members are based.[49] The number of members in each cohort has increased each year from 14 to 30+ members. Departing radically from this precedent, the 2023 cohort is composed of 102 students from around the world.

By the end of the year, students in the school have been administrators, promoters, assessors, and the passers-on of their experiences and contacts to the following year, taking on every role it takes to run a school. The students also organise and collaborate on other projects, exhibitions, meetings, talks, interviews, workshops, which all form part of the programme of study. The student body selects two or three guests to attend the monthly critique sessions. Guests are remunerated for their time through the School’s Labour Exchange Programme.[50]

The Other MA (TOMA) is an artist-run education model and exhibition programme based in Southend-on-Sea. TOMA offers an 18-month alternative postgraduate studio programme that rivals most MA courses, with regular seminars, guest artists and lecturers, studio provision, a critical studies module, public programmes, and a degree show.[51] TOMA supports artists who face barriers accessing art education and the art world, and the programme is designed for those with work or family commitments. Tuition fees range from £1,440 to £2,646, on a tiered pay-what-you-can basis, and the programme’s budget is available to the public.[52] By way of comparison, MA tuition fees in London art schools average at £9,000 per annum for home students, while international students pay double or triple that amount.[53] TOMA was founded in 2015 by Emma Edmondson when the social practice MA that she was about to embark on at Goldsmiths was unceremoniously cancelled.

For more information about alternative and co-operative art education, please see the following resources:


Footnote 1 Up

Sophia Kosmaoglou, “Feral Art School: an interview with Jayne Jones and Jackie Goodman,” videomole.tv, July 2020, https://videomole.tv/feral/.

Footnote 2 Up

“Feral Art School,” https://www.feralartschool.org/.

Footnote 3 Up

See for example Sam Phillips, “Art under threat: the growing crisis in higher education,” RA Magazine, Arts Education Special, March 20, 2019, https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/art-under-threat-crisis-britain-higher-education; Dean Kenning, “Art world strategies: neoliberalism and the politics of professional practice in fine art education,” Journal of Visual Art Practice, 18, no.2 (2019): 115–131, DOI:10.1080/14702029.2018.1500112.

Footnote 4 Up

John Holmwood, “Requiem for the Public University,” Discover Society, May 2, 2017, https://archive.discoversociety.org/2017/05/02/requiem-for-the-public-university/.

Footnote 5 Up

Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions, 2013), 115–116, http://www.minorcompositions.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/undercommons-web.pdf.

Footnote 6 Up

Jacques Rancière, “The Emancipated Spectator,” Artforum 45, no. 7 (March 2007): 271–280, https://www.artforum.com/print/200703/the-emancipated-spectator-12847.

Footnote 7 Up

Sophia Kosmaoglou, “Alternative (Art) Schools & Networks,” videomole.tv, 2017–ongoing, https://videomole.tv/alternative-art-education/.

Footnote 8 Up

Several alternative art schools are ongoing and participants can continue to participate indefinitely without graduating. As a resource for artists' ongoing education, alternative art education is not only for school-leavers, it can accommodate those who begin or get back to their art practice later in life. The first cohort of The Other MA (TOMA), did not want to leave at the end of the first year – this led to the foundation of an associate programme, which enabled former members to continue their participation selectively.

Footnote 9 Up

“Open School East (OSE),” https://openschooleast.org/.

Footnote 10 Up

“The Other MA (TOMA),” https://www.toma-art.com/.

Footnote 11 Up

“New School of the Anthropocene (NSOTA),” https://www.nsota.org/.

Footnote 12 Up

“The School of the Damned (SOTD),” https://schoolofthedamned.tumblr.com/.

Footnote 13 Up
Footnote 14 Up

“Evening Class,” https://twitter.com/evening_class/.

Footnote 15 Up

“DIY Art School,”https://twitter.com/diyartschool.

Footnote 16 Up

Mike Neary and Joss Winn, “Beyond Public and Private: A Model for Co-operative Higher Education,” Krisis Journal for Contemporary Philosophy 2, New University: A Special Issue on the Future of the University (2015): 114, https://archive.krisis.eu/beyond-public-and-private/.

Footnote 17 Up

Sophia Kosmaoglou, “A co-operative art school?” videomole.tv, July 2020, https://videomole.tv/coop-art-school/.

Footnote 18 Up

David Graeber, “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant,” Strike Magazine, Issue 3: The Summer Of…, August 2013, https://strikemag.org/bullshit-jobs/.

Footnote 19 Up

Alice Toomer-McAlpine, “Immigrants facing gentrification in Boston speak the language of co-ops,” Co-operative News, September 5, 2023, https://www.thenews.coop/172268/topic/education/immigrants-facing-gentrification-in-boston-speak-the-language-of-co-ops/.

Footnote 20 Up

“Cooperative identity, values & principles,” International Cooperative Alliance, 1995, https://www.ica.coop/en/cooperatives/cooperative-identity.

Footnote 21 Up

“Cooperative identity, values & principles,” International Cooperative Alliance, https://www.ica.coop/en/whats-co-op/co-operative-identity-velues-principles.

Footnote 22 Up
Footnote 23 Up

“Social Science Centre (SSC),” http://socialsciencecentre.org.uk.

Footnote 24 Up

See for example the SSC website and Joss Winn, “Co-operative universities: A bibliography,” josswinn.org, 2013, https://josswinn.org/2013/11/21/co-operative-universities-a-bibliography/.

Footnote 25 Up

Friedrich von Schiller, “Letters Upon The Aesthetic Education of Man,” in Literary and Philosophical Essays 32, The Harvard Classics (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14). Rancière goes further to argue that aesthetic education is not simply a matter of individual self-cultivation, but rather a collective process that can help to create a more just and democratic society.

Footnote 26 Up

See for example the model governing documents provided by Co-operatives UK, the UK national co-operative association: https://www.uk.coop/resources/model-governing-documents. Co-operative associations and support organisations can also assist in the development of a detailed proposal for the co-op's framework.

Footnote 27 Up

For more questions about the potential forms of a co-operative art school, please see this FAQ: https://videomole.tv/coop-art-school/#faq.

Footnote 28 Up

Burgoyne Diller interview by Harlan Phillips (1964), “Archives of American Art's New Deal and the Arts Oral History Project.” Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-burgoyne-diller-12944.

Footnote 29 Up

Peter Schjeldahl’s advice on how to become an artist quoted in Dave Hickey, “Romancing the Looky-Loos,” in Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy, Art Issues Press (1997): 152, https://archive.org/details/airguitaressayso00hick/.

Footnote 30 Up

See for example the recent spurt of energy from the solidarity economy in the US with initiatives like Open Collective https://opencollective.com/, Art.coop https://art.coop/ and Metalabel https://www.metalabel.com/.

Footnote 31 Up

Richard Sennet, Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).

Footnote 32 Up

See for example Wilfred R. Bion, Experiences in Groups And Other Papers (New York: Routledge, (2004/1961)), and Jo Freeman, “The Tyranny of Structurelessness,” Struggle.ws, 2000/1970, http://struggle.ws/pdfs/tyranny.pdf.

Footnote 33 Up

There is an entire economy of co-operatives that provide these services for other co-operatives, see for example “Seeds for Change” https://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/, “Radical Routes” https://www.radicalroutes.org.uk/, and “Loomio” https://www.loomio.com/.

Footnote 34 Up

Malcolm Noble and Cilla Ross, “From principles to participation: 'The Statement on the Cooperative Identity' and Higher Education Co-operatives,” Journal of Co-operative Organization and Management, 9, no. 2 (December 2021): 2, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213297X21000185.

Footnote 35 Up

The Rochdale Pioneers founded the co-operative movement in the town of Rochdale near Manchester, England. For a first-hand account see George Jacob Holyoake, Self-help by the people: history of co-operation in Rochdale, 3rd edition (London: Holyoake & Co, 1858), https://conwayhallcollections.omeka.net/items/show/1486.

Footnote 36 Up

Brett Fairbairn, The Meaning of Rochdale: The Rochdale Pioneers and the Co-operative Principles (Saskatoon: Centre for the Study of Co-operatives, University of Saskatchewan, 1994), https://usaskstudies.coop/documents/occasional-papers/meaning-of-rochdale.pdf.

Footnote 37 Up

The Co-operative College (1919), is a charitable trust based in Manchester. It was set up to deliver programmes of training and education on co-operative values, ideas, and principles within co-operatives, communities, and society more broadly. It works with partners in the co-operative movement and higher education to research the historical and contemporary role of co-operation, https://www.co-op.ac.uk/.

Footnote 38 Up

Amanda Benson, “Spanner in the works? Co-operation then, now and into the future,” London: Imperial College and Manchester: Co-operative College (Jan–Feb 2022), https://www.co-op.ac.uk/spanner-in-the-works.

Footnote 39 Up

Teresa Macias and Pablo Pérez Ruiz, “Co-operation in action: The Edinburgh student housing co-operative as a pedagogical space,” Journal of Co-operative Studies, 51, no. 1 (2018): 54–57. http://hubble-live-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/uk-society-for-co-operative-studies/redactor2_assets/files/202/S08-MaciasPerezRuiz-152.pdf.

Footnote 40 Up

Malcolm Noble and Cilla Ross, “From principles to participation: 'The Statement on the Cooperative Identity' and Higher Education Co-operatives,” Journal of Co-operative Organization and Management, 9 no. 2 (Dec 2021): 2, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213297X21000185.

Footnote 41 Up

Noble and Ross, “From principles to participation,” 1.

Footnote 42 Up

Mike Neary and Joss Winn, “Student as producer: Reinventing the student experience in higher education,” in The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience (London: Continuum): 209, https://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/id/eprint/1675/.

Footnote 43 Up

Mike Neary and Joss Winn, “Beyond Public and Private: A Model for Co-operative Higher Education,” Krisis journal for contemporary philosophy, New University: A Special Issue on the Future of the University, Issue 2 (2015): 116, https://archive.krisis.eu/beyond-public-and-private/.

Footnote 44 Up

Mike Neary and Andy Hagyard, “Pedagogy of Excess: An Alternative Political Economy of Student Life,” in The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer, Mike Molesworth, Richard Scullion and Elizabeth Nixon eds. (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010): 15, https://bpb-eu-w2.wpmucdn.com/blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/dist/e/185/files/2010/10/Pedagogy-of-Excess-preprint.pdf.

Footnote 45 Up

Indicatively, co-operative and community finance and management is taught in a handful of conventional MBA (Masters of Business Administration) programmes around the world, beyond these co-operatives are completely absent from most MBA curricula.

Footnote 46 Up

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum, 2005).

Footnote 47 Up

Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, Trans. & Intro Kristin Ross (Redwood: Stanford University Press, 1991).

Footnote 48 Up

For more details see A co-operative art school? https://videomole.tv/coop-art-school/ This project was initially funded by an Artquest Research Residency at Conway Hall Library https://artquest.org.uk/project/artist-residencies/conway-hall-residency/. The website includes an early outline of the vision for a co-operative federation of art schools, a survey, zine, workshops, events, interviews, and resources. The next stage will involve work with stakeholders from the alternative art education and co-operative communities, consultants from co-operative support organisations, and web developers.

Footnote 49 Up

School of the Damned, “FAQ,” schoolofthedamned.tumblr.com, 2014, https://schoolofthedamned.tumblr.com/faq.

Footnote 50 Up

Sophia Kosmaoglou, “Alternative (Art) Schools & Networks,” videomole.tv, 2017–ongoing, https://videomole.tv/alternative-art-education/.

Footnote 51 Up

TOMA Education Programme, “The Other MA (TOMA),” https://www.toma-art.com/education-programme-info.

Footnote 52 Up

TOMA Education Programme, “Budget 2022–24 (May 2022),” covers 18 months, https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1tokdezL4vz7iTRkES9mNJZQAbzCBffOD?usp=sharing.

Footnote 53 Up

Tuition Fees for programmes at Goldsmiths, University of London https://www.gold.ac.uk/students/fee-support/tuition-fees/ Postgraduate Tuition Fees, University of the Arts London https://www.arts.ac.uk/study-at-ual/fees-and-funding/tuition-fees/postgraduate-tuition-fees.

Footnote 54 Up

Sophia Kosmaoglou “Resources for a co-operative art school,” videomole.tv, 2019–ongoing, https://videomole.tv/co-operative-art-education-resources/.

Footnote 55 Up

Sophia Kosmaoglou, “Bibliography for a co-operative art school,” videomole.tv, 2019–ongoing, https://videomole.tv/coop-art-school-bibliography/.

Footnote 56 Up

Sophia Kosmaoglou, “Alternative (Art) Schools & Networks,” videomole.tv, 2017–ongoing, https://videomole.tv/alternative-art-education/.

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