A new art school, complete with old school protest

On Wednesday evening the new Central Saint Martins development in London’s King’s Cross was unveiled before an audience of alumni, designers, architects and press. But while CSM students were conspicuous in their absence, their voice has, if anything, been louder in recent months than much of the relocation fanfare

Long Distance Relationship installation at CSM from printinterventions.blog.com

On Wednesday evening the new Central Saint Martins development in London’s King’s Cross was unveiled before an audience of alumni, designers, architects and press. But while CSM students were conspicuous in their absence, their voice has, if anything, been louder in recent months than much of the relocation fanfare…*

This is because of the issue currently dividing the institution prior to its move: that the screenprinting, bookbinding and etching facilities will not be joining the students at their new site in King’s Cross but, instead, will be moved to CSM’s Byam Shaw campus in Archway, three miles away from the new site.

At the pre-launch event, on-site photography and digital animation offered a glimpse of what the University of the Arts and architects Stanton Williams hope will become the first truly 21st century art school. Set to open in September and part of the 67-acre King’s Cross redevelopment, the site is truly impressive. Exposed brick sits alongside new structures (much of the site is based on retained transit sheds and a vast granary store dating from the 1850s) and there will be plenty of light and space in which to work. By virtue of maintaining a visual link with the area’s industrial past, the building already has, as Argent developer Roger Madelin pointed out, a heart and soul.

Alongside a 12m-wide ‘street’ running down the middle of the site, the new development will include a theatre and performance spaces; a dance studio; exhibition spaces and workshops; the potential for temporary pop-up spaces; even viewing areas where students can watch each other working. Essentially it unites the spread of the five disparate CSM campuses into a single site, with 4,000 students expected to arrive in September.

Yet despite the exciting presentation, the talk of enhanced experiences and transformative spaces (not to mention Sir John Tusa’s reassurance that the character and traditions of each department will not be diminished) it seems that five hasn’t quite gone into one. And those counted in the remainder, namely CSM’s graphic design students, are far from happy.

The Off-Sight poster

For several months CR has been aware of blogs, such as printinterventions.blog.com and csmprintprotest.tumblr.com, and tweets from students alerting us to the petition against the relocation of the printing workshops. More recently, on the night of the pre-launch at King’s Place, the student-organised Off-Sight exhibition opened at the Camp space in east London, the culmination of months of student protest against the relocation. The show aims to register their disappointment at the move while celebrating the work that the BA (Hons) graphic design course has produced.

“The new site is incredible and this has never been a fight against the move to King’s Cross,” says Off-Sight’s Alexandra Hook. “But the original plans were for us to have a space in the new building. In moving all the screenprinting, bookbinding and etching faciltiies to Byam Shaw, it’s going against the CSM ethos – which is why we’re angry. It’s meant to be everyone working togther but we’re being isolated – from the course and from our influences.”

Hook, a second year graphic design student, says that the current screenprinting area in Southampton Row is one of the only places on campus “where you get total cross-pollination. It’s a community,” she continues, “and that’s how I got interested in printing in the first place. I walked into the studio having seen something I liked on the walls outside. That element, I think, will be gone.”

From printinterventions.blog.com

CSM say that the equipment going into the print room at the Byam Shaw campus will include some of the very old print machines and letterpress currently located at Southampton Row, in addition to some brand new technology. A statement on the CSM Snapshot blog also assures students that there will be more presses and technicians available because they are all in one place.

“It is important that students have an opportunity to work with equipment they will see in industry as well as hone their skills on the traditional machines,” runs a statement from the CSM press department. “It is understandable that the graphic design students will miss the immediate proximity of the workshops, but like other schools to which the print rooms have not been readily available, they will get used to organising their time to book space.”

From csmprintprotest.tumblr.com

But as the Eye blog reported back in April, an additional student concern is that the facilities will thus be ‘centrally managed’ – what was a graphic design department facility will now be accessible to students on a range of CSM courses. While the potential for collaboration is increased, overall access could in fact be reduced.

Conversely, in a lengthy comment on the Grafik blog, CSM graphic design course director, Alan Baines, offered his concerns about isolating the printmaking facilities: “The synthesis of digital and analogue (e.g. printmaking, photography, moving image) and our ability to offer both within the same physical and intellectual space is what makes BA graphic design so current,” he wrote. “This philosophy is a major component in forming our USP, which in turn supports the CSM brand. It seems, however, as if in the move to King’s Cross it has been assumed that graphic designers only require Apple Macs to be creative.”

So how do the students who currently use the printmaking facilities envisage working day to day come September? “I’m a printmaker at heart,” says Hook, “and I’ll have to spend whole days at Byam Shaw and whole days at King’s Cross. With printing you can’t just leave and come back; you prepare things, there’s a lot of waiting around, drying time.” One comment left on the CSM blog post alluded to the mechanics of the potential journey: “Kings Cross – > Archway /
 Archway – > Kings Cross / 
Kings Cross – > Archway 
/ Archway – > Kings Cross etc…”

In the lead up to the move, many difficult decisions have no doubt been made. Head of college, Jane Rapley, acknowledged that the hardest ones had come down to choices between staff and space. “The most important factor other than staff is access to equipment,” she said at the pre-launch when asked by designer Ken Garland how the amount of physical space for work and study would be affected. In fact, she admitted, there will actually be less square footage at the King’s Cross site. There will be much less “owned” space, too – a philosophy that adheres well to cross-disciplinary intentions, but could usher in a few problems of its own.

As Rapley concluded, there are always “challenges of going into an environment that isn’t formed – but there is space for the unexpected.” While that does sound like a perfect environment for a creative education, it will be clearer in September just how the move works out for CSM’s graphic design intake who already appear to have done all they can to make their voices heard.

*UPDATE: CSM would like us to point out that invites to the King’s Place pre-launch went out to 30 student reps from across the course and college, to eight sabbatical officers and to five students from the Student’s Union.

More details on the King’s Cross move here.

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