Interview with Jack Bardwell

What does the art school of the future look like? How does it smell, sound and taste? Which values are central to it and how do they take shape? What if you could dream freely?

The present confronts us with major interpersonal, societal, political and climatic issues. Changes are needed to leave a safe, fair and livable world for future generations. The arts are more important than ever. When we look at the world around us from an artistic, creative perspective, we learn to see where the pain and the beauty lie, where the opportunity is, and where we can think again. But are the educational institutions in which artists and art educators are trained still suitable for the new systems, questions and relationships that we need to be prepared for the future?

Els Cornelis and Catelijne de Muijnck spoke to a number of students, teachers, scientists, thinkers and makers about what the Art School of the Future could look like. The interviews cover a variety of topics, from social justice, decolonized curricula and inclusive pedagogy to manners, methodologies, values, power structures and the school building.

From the beginning of January, APRIA will publish a weekly interview. The interviewees are a diverse and talented bunch with unique and valuable perspectives: Camille Barton, Jeanne van Heeswijk, Daniela Fais, Louwrien Wijers, Pascal Gielen, Sophie Krier, Annette Krauss, Willem van Weelden, Jack Bardwell, Michelle Teran and Pascale Gatzen.

Jack Bardwell is a British spatial artist and designer. His work uses fiction and performance alongside physical installations to critique our use of space and help acquire agency in the built environment. He is the founder of ‘The School within The School,’ an experimental pedagogical system within The Royal Academy of Art, The Hague (KABK), which was part of his Master’s in Interior Architecture. This series of programmed interventions installs the mechanisms of art school with student agency, based on the idea that art academies have ideally sought to offer a sanctuary for both artistic and social experimentation but they are not immune to the pressures of capital and have become subject to corporatisation.

‘The School within The School’ asks what tools are required to imagine a future that has an alternative set of values. Using a series of programmed interventions, such as a student-run bar, radio station, performance platform and alternative entrance, it instils the everyday mechanisms of the school with renewed possibility. The project is an example of how architecture can be speculative while still having its feet firmly on the ground. The position of the architect is to be both actor and participant, manipulating their direct environment alongside the community in order to imagine beyond what their space currently affords.

Jack Bardwell is currently co-running the cross-departmental Master’s project support group Group Therapy at the KABK. He works from the Extra Practice studio space, where he co-runs the community radio station Good Times Bad Times.

You started the project ‘The School within The School’ as part of your final exam at KABK. Did you have examples—were there other projects that inspired you?

Jack Bardwell (JB): When I did ‘The School within The School’1 project, I had two images in my mind. The first image was of the renowned but long-gone Black Mountain College2, where students literally rebuilt the school that they were going to be using. And secondly, I saw the image of the cabarets in early twentieth-century Paris, where all walks of life would go and mingle, and perform, and chat together until the early hours of the morning. The latter I learned about when I was doing research on counter-hegemonic spaces,3 places in the city for discussion around things that aren’t the status quo to happen; locations where knowledge was shared. Another, more recent inspiration was a project by Brave New Alps called ‘Department 21’ at the Royal College of Art in London back in 2009.4

During my research, the only contemporary place that I could compare to my romantic vision of the cabarets combined with the Black Mountain College was the ballroom scene. I went a couple of times to balls organised by The Kiki House of Angels5 in The Hague and in Rotterdam. It really struck me that nowhere else do you see this kind of support for people to put themselves out there and be themselves.

I don’t have a lot of knowledge about the history of these kind of communities, but I know that they stem from the fact that these are marginalised communities, and they had to create their own support network for each other. That came in the forms of ‘families.’ You have a mother and/or father of the house, you have houses which are the different groups that compete together, and there are international groups. And then you have mothers/fathers of those families who are sort of the caretakers of that family that everyone comes to. And there was this amazing atmosphere of support for everyone that ‘walked.’6 

Mushroom radio. photograph by Tommy Smits

Does this idea of families also apply to your project ‘Group Therapy,’ a series of discussions you organised between the M.A. courses at KABK?

JB: Yes, in the ‘Group Therapy’ project, you could think of departments as families. And if we push the analogy further, while growing up, at the moment you leave your house, you want to be independent to form your own friendships, and create a support structure outside of your home.

In my research of art schools, I looked at this image we have of the artist as a genius or loner. There is still this romantic idea of the lone artist that goes into isolation, to be inspired by nature, coming back to give society what they have learned. With the project ‘Group Therapy,’ we are trying to break down that idea. When you leave the nest of the institution, it is so important to have the ability to build up these support networks around you and to support each other.

I basically try to stop competition being the leading thing between students, institutions and artists. I think working together instead of against each other is always better. In the projects ‘The School within The School’ and ‘Group Therapy,’ students do not have to be a part of the competition which is seen more and more throughout society, coming from this business-orientated attitude. There is competition even within the institution, between departments, for example about how many students are applying to your course. And there is competition between different institutions. Art schools became very competitive, and this trickles down, so they become this competitive environment and I don’t think that is healthy for students. And this leads to a bigger question—if society should move towards more of a socialist approach than where we are at now.

As you described earlier, Black Mountain College was an important resource within your projects. What attracted you specifically to Black Mountain College?

JB: My fascination with Black Mountain College has to do specifically with their student involvement in the running of the school, and with John Dewey7, who was the main influence in terms of pedagogical theory behind Black Mountain College, with his idea of learning through doing.

To me, it seems that the more art schools are run as businesses, the more opportunities for learning have been outsourced and seen as not part of culture or society8. Think about the canteens in institutions. They are usually outsourced to a catering company that doesn’t really care about the community in the school. Black Mountain College showed what happens if the students physically built the school themselves and have a lot more involvement in how it is being run and the stuff that was being done there. This was the biggest influence in my project.

And what about the attraction of the Cabarets9 in relation to arts education?

JB: I think it is the social aspect, which of course is not the only way to learn, the only way of education, but I think that is the part that is most under threat. The more we have to validate whether learning is happening, the more we have to quantify, in order to say: ‘These are our learning goals, this is where the learning happens.’ And consequently, the more we lose sight of these social moments where the real learning happens: the bits where we sit down and share, and talk with each other. Maybe they have sometimes been seen as too modest. Like the sewing club, or mending clubs, the book clubs, bars and pubs, and all these other places where we create space to reflect and share knowledge. I think this should all be a part of and valued within the future art school.

So, if you could dream freely, what kind of architecture for the future art school do you envision?

JB: A concrete reference for a future art school would be The Fun Palace,10 an architectural concept by Cedric Price,11 a British architect, and Joan Littlewood, who was a theatre producer in London in the 60s and 70s. They together created this concept for a fun palace, which was basically how I would like this school to be. It is a place where all kinds of activities are going on. You would go there and you’d be a part of it. You could sit and watch the performances or the artworks, but you could also join and be an active participant. So, the future art school could be like this place which is formed from experimentation. The actual architecture is just an outer shell of frameworks and all the interior walls and everything in it can be moved around, so it can be this constantly changing building. The Fun Palace describes pretty well what I imagine an art institution of the future could be. I think they deliberately didn’t call it a ‘school.’ A lot of experiments with schools outside an institutional framework, like those that Sam Thorne12 deals with in his book School: A Recent History of Self-Organized Art Education, still use institutional language and call themselves ‘schools,’ like an emblem, even if you don’t get accreditation etcetera. The use of irony and fiction is also poking fun at the seriousness of an institution: ‘Hey, we can call ourselves an institution as well and it doesn’t actually mean anything.’

That is what you did as well, with ‘The School within the School.’?

JB: Yes, I used fiction a lot in things which I could not realise. Instead, I realised them through fictional narratives. For instance, I had this idea that there would be a box that fitted into the entrance of the school, that had two doors. During the day, both sides would be open; it would be a new entrance, and it would be this entrance to the other school that existed within the school. And then the back doors could close and you could host student-run events after opening hours. So, when the school said you weren’t allowed to be there, this school could still be open. But obviously, I could not realise that, and the narrative became part of these tours of ‘The School within The School’ I organised. The fictional narrative also captured things that were happening within the school already, that I did not instigate, but felt were part of the real value of the school. Or were critiques of what was happening in the school. For instance, at lunchtime, everyone went to the pizzeria in the back of a shop across the road. This pizzeria—it was amazing—was hidden behind all the drinks and stuff at this shop. Every lunchtime if you went there, it was full of KABK students and teachers. At the canteen, which was serving this shit food, no one was there. So, this pizzeria became the official canteen of ‘The School within The School.’ It would have been an amazing thing to create in my project, but instead of making it, I just made it part of the school.

What role did the existing architecture play within your projects at KABK?

JB: To me, architecture is about how people live. Sometimes it is about how the space affects people. But it is also about the infrastructure that you put in. With my project ‘The School within The School,’ I worked from the basis that I wasn’t going to be able to change neoliberalism as a political agenda. And so, it was about how could I implement certain things within the institution which could start to foster this change. I was clear about accepting the conditions of the institution and of the building, not saying I was going to design a new school, but accepting the conditions and seeing what can I do within this that might start to create a change. There were spatial things that I did, such as building this beer tap that could be wheeled around the school and used by students to host events.

Interestingly, the canteen was being refurbished while I was at KABK, and it just became this super sterile environment. It was done the same way you would decor an office with Vitra furniture all the way through. Just very sterile really. And I think there’s a missed opportunity here for involvement of students in the process of creating these spaces. And that also comes to how space can foster a feeling of ownership. The creating of a space and the choice of materials, as well as the function of the space. The involvement of students within these processes can foster a lot more feeling of agency, and I think that is a really important aspect of creating an environment where people can learn.

Working on this project I had this diagram that I kept going back to, in which I had the institution and these little interventions popping up like mushrooms within the institution. I asked myself: if the institution was to fall down, would the mushrooms that stayed behind in the rubble grow into the new institution? But then the institution would still be there as a framework for the next set of things to come and destroy. I think that there should be things in place in which the institution is constantly reshifting and questioning itself.

You emphasise the involvement of students within education. Would there still be a need, or even a place, for teachers in your Future Art School?

JB: If the school is run the way I envision it, with lots organised by students, there is still space for teachers and formal education. It is all about sharing experience and knowledge. To be explicit about the actual roles is quite important. Within ‘Group Therapy,’ I see myself as a ‘host of a dinner party.’ The host provides food, provides a location, creates the environment for this event to happen. But they also sit down at the table and they share food with you, and they also take part in the games, and maybe someone else would propose a game to play or an activity to do, and you’d go along with it. And then also maybe, the next week someone else would host the ‘dinner party,’ but there’s this role of a host still. Students don’t want to be organising this stuff all the time; there needs to be someone who’s there to push it. So really my role there is organising, writing up newsletters or summing up what we talked about, creating this website for the gatherings. In all of this we can learn from each other. I’m trying to write up a bit more now about the dinner party as a methodology for learning a sort of ‘Dinner Party Pedagogy.’

How would you organise feedback in this school?

JB: In finding a caring way to give feedback, it has to come to a bigger question of how we see the role of art and design education. If it’s there to get accreditation, to obtain a certificate, then you may need this form of judgmental assessment. That’s more down the route, if you see the role of educational systems to prepare people for the existing competitive industry or existing jobs. That is a pretty sad way of seeing the role of education.

I see art schools as the last remaining space to actually experiment with how we live, and how we do things. There are not many spaces left in society in which there is the freedom to do that. The idea of passing or failing, for example, is not useful. But of course, it’s a very privileged position of mine to say: ‘I go to school and I am not worried about what job I am going to get afterwards, you know?’ It is a fact that I have got the security of a middle-class background where I am not fearing for not earning enough money somehow.

Group therapy publication cover, graphic design by Kirsten Spruit

Group therapy publication spread, graphic design Carmen Dusmet Carrasco and Céline Hurka

We are heading for the last question. How can a school be truly inclusive and what does true inclusivity actually mean according to you?

JB: I think there are some pretty basic things that we are not doing now, but that can make these places way more inclusive. One really basic thing is making education free. That would really change the level of inclusivity. If you really want to include more people, you have to reach out to communities that wouldn’t usually consider coming to our schools. And a more diverse make up of staff allows people to be more empathetic with what it’s like to be coming from a different country or background.

And this again comes back to a shift in thinking about the role of education. Education should not just mirror what’s currently going on, but could be the place where we think about how we want society to function. For the direct action, we need to have teachers that come from different cultural backgrounds, and at the same time, we need people that are directly concerned with the area of critique. Because we also need people who have an understanding of how to critique the embedded Western ways of doing things.

Nowadays, it’s common for institutions to talk about diversity and inclusion. But who decides what and when it is inclusive enough? It has to come from a position of understanding that they don’t know what they are talking about. The only way is to involve people who have these experiences and to hear them speak. And to listen. A very large and important role for us here is reserved for listening.

Els Cornelis

Els Cornelis is a teacher/researcher/visual artist who trained as an experimental psychologist (PhD) and visual artist (B.A.) The common thread in her teaching, research and visual work can best be described as questioning social and psychological constructs. Currently, she is interested in how artistic interventions and strategies can contribute to actual social change and strengthen critical thinking, as well as critical acting within art education and (art) institutes.

At HKU, Cornelis mainly teaches at Fine Art and Design in Education and at Master of Education in Arts. In addition, she is one of the founders of the working group Roadmap to Equality in the Arts. In association with ArtEZ studium generale, she is investigating the Future of the Art School/PLURIVERSITY OF THE ARTS. As part of this project, artists, art educators, thinkers and students are invited to radically dream in order to think through alternatives. The subsequent question to all of us is how to take specific steps according to new values towards a future in which everyone feels at home.

Catelijne de Muijnck

Catelijne de Muijnck works at ArtEZ University of the Arts as programme maker for the Studium Generale and as editor of APRIA, the (online) Platform for Research Interventions of the Arts. At ArtEZ Studim Generale, she is involved in the research group Future Art School, in which visions of the art college of the future are researched and shared.


↑ 2

Read more about Black Mountain College here:

↑ 3

See James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (Yale University Press, 1990).

↑ 4

Read more about ‘Department 21’ here: Brave New Alps (

↑ 5

You can read more about The Kiki House of Angels on their Facebook group:

↑ 6

For more information on ball culture and ‘walking,’ see ‘Ball Culture’ on Wikipedia.

↑ 7

 John Dewey (1859–1952) was an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer who believed that students thrive in an environment where they are allowed to experience and interact with the curriculum, and that all students should have the opportunity to take part in their own learning.

↑ 9

The Cabarets mentioned here refer to a form of eatery that had appeared in Paris by the late nineteenth century, which became a hot bed for the performing arts, satire, subversion and a meeting place for poets, painters, musicians and writers.

↑ 11

 Read more about Cedric Price in Architectural Review:

↑ 12

Sam Thorne, School: A Recent History of Self-Organized Art Education (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2017).