I have not been following in detail the controversy surrounding the proposed closure of the Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, but have been encouraged to do so by Bob and Roberta Smith, a stalwart campaigner on its behalf.
Cass himself was a great east end philanthropist, a Tory MP, sheriff, master of the Carpenter’s Company and a Commissioner for the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches. There’s a statue of him in the Guildhall and a monument in St. Botolph’s:-
His Foundation was established in 1748. This funded the Sir John Cass Technical Institute in 1899, which became the Sir John Cass College in 1950 and merged with the Department of Silversmithing from Central School of Art in 1965. This in turn grew into London Guildhall University which merged with London Metropolitan University in 2002. Three years ago the long-established Architecture School moved in with teachers including Florian Beigel, the Head of Department, Tony Fretton, Peter St. John and Deborah Saunt to create what Bob and Roberta Smith calls ‘the Aldgate Bauhaus’, based on the craft workshop tradition. The previous Vice-Chancellor of London Metropolitan University was keen to capitalise on the fame of The Cass to add lustre to the University as a whole and allowed it considerable independence.
Now, Central House, the building it occupies, originally designed as workshops in the 1960s and recently refurbished by Florian Beigel, has been sold by the University (or is believed to have been) for £54 million and the faculty is being relocated to the Holloway Road, away from east London, thereby depriving the east end and the nearby Tech City of a key cultural element – access to teaching and craft workshops. I can see why the University would want to extract the maximum value from its property portfolio and capitalise on the value of the building. But were no commitments made to retain art teaching in the east end at the time of the merger ? Does the Sir John Cass Foundation still exist ? And what do its Trustees think ? And is there no-one on the Board of the University fighting for art teaching in the east end ?