four drawings which combine across the wall to form the building

Brighton Polytechnic


sweetshop windows with Brighton School of Art building drawn
Brighton Polytechnic signage and pencil drawing

 The politics and provision of art education after 1970


This exhibition is a reflection on the recent staff cuts to Brighton University, particularly within the arts and humanities. The Brighton Polytechnic signage relates to a period of change in the university’s history. The windows feature drawings of Brighton’s purpose-built art school – imagined in the 1930s, built in the late 1960s and still in use today. Also on display are discarded objects picked up from the streets of Brighton.

The Victorian School of Art, built on Grand Parade was demolished in the late 1960s. In its place, a bright, modern, International Style art school was built. This new build was part of change taking place all over the country to meet the demands of a new policy of post-secondary art education, fit for a rapidly modernising culture and society. The art school was occupied by students in 1968 who demanded discussions with staff and director about the curriculum, the relevance of art history  and the desire to open the art school to the wider community in Brighton. Evidence suggests these discussions had impact –  revitalising art history and studio pathways and making the proposed ground floor of the building – with gallery and theatre, open to the public.

four drawings which combine across the wall to form the building

The completed building opened in 1970 at the same time the art school was incorporated into a new polytechnic. This was national shift in the provision of public education, and at the time, the merging of the art school into Brighton Polytechnic was keenly opposed, being seen as an imposition from on high. A fierce debate raged nationally about the ‘end of art schools’. In 1992, all polytechnics were renamed universities, though their public origins, demographics and range of courses made them quite different. In 2012 another big shift saw the introduction of loans instead of grants and fees instead of public funding for study.

Looking back, despite the polytechnic curtailing the original art school’s authority and autonomy, the following decades of its existence were fruitful and well-resourced. However, this merger enabled a different type of institution to develop. A hierarchy came into force, bringing with it a management structure that spanned different types of learning and outcomes. This brought with it tensions around artistic freedom and purpose – put on a balance sheet in comparison to the teaching of vocational and technical skills. The last decade has seen great pressure on resources and staffing in the school of art.

The building still stands, on the site of the first Brighton School of Art, a stone’s throw from the Pavilion and museum, as testament to the provision of public education in arts and culture.

shop front    street litter    shop front

This exhibition is curated and produced by Naomi Salaman with Sophie Gibson and Ash Faers. Signage by Luśka Mengam.


front of shop


More information on the history of Brighton school of art from Art and Design at Brighton,  Jonathan Woodham,  Philippa Lyon (2009)

The history of arts education in Brighton.

The Victorian Age to the 20th Century

Brighton College of Art in the 1960’s


More information on the artists

Naomi Salaman is an artist who set up the Sweetshop window gallery in 2017.  She has taught Fine Art at University of Brighton since the mid 1990’s, and has shown and published her own work and co-organised art projects since then. Recently she has written a reflective piece on her work organising the Sweetshop windows, which you can access here. (coming)

Sophie Gibson works as a graphic designer and uses drawing to plot and plan projects. She has extended this out to work on larger scale drawings and installations since 2017.

Ash Faers is a recent Graduate of Fine Art University of Brighton (2022). She is working on a PGCE in art, and has just completed an artist’s residency at Glyndebourne Opera.

‘In recent years, my practice of collecting objects has grown and developed from pebbles and plastics on the beach to other public spaces. I see the world in small details; I notice all the bits and bobs on the floor around me. My eyes trace the ground for something interesting as I walk, noticing patterns in the objects I see again and again. My collections and assemblages of found objects reveal realities of our environment at present, questions about the objects’ pasts, and our future. Presenting some of the strangeness of human nature in a rich tapestry of small and mundane things people lose or leave behind, a material reflection of the world around us.’ Ash Faers September 2023


More information

Press about the cuts to the arts and art education;

The Argus on the closing of the CCA Brighton

The Art Newspaper on the cuts to art education in schools

The Observer Matthew Cornford and John Beck on the Art Schools in The Observer here

Art Monthly Art historian and critic Sarah James writes on cuts to art education in Art Monthly here ;

Journal of Visual Culture April 2012, vol 11 The art school in ruins Matthew Cornford, John Beck

Journal of Visual Arts Practice May 2015, vol14(2) Art Theory, Handmaiden of neoliberalism? Naomi Salaman


Advocacy for the arts

Local organisation against cuts to arts funding, offering events and advocacy

Exploding Appendix

Cultural Learning Alliance

National organisation that campaigns against the cuts to art education in schools.

Cultural Learning Alliance  from their website;

The Cultural Learning Alliance champions a right to arts and culture for every child.  

  • ADVOCATE for equality of access to arts and culture for every child
  • DEMONSTRATE why cultural learning is so important
  • UNITE the education, youth and cultural sectors delivering arts and cultural learning

We do this through:

  • Policy analysis and evidence gathering
  • Dissemination of advocacy materials, including briefing papers, evidence and statistics
  • Lobbying and advocacy
  • Building strategic relationships across arts, culture, education and policy, and supporting our members


Association for Art History

The UK subject association for art history, committed to promoting the value of art history and visual culture for all.

Celebrates and promotes art history and visual culture, through advocacy, events, networks, membership, grants and publications and works with the education and cultural sectors to help ensure that art history continues to be supported, understood and enjoyed.


#ArtIsEssential campaign coalition launch Creative Education Manifesto, calling on all political parties to protect the creative arts talent pipeline

5 thoughts on “Brighton Polytechnic

  1. Thank you, Naomi. The drawings look very fine and I wish I could see them in the exhibition itself.

    Was the student occupation in 1968 demanding (in part) greater “relevance”? That would seem ironic today, given that relevance and career usefulness seem to be what is sought nowadays by governments and managements which don’t appreciate the value of education for its own sake.

    1. Hello Oliver thanks. Yes there was a lot going on around the time of the sit ins and the students were communicating between different sites ; Hornsey and Brighton for sure and I think Croydon as well. There were different agendas arising, and novel ways of organising meetings – one of the overriding concerns was to challenge the top-down authority and hierarchy that pervaded these institutions, which is now hard to imagine. At the time, the suggestion that students might feed back to staff about the courses, and make suggestions was considered very threatening and radical. At Hornsey, the first thing the occupiers did was remove a partition wall in the canteen that separated staff from students… this action itself was an echo of an earlier open canteen for staff and students at the first Bauhaus school in Weimar, Germany, in 1919.
      So the students at the Brighton sit in were interested in challenging the management, the new structure of the qualification of the Dip AD and the content of the courses. Yes they were interested in new technology and what that might mean for particular traditions such as printing and typesetting, but also they were involved in the youth culture explosion of music, arts and politics and from that perspective there was more interest, for instance, in experiential theories of perception rather than traditional, tired ‘art masterworks through the ages’ type content. At this time all sorts of experimental traditions were taking off in visual art and music, and students wanted to explore contemporary practice and find ways of talking about it, different methods and fields to develop this discussion, sociology, psychoanalysis…… I could go on…. having looked into the Hornsey sit in, which was the main one, much more that the one at Brighton.
      The politics of all this is really interesting as well – Hornsey students refused to platform existing political organisations. even when they agreed with the anti-war, anti-colonial message – so for instance Tarik Ali was refused a platform to speak as revolutionary student voice from SOAS. This must have been annoying for Tarik, but meant an interesting space was held open for the ‘yet to be fully articulated’ demands of the students. And I think this is still the most interesting aspect of teaching at art school and of being in general. ha ha … so much more to say on this…

  2. Hi Naomi – that’s really interesting – I had no idea about that history of the university (even though I work there). Where did you find the information about the history of the art school? Jenny

    1. Hi Jenny
      yes, I need to add links to the post. There was a book published by J Woodham and Philipa Lyons to mark 150 years of the art school – in 2009. its now all on line – different chapters and themes. here are a few links … and I’ll add them to the blog as well.
      here you go

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