Sorrel Hershberg (Director), The Sorrell Foundation
The Creativeworks London Researcher in Residence scheme has enabled us to work with Dr Katherine Appleford from Kingston University London to investigate the Saturday morning classes that were the inspiration for our current National Art&Design Saturday Club. Our programme has been running for six years, providing young people aged 14-16 across the UK with free art and design tuition and routes into further study. Our hope is that they will find routes into careers in the creative industries. The original Saturday classes ran from the late 1940s to the late 1970s, so thanks to Dr Appleford’s research, we have been able to explore the long term impact of the programme.
As a very small team, the Researcher in Residence programme allowed us to benefit from research expertise we don’t have in house and to really test the impact of the programme which we had only hitherto been able to assess anecdotally. It also demonstrated that the original Saturday Classes had been run on a national scale.
The participants interviewed were overwhelmingly positive about their experiences, citing these classes as the inspiration for their own careers in creative education and industry. For many of them, from backgrounds where higher education and the arts were unknown, the Saturday classes provided unprecedented social and economic mobility, a life-changing experience that the National Art&Design Saturday Club strives to replicate.
Dr. Katherine Appleford (Senior Lecturer in Sociology), Kingston University London
The Researcher in Residence project with The Sorrell Foundation took place in the summer of 2014, and was completed in November that year. The project looked to identify individuals who had attended Saturday art classes between the 1960s and 1970s and to examine the impact these classes had in terms of creativity, confidence and careers. As Saturday Clubs tend to be a somewhat forgotten history of art schools and colleges, finding attendees in the initial stages was not straight forward. But with a bit of investigative work, and a call for participants, the project soon uncovered a large number of artists, curators, teachers and lectures who had started their artistic career in a Saturday Club. Indeed, the project identified more participants than it could incorporate in this stage of the research, and from as far afield as Australia.
By interviewing these participants, the project was able to shed light on the format the classes took, and the regional variations. Whilst most participants appeared to attend Saturday Classes in their Secondary school years, and had been encouraged by school teachers to attend the clubs at their local art school, others started attending classes at a much younger age, just 7 or 8. And for some in Mansfield, the classes formed part of a wider vocational programme which saw art and design as a way into industry.
For most of the participants the Saturday Club started a life-long artistic and creative career, and just in the same way that The Sorrell Foundation’s current scheme provides a route into further and higher education, the Saturday classes of the past opened doors to University life. The clubs offered students the opportunity to see student’s work, to meet creative people, and to learn technical drawing skills in terms of line, form, colour, and shape. In this respect, it seems that the Saturday club formed an important part of art education’s history and development. The clubs provided a space to teach and learn some of the principles of basic design, and enabled students to build a body of work for their foundation degree portfolio.
But the clubs did more than just provide an educational resource. They broadened their students’ horizons. They encouraged individuals to pursue higher education and post graduate degrees. They provided working class students with a knowledge and understanding of university life, creative worlds and artistic fields. They ushered their students into creative careers in magazines, art, sculpture, fashion design, interior design, teaching and research. They fostered self-confidence and self-esteem, and taught process, planning, perseverance, and patience. In time, their influence encouraged individuals to travel and explore further afield, the classes cultivated a knowledge and interest in cultural spaces, galleries and exhibitions, and in nearly all cases resulted in life-long friendships. Overall the project demonstrated the importance of the Saturday Clubs, of the past and of the present. It highlighted the pivotal role the classes played in people’s lives and their artistic works.
For me, working with The Sorrell Foundation has identified a new area of interest, and an area of much needed research. In fact, in many respects this residency has only scratched the surface, for if every art school ran a Saturday Club there are potentially thousands of individuals who could benefit from the scheme. With increasing concern over arts funding and the growing exclusivity of art education, there is call for more research which demonstrates the value of art and creative industries to the economy and the wider society. This project not only highlights the ways in which art education paves the way for creative careers, it also demonstrates the value of art education in terms of building individual’s transferable skills, offering a means of social mobility, and increasing individual and collective cultural knowledge and participation. Working with The Sorrell Foundation has been a really enjoyable experience, and hopefully this is the beginning of a project which has much, much more to offer.
Picture caption: National Art&Design Saturday Club, Masterclass with Jeremy Deller at University of the Arts London