The fine art of making artists


The Byron School of Art open their doors this week and invite interested members of the public to come and view their impressive exhibition space and studios.

This will be the first open day at the Mullumbimby premises, which is now headquarters for this artist-run school.

The school is not funded by the government and is solely the initiative of practising professional artists (and teachers) Michael Cusack, James Guppy, Christine Wilcocks and Emma Walker. Having previously had studios in Bangalow and Byron, BSA’s Emma Walker believes that it ‘consolidates the school in one space, giving a bigger profile and street presence’.

The school believes its independent status is what sets it apart.

‘We don’t answer to institutions,’ says Walker. ‘We are not connected to uni or TAFE, and while we have no operational funding, we have the freedom to create our own curriculum, which is a combination of ideals.’

The school stared out as a friendship between the five artists, who were also teaching at universities and TAFE colleges at the time. Funding cuts saw them lose their jobs and hence the independent initiative of Byron School of Art was born.

Emma believes that previous teaching experience gives the school a real point of difference and relevance.

‘We understand the strengths and weaknesses and it gives us a unique perspective. We draw from our own experiences and we have created something quite new. Our aim is for students to get strong studio practice as the courses we offer are all studio based. We ask students to turn up and make work day after day.’

Unlike many schools where the teachers are no longer practising artists, the Byron School of Art offers classes from some of Australia’s most successful art makers.

‘We are all practising artists,’ says Emma, ‘so students will see us having shows. We are also interested in the academic side of things; we focus on art history, theory and critical thinking.’

Emma says the school also has a commitment to community engagement through initiatives such as art in the pub, their exhibition program at the BSA project space, and collaborations with other groups such as The Byron Writers Festival and Ballina’s Northern Rivers Community Gallery.

‘We are really hoping to create an artistic hub in the Shire,’ says Emma, ‘to get discussion on public art, art funding and ideas.’

This contemporary school offers a variety of courses, from short courses, workshops, and masterclasses to year-long courses in painting, photography, sculpture, printmaking and drawing with plans for after-school kids’ classes starting soon.

The Byron School of Art offers art makers and creatives a chance to extend their abilities and engage in practice on their journey towards becoming a working artist.

‘To be an artist you have to be able to work alone,’ says Emma. ‘So it helps if you are a loner. You need a really strong work ethic and a bloodymindedness. You need to think about things deeply and feel things in order to make work that is relevant, not just decorative… Artists have to be comfortable with the unknown. Comfortable with fear. Comfortable with the uncomfortable.’

Byron School of Art Open Day – Sunday 11am–2pm, 112 Dalley St, Mullumbimby.
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