Campaigners fear prestigious art school to be sold off for luxury apartments

Students protesting outside the Cass building on Sunday Pic: Maggie Learmonth

Students protesting outside the Cass building on Sunday Pic: Maggie Learmonth

Students and members of the arts and creative industry are protesting against the closure of an influential London Metropolitan University art school dubbed the “Aldgate Bauhaus”.

The Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, on Commercial Street, in Tower Hamlets, is one of several buildings which the university has proposed to sell under plans to consolidate teaching on to one campus in Holloway by September 2017.

Demonstrations were held in front of the building over the weekend; another protest is scheduled to take place at the Holloway campus today (26 November).

An open letter, describing the complex as a wonderful part of creative learning and life has been published in The Guardian, with signatories including Sir Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, and renowned architects Lord Rogers and Sir David Chipperfield.

A petition has already attracted over 2,500 signatures, the ‘savethecass’ Facebook page reaches over 3,000 people, and there have even been adverts on the Tube.

The site is a valuable piece of real estate. The university could sell The Cass for in excess of £50m, which would see investors build a set of luxury apartment blocks.

Cass Faculty Officer, Amanda Marillier, told Eastlondonlines that the decision had come as a shock to staff and students there.

“The majority of students chose The Cass for its location, because of where in London it’s based. Close to the Brick Lane area and around so many galleries, it’s a unique location,” she said.

“There was no student consultation beforehand. It was just done by the governors.

“I’m really happy that there’s support from the artists and the mayor of Tower Hamlets against move. But it doesn’t seem the Vice Chancellor will change his mind.”

One of those hoping to change the opinion of administrators is Rik Nys, a director of David Chipperfield Architects, who signed the open letter.

“We think it is an outrage that the university sees the Cass as dispensable. It is a highly regarded centre for learning within our practice and internationally. It is unique not only for its East London location, but also for its role in facilitating creative cross-fertilisation.”

The art school is one of the most prestigious in the country, with fierce competition for limited places. However, as part of the controversial move, student admissions will be reduced from 12,000 to 10,000, heightening competition between applicants.

The Cass’s location, in a less affluent area of East London, is in keeping with the aspirations of philanthropist John Cass, whose foundation established the institution to offer education for people from every background.

Artist Bob and Roberta Smith – real name Patrick Brill – also teaches at The Cass institute and named the campus the ‘Aldgate Bauhaus’. He has seen a disturbing pattern of homogenization in recent years.

“The Cass has roots going back 100 years and a great engagement in Tower Hamlets.” he said.

“There is a shrinking public realm in which the character of Brick Lane is being hollowed out away from this image of a polyglot street, and if The Cass goes, the very nature of Brick Lane won’t be far behind in changing. It will deaden the area, change the jobs sphere and damage the current local community.”

However, London Met is struggling to recover from a substantial mismanagement crisis, which saw the university chair, Peter Anwyl, and several other governors forced to resign after falsely claiming £36m worth of government funds.

Part of the reason for relocating the campuses is to streamline operations across the university. Under the university’s one campus, one community plan, there is set to be a £125m investment in the north London campus to update and create new facilities for teaching.

John Biggs, the mayor of Tower Hamlets, said he was ‘deeply shocked’ by the decision, and hopes to talk with the Vice Chancellor.

“The Cass has a wonderful reputation for combining academic study and creative production. To put this valuable heritage at risk in order to address the financial mismanagement of the London Metropolitan University is a tragedy.”

A report published by the Arts Council this summer suggested that the arts injects a massive £7.7bn to the economy every year and for every pound spent by the government, the arts returns £5 to the Treasury.

In a statement, Professor John Raftery, Vice Chancellor of London Met, said: “We are excited about this project, which aims to create a one campus, one community University. We believe this will benefit our students, who will enjoy an enhanced student experience, and our staff, who will have more opportunities to collaborate.”


Follow Alex Jackson on Twitter @ajacko26

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