How Bramley class is making art accessible for all at Fairfield Community Centre

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By Helen Fay

A free art class in Bramley that has been running since last September looks set to receive funding for another year. 

The Affordable Art Class has been a well-attended and popular course when it is held at Fairfield Community Centre on Friday afternoons, from 1pm until 3pm during school term times. The current course is due to end in June before resuming in September.  

Class teacher Sophie Flynn was motivated to set up the class after having a look at the cost of life drawing classes around Leeds and found that they were in her opinion, “rather pricey”.  

Sophie told the West Leeds Dispatch: “They (the classes) are costly to run, but from the point of view of the participant there is also the cost of getting there as well as the cost of the course.   

“During my lifetime there has been a bit of a ‘slide’ in arts provision, towards less accessibility and it was becoming costlier and more exclusive.  

“There was a time where an arts education was more accessible in terms of cost.  In the past there were also more leisure evening classes, and they were a great part of the fabric of British life.  You could follow your interests, try things out, meet people with similar interests, and they were a great morale booster in the winter months.”

Sophie acknowledged that there are other organisations in Leeds that make participation in art more accessible, including some in West Leeds.  She said: “While I would never resent artists making money, participation can be stymied by expense and the whole thing can become a ‘cash cow’ for the institutions.  

“There has also been a gradual downturn in concessionary prices for people on low incomes, and when there is travel added into the mix it can prove prohibitive and a barrier to participation. I also took note that in certain places, were you to be granted a concession, you have to have exactly  the right documents which can leave some feeling grilled over paperwork.”

Sophie concluded that West Leeds needed “a bit more arts provision, and activities for adults”.  Sophie set about planning how best to make this a reality, considering what was the ideal set up for a life drawing class, what would draw people in and what barriers could be “got rid of”. 

Sophie decided that “the class had to be free at the point of use with all materials provided. No documents. No sliding scales of payment.  No stipulations in terms of experience or qualifications”.  She also felt that the class should take place in the middle of the day rather than the evening as travelling at night might be more difficult for some people.  

The class includes not only practical life drawing experience, but also talks on various aspects of drawing, use and history of materials and techniques, and a wide range of artist’s quality and other materials to try out.  Sophie said: “It’s essentially about facilitating the experience of drawing, with the subject being the human body.”

After successfully obtaining funding from Leeds City Council’s Inner West Community Committee, Sophie was able to make her idea of the class become a reality last September and the sessions have proved to be popular. 

“Class attendance has exceeded expectations with students returning week on week. There is a social aspect to it, with people chatting around drinks and snacks during the break. It’s a mixed ability group, with students on different art paths, but results have been encouraging with real progress and good work amongst the participants. Doing the class is enjoyable and it’s fascinating seeing, at the end of a session, what artwork has been created”.

The class has had support from local councillors to help the project along, with Bramley Councillor Caroline Gruen paying a visit one week to see how the class was going.  The final session of the class this academic year will be on 7th June.  Sophie stressed that money was tight and she had been looking for funding to restart the project in September 2024.  

In the meantime there is room for new people in the class, contact Fairfield Community Centre by email for further information: fairfieldcommunitycentre1@gmail.com. Fairfield Community Centre can also be followed on Twitter/ X: @CentreFairfield.

  

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