THE CURRENT POSITION
3. The College and the Arts at Dartington
3.1 The Arts at Dartington – The Present Day
The establishment of Dartington Plus, Dartington Creative Enterprise and other organisations are relatively new initiatives which now play a major part on the Dartington Estate. Whilst dealing with some of the community-related issues that have always been at the heart of Dartington discourse, they also have distinctly present-day aspects and flavours. Chief among these are a decidedly business-style orientation, a concern for networking and marketing, and a loss of, or lack of, faith in the arts as art. The arts are valued for their direct use-value (involving young people, animating communities, facilitating careers etc.) rather than their less tangible, less “useful”, but ultimately more important qualities. The application of the arts to real cases of social need is rare in this scenario. Instead a general commerce-driven ambience prevails.
Dartington Plus is based on alliances between the Dartington Hall Trust, the College and the local comprehensive school KEVICC. They are important in the debate about the future of the college for two reasons.
First: the College is a named partner. Any removal of the College from the immediate area would therefore have to be accounted for. The official line propounded by Director Matt Griffiths that “Dartington in Falmouth” would be perfectly acceptable, if not advantageous, to Dartington Plus is actually unacceptable because the College in its present location represents one point of a locally-constructed triangle. Mr Griffiths’ response is clearly a pragmatic one designed to deal with an unforeseen situation.
Second: elements such as Dartington Plus would play a leading part in “replacement activities” – activities and initiatives which would compensate the Totnes/South Devon locality for the loss of the College. The Save Dartington College Campaign does not believe that Dartington Plus would be able to sufficiently replace the full scope and range of activities of Dartington College of Arts.
This SDCC does not believe it necessary to outline the history and declared objectives of Dartington Plus. Those who wish it are referred to the website: www.dartingtonplus.org.uk. Likewise Dartington Creative Enterprise has a website (www.dartington.ac.uk/enterprise/index.asp) in which its policies and functions are outlined. However, some general observations are in order if only to draw attention to the economistic, business-orientated, corporate, entrepreneurial flavour which characterises not only these organisations but some key aspects of Dartington at present. A current witticism maintains that, in these circles, the word “creative” is only ever heard followed by the word “industry”. Let us examine this claim.
The Dartington Plus website is permeated by the language and concepts of business – not small business, but big, corporate enterprises which typically speak of “the focus for the next five years”, “a five-year plan”, “partners”, “regional gaps to fill”, and arts “industries”. The “Five Year Strategic Aims” include “participant development initiatives to encourage continuing participation across all age groups…”, and creating a “regional network” for sustainable work for artists. The “Enabling Aims” include ensuring “appropriate governance and management structures” to “deliver” Dartington Plus’s development aims; “to maximize income generation and fundraising opportunities and leverage in additional funds to support the Arts”; working with “partner organisations to support their complementary strategic initiatives”. (One is reminded more of an annual report for Tesco than of an arts organisation.)
The website repeats many times the mantra “centre of excellence”, as well as being liberally sprinkled with the business buzzwords “partner”, “partnerships”, “enterprise”, music/arts/creative “industry”, “developing participation”, “performance and enterprise”, “networking”. It lists twenty-five staff, although it does not say how many of these are paid or how much they are paid. However, it does truthfully say of one of its “partners”: “Dartington College of Arts offers one of the most extraordinary environments in the world for contemporary arts practices”. Clearly, Dartington-in-Falmouth renders this claim totally irrelevant.
The entrepreneurial spirit which is so characteristic of post-1980s British culture, education and politics has thus permeated the arts and arts education. Organisations such as Dartington Plus and Dartington Creative Enterprises, NOT the College, offer precisely the opposite approach to that so strongly argued for by Maurice Ash with his concern for spiritual values. Quantity is prioritized. For example, the Dartington Creative Enterprises website proudly announces: “Since 2004, we have supported over 2,000 artists, creative businesses and organisations”. It does not mention what these artists did, what (if any) debate their work prompted, what the “creative businesses” promoted, why, and whether it was worth promoting. Indeed, alarmingly, NO qualitative questions are asked or answered. This, surely without a doubt, is the very opposite of what both Maurice Ash and Peter Cox argued for.
It is self evident that artists of all kinds normally have to engage in forms of trade in order to sell their work, secure bookings, become published or generally build a reputation. Likewise, arts centres, theatres, galleries, community arts projects, publishers and record companies de facto involve themselves in promotion and fund raising. There is, however, a world of difference between the ordinary trade required to keep artists and arts organisations alive and working, and the funding-led arts climate of recent years. Dartington’s early, and well deserved, reputation for swimming against the tide has, alas, disappeared. Dartington Plus, Dartington Creative Enterprises and the apparent orientation of the present day Trust, is an exact match of the populist entrepreneurial, free market, corporatist plutocracies that seem so pervasive in today’s Britain. If it is to be anything more than a mere enterprise involved in spectacle and fashionable (and therefore fundable) ideas, the Dartington experiment must rediscover its traditional ability to swim against the tide. A saying has it that “only dead fish go with the flow”.
It is this relentlessly materialist and expansionist worldview, in which “economies of scale” and measurement are treated as non-negotiable truths, which Dartington as a whole has drifted towards over a period of time, and which represents an almost opposite view to that of its founders and pioneers.
It must be said that present day Dartington in the form of Dartington Arts, the Summer School of Music and the College does continue to feature many worthy arts events. A major concern, however, must be the future in which the arts present an increasingly corporate face, in which projects such as the proposed Arts Park at Dartington risk merely being fashionable without content, and in which money is unwisely spent or squandered in the name of apparently radical actions.
3.2 Dartington College – Dimensions of the Crisis: Funding or Commitment?
The idea that Dartington College of Arts is no longer sustainable on its present campus has often been quoted by College Executive, Trust and Governors, and now HEFCE and the RDA, as the core reason why its days on the Estate are numbered. For example, the 30th March HECFE/RDA Report states that the:
“… overall condition and efficiency of the college estate are not sustainable to preserve quality of teaching and attract more students.” (Our underlining)
This much trumpeted idea is – and we say it as firmly as possible – nonsense.
As far as the above quotation goes, it assumes that the College wants to, or needs to, attract more students. However, part of Dartington’s distinctiveness has always been its small size. Furthermore, there is no question about the quality of teaching at the College, as a recent QAA Report testifies. In other words the supposedly sub-standard facilities have not been an obstruction to maintaining or even improving teaching standards. This appears to be a deliberate attempt to cite problems with infrastructure and conflate it with the suggestion that teaching quality has somehow been damaged. There are concerns that present conditions may cause difficulties in the future if things are not addressed at the Dartington Hall site, but this is true of ALL buildings, especially those over a certain age.
The teaching spaces are varied in quality. The 1960s Music School, for example, could benefit from some redecoration and renovation. Its pianos are in an appalling condition, but it would not take millions of pounds to repair and tune them. However, the teaching studios are perfectly adequate to the College’s purposes. One large studio was recently renovated, re-floored and ceilings attended to. The sprung dance floor of Studio 11 continues to be an excellent example of its kind, although no longer treated with the respect it deserves. The new block, consisting of music and theatre performance/lecture studios, meeting and teaching rooms, is, of course, superb. On the other hand, the buildings at Chimmels desperately need an overhaul. Although there are, therefore, teaching spaces, there are needs for decoration and renovation. Relatively speaking this would not cost huge, prohibitive sums, and in no way justify closing the College.
In the College Executive’s budget are also figures for upgrading the library and building a new reception area. These are desirable but can wait. An inability to create them soon is not a reason to destroy the College.
It has often seemed that the key issue fuelling the present crisis, however, is that of student residencies. It is argued that a substantial build (or re-build) of student accommodation, complete with en suite facilities, is urgently needed. A number of proposals for the siting of such a build have been rejected by the Trust. A figure of many millions of pounds has been quoted by Trust and College sources. In any case, since when have en suite residential facilities become a sine qua non of arts education?
It has also been argued that when the cap on student fees is removed prospective students will more critically contemplate what they are paying for their courses and will therefore expect more for their money. Comparability with other colleges will then become an issue.
Students opt for an arts course, not a luxury holiday. It is, of course, a good idea to update facilities, although there is no direct evidence that this would make Dartington College more competitive. However, on a scale of priorities it is not necessary to attend to this immediately, the lack of such immediate attention thus justifying the closure of the College. Such unfounded logic is breathtaking in its absurdity. If the medical profession were to employ this kind of reasoning people with broken arms which could be healed would be killed instead.
Interviews and conversations with students clearly show, in any case, that although the Higher Close accommodation blocks offer small rooms with some shared facilities, all students also mention the benefit of having the fields and grounds of Dartington Hall on their doorstep. A different view must be taken of the accommodation at Foxhole which all agree is a disgrace. Even so, no student spoken to considered even the state of Foxhole as a reason to close the entire College.
This Report is not prepared to enter into a game of “their figure/our figures”, except to say that all financial calculations of this kind are value laden, and that these values are not necessarily those shared by prospective students of the arts. They assume much but do not declare their agendas. There has never been any discussion of the construction of the figures, the assumptions and values that lie behind them, and the alternative constructions that are possible. In point of fact, ALL financial constructions of this kind are guesswork, estimates at best, as anyone who has ever budgeted to redecorate their own house knows. Suffice to say that not all possible estimates would agree with the Trust/College view, and many have pointed out how absurd it is to have the Schumacher College on the Estate and not to pursue ecologically inspired options.
The “worst case scenario” would be that the Executive’s figures were found to be accurate. Even this would not justify either doing all the work immediately or closing the College.
It is said (HEFCE sources) that because the College is so small it receives a 50% premium funding as a specialist institution giving it £5,000 per student as against an average of £3,500. This Report’s response to this is “Good! The College should be prepared to argue its special case as what, in some cultures, might be called an “inestimable national treasure”. If we are prepared to collapse in the face of such standardizing effects we are not an arts college worthy of being anywhere – Dartington or Falmouth”.
It is said that because the College has no assets of its own (its land is owned by the Trust) it has limited ability to raise its own finances. This means that, as in the premium funding case (above), the College needs to fight harder. Either that or it comes to a more constructive relationship with the Trust.
All the number crunching about student numbers over recent years not generating sustainable surpluses, all the graphs, figures and projections in the world cannot disguise the fact that the College has thrived since its opening in 1961. In the 1960s, in fact, it had very few students. It does not need to be a large college. Expansionist ideas are not part of its ethos. It could not bear even more numbers of students. Perhaps in order to continue the College needs to do some lateral, not to say ecological thinking. With the Schumacher College on the Estate this should be easily possible. It is easy to imagine how students might be attracted to the only arts college in the country whose approach to accommodation was in line with current ecological concerns connected with energy supplies, renewable resources, environmentally friendly student housing and so on. This would be a selling point for the College. The arts could thus be taught in an atmosphere and environment which would be surrounded by solutions to some of the most pressing concerns in the world today. The study of art in social context could not have a better start.
It is hard to avoid two clear conclusions. First, the Trust has been unsure of its relationship with the College for many years, as section 3.1 of this report has pointed out. This, in conjunction with the Trust’s need to exploit its key assets – mainly the Estate itself – in viable ways, points to an uncomfortable relationship with the College, one which, it may be conceded, the College has not always done all it can to improve. Many people suspect that the Trust has its own agenda and motives. Although we cannot discover exactly what these are, we see no reason to oppose the suspicions of the vast majority.
Second, and this Report believes much more crucial, some members of the College Governors and Executive appear to have an overall grand plan to create a University of the Arts in Cornwall.
3.3 Dartington – Brand or College? Questions of Educational and Artistic Philosophy
Dartington College is not a brand. It is an ethos which grows from a sense of place. It is an independent, free thinking arts establishment. It cannot be bought, sold, moved, merged or “relocated”. It can only be nurtured or killed.
The notion of Dartington as a “brand” has gained considerable currency during the current dispute. The HEFCE/RDA report lists a number of features of what it calls the Dartington brand, including its size and specialisations, its secluded rural location, its “iconic historical site” and its reputation for intensive tuition. The SDCC notes that those who wish to create a brand out of Dartington’s distinctiveness, which they acknowledge grows out of its particular location, are among those who wish to dismantle it via a “relocation”. This makes no sense whatsoever.
The Dartington Trust has applied to patent the name “Dartington” claiming that it is instantly recognizable and therefore, in effect, is already a brand. Objections to the branding of Dartington are met with the response that this is now standard business practice, and that branding is simply an aspect of marketing.
If the Trust establishes legal ownership of the brand “Dartington” it will follow that no one else will have the right to use the name without permission. The one element of “old Dartington” that the College Executive might have hoped to retain in the relocation process - the brand name – therefore slips through their fingers. The Trust, of course, might grant permission for the College to use the name, but this would be conditional, revocable, and, in any case, somewhat irrelevant once the “iconic historical site” and all that goes with it were abandoned.
Even assuming the impossible – that Dartington College could retain some of its identity at least for a period after “relocation” – its descent from an internationally acclaimed arts college to an advertising brand can only be seen as indescribably tragic.
This report utterly rejects the idea that the remnants of the College should be spun as a brand. It also recognises that even if this were accepted the Trust’s ownership of the name complicates the situation to the point of absurdity. The era of MacDartington will be upon us unless there is some serious resistance.
Furthermore, even if the branding process were to be accepted as in any way relevant to the “relocation” process there has been no discussion of exactly how the College’s ethos, teaching methods, taught content etc. is to be fitted into the new location. There is only discussion of the “brand”, the selling point – apparently in denial that one of Dartington College’s biggest selling points is its current location. The stupidity here is breathtaking.
The recent firing of a member of staff (after thirty years service to the College) by the Principal, backed by a new core executive (consisting primarily of people who have been at the college 3 years or less), and College Governors, indicates a disconnect between the brand and the content. The HEFCE/RDA 30th March Report reflects an approach consistent with this perception, citing only issues of “brand” or “profile.” Further, these factors draw into question the integrity of guarantees of jobs for all staff currently working at DCA if a move to Falmouth is achieved (as promised repeatedly to staff at DCA by Mr Brewerton). Only those who capitulate or support the new direction uncritically will continue on staff after they have reapplied for their jobs.
3.4 The “Consultative Process” Leading to the Decision to “Relocate” to Falmouth
Concerning the most significant event in the College’s history since its opening there was no consultative process in which staff, students and public were included. All discussions took place behind closed doors, involved few people, and a handful of professionals such as Jim Port who prepared the reports for JM Consulting, the so-called “Port Reports”.
News of the plans to “relocate” to Falmouth was kept from staff, students and general public until an undisclosed person (apparently a member of staff) leaked it to the local press in November 2006. This secrecy itself is part of the reason for the breakdown of trust in management now characteristic of the College.
After the news became public there was no consultation process worthy of the name. There were meetings in which Principal Andrew Brewerton informed the staff of developments, but these were largely one-way, and not all staff were invited.
Other “relocation” options were placed on the table: Plymouth University, Torbay, Plymouth College of Art and Design. The knowledge that the “relocation” of Dartington College to University College Falmouth is, in fact, an element in a grand scheme of the Combined Universities of Cornwall and other bodies to create a University of the Arts casts the other options in a dubious light. Were they window dressing? Was there ever any doubt that the Falmouth option was to be the winner? Were the other options publicised as a way of giving the illusion of choice? If it was known in advance that Falmouth was the preferred option why were bids from other institutions accepted? Very few people know the answers to these vital questions.
In response to the proposed closure and “relocation” a large number of letters of protest was sent to Andrew Brewerton, Vaughan Lindsay, the Board of Governors and the Trust. Some were also sent to the Save Dartington College website where they were published and can still be seen. A considerable number of these received no replies. Had the management genuinely wanted some form of consultation these letters could have formed a basis.
In all discussions the option of staying at Dartington was referred to as the “base case” and was ruled out. Therefore no discussion was possible. This non-negotiable position persisted even when a “consultation document” was sent to College staff. It was generally felt by staff that this document was too late in the day and invited no serious discussion.
3.5 Comment on the Current Management Style at the College
Lies, Damned Lies and Quotations
The 2008 Prospectus for Dartington College of Arts makes frequent reference to the famous Dartington environment. A photograph of the gardens has the caption “there’s always the outside to enjoy”. A student is quoted:
“Dartington is unique because it brings all the arts together in one community. Its small size means we have a really unique student social life that feels vibrant and safe, and the beautiful grounds and surroundings act as a constant stimulus for my work.”
The working spaces are proudly listed: the new studios at Lower Close, the refurbished one at Aller Park, the Gallery, the Library, and so on.
The Prospectus gives an accurate impression of Dartington College. The proposed move to Falmouth, which would appear fundamental to making informed decisions by prospective students to attend the famous campus, is not mentioned anywhere. It is, therefore, more than just a shame that the College is poised to evacuate its iconic site in favour of a more metropolitan style campus in Falmouth.
Deeper inspection of the Prospectus, however, reveals more than tragedy. Make your own mind up about exactly what is revealed by the following. Across the top of pages 7 and 8 is the quotation:
“Dartington is more than a priceless institution. It is a living, evolving presence.”
The text underneath, at the end of the third paragraph, credits this to the world renowned theatre director Peter Brook. However, Brook's description of Dartington is taken from his letter of protest of November 30th, 2006, addressed to Vaughan Lindsay, Professor Andrew Brewerton, The Trustees of Dartington, and The Governors of Dartington College of Arts. The full text of Mr. Brook's letter was posted on the Save Dartington College website on the "Letters of Support" page. It reads:
“Dartington College of Arts is more than a priceless institution, it is a living, evolving presence. I am familiar with the college in part through David Williams, whom I have known and whose activities I have followed over very many years. My deepest hope is that everything possible be explored and implemented to enable this work to continue in its present context and location.”
Mr Brook is aware of the misuse of his words and has written to the Save Dartington College Campaign:
"What a miserable business! I think it's now up to you to reproduce the original text in any context that could be constructive.”
The words of composer Gavin Bryars are also quoted in the Prospectus. On Page 8 he is quoted as saying:
"There is no other music department in the country – and possibly in the world – which would have tempted me to join it, and working with them is immensely enjoyable and always artistically stimulating."
This quotation, to be accurate, should begin with the convention of three dots (to indicate missing words) followed by the word “there” in lower case, not a capital letter as above. It would then be clear that Mr Bryars’ statement ran on from a previous idea. Far more serious, however, is the deliberate alteration of the purpose of Mr Bryars’ communication addressed to Andrew Brewerton, the full text of which is also on the website but which, for the sake of completeness, we give as Appendix 2. Again, a letter of protest was turned into an advertisement for Dartington College.
Like Mr Brook, Mr Bryars is unhappy that his words have been used in this way. In a communication to the Save Dartington College Campaign he wrote:
“I am disturbed that what I wrote has been taken out of context in this way. Clearly, as you note, what I wrote in the first sentence was conditionally linked to the second. Had I been asked to write something about the quality of the music department for a college prospectus, I may have written something as I do feel strongly about the quality of the staff and the educational approach. But I do object to something I wrote for a quite specific purpose being lifted, and then to find out about it indirectly (though I’m grateful to you for letting me know).
I am copying this to others, so you can take it that this is not something written for just your consumption!”
On Page 8 Tim Etchells of the innovative theatre company “Forced Entertainment” is quoted as saying:
“Dartington’s reputation in the field of performing arts education in Europe is as a unique centre of excellence, experiment and innovation…The impact that its students make on the contemporary scene – creatively, artistically, academically – is completely out of scale with the size of the institution.”
Again, an internationally reputable artist had his words misrepresented. The passages from Mr. Etchells were, in fact, part of a much longer letter, a passionate plea to keep Dartington on its historic campus. This letter is given as Appendix 3 with the quoted passage underlined.
These three examples of appropriation of texts and misrepresentation of their intended meanings reflect poorly on the Dartington College of Arts Executive and, in particular, Principal Andrew Brewerton whose signature is on Page 3 of the Prospectus and who must therefore take responsibility for this misuse of letters of protest.
Since the “leak” of November 2006 there has been much comment on a management style which disempowers and disenfranchises staff. This has been called the “because I say so” response to important questions.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the current situation at Dartington College there is now an atmosphere of distrust in relation to the management of the College as well as the Trust, the College Board of Governors and some other official bodies. This distrust is common amongst staff and students as well as members of the local community, and artists near and far who have links with the College, past or present. The most distressing aspect of this atmosphere of distrust and suspicion is that all members of key groups become tarred with the same brush. This allows no room for individual shades of opinion. Not all Trustees, members of the College Executive, or College Governors are equally in favour of the closure of the present college and the Falmouth Plan. Indeed, it is known that some individuals are deeply depressed by the prospect.
However, to counterbalance this call for tolerance, it has to be noted that no strongly dissenting voice has yet been heard from within these centres of power. One can, of course, understand how difficult such dissention may be, yet it must be observed that ALL College Governors voted for the Falmouth plan, therefore ALL are equally culpable. The idea that a Governor of a college should vote for its demise is beyond belief.
The style of management at the College has come under question. A number of teaching staff have been spoken to in an intimidating manner. A Head of Department was disciplined. A very senior member of staff’s position became uncertain. A Head of Department resigned. At least one student has been threatened with disciplinary action. A student representative for the Board of Governors who was voted for by 82% of students has been told that he cannot attend Governors meetings unless he agrees not to raise questions concerning the College staying on the campus. The case of Sam Richards, sacked for writing a website article, a satirical dig at the Falmouth plan and those responsible for it, is utterly shameful. Mr Richards gave his first lecture at Dartington in 1977. As a student before that he had spoken with the Elmhirsts and many Dartington pioneers. He knew Maurice Ash personally. To be sacked after thirty years for a “crime” no more serious than thumbing your nose at the headmaster is indefensible.
The break down of trust, and the fragile atmosphere it has engendered, is an entirely new phenomenon at Dartington and is to be much regretted. Its origin is the various attempts on the part of the Principal, the Trust’s CEO, and others, to defend the indefensible.
In the last week of April 2007 local M.P.s Anthony Steen (Totnes, Conservative) and Adrian Sanders (Torbay, Liberal Democrat) made public statements concerning the state of the College. Mr. Steen made critical comment on the current management at the College and remarked that there was still everything to play for in the battle to save the College. Mr. Sanders asked the Prime Minister to look into the matter of £20 million of taxpayer’s money being used to “relocate” Dartington College. On Wednesday May 2nd 2007 in the Western Morning News and the Herald Express Mr Brewerton attacked Messrs Steen and Saunders, accusing them of electioneering in the run-up to the local council elections. It has frequently been remarked over the months of the College dispute that the only acceptable opinions or questions are the ones that toe the Falmouth line. These newspaper reports, and Mr Brewerton’s outraged response to them, demonstrate the truth of this suspicion.
We believe that negotiations to save Dartington College are still possible and relevant. However, the hostile and dismissive approach of Andrew Brewerton seems to be a serious impediment. Therefore we support Ian Wellens’ call for his resignation. The case of the College Prospectus for 2008 and the misrepresenting of Peter Brook, Gavin Bryars and Tim Etchells are enough to prompt the question: how it is possible to trust Mr Brewerton in the light of this?
On the wider question of the general management of the College, it is extraordinary that problems said to be so severe that they question the College’s entire existence were not spotted earlier. Anthony Steen M.P. said, of Mr Brewerton and the College Governors:
"He's been running a college that's been heading for an iceberg. He didn't see it and the governors didn't. They should have seen it years ago."
This is, perhaps, most appropriately aimed at the Governors and the previous Principal rather than at Mr Brewerton who has only been Principal for a short time. Mr Steen’s assertion that a change of management is required was, apparently, aimed at the Governors rather than Mr Brewerton. Although this Report does not defend Mr Brewerton’s handling of the situation, including his draconian style of management, it is not prepared to heap all the responsibility on his shoulders alone.
As a footnote, reference should be made to the fact that Mr Brewerton has stated, on many occasions, that the campaign to save the College has been personalised into an attack on him. This is hardly fair. He is one of the major figures in this dispute, and is thus personally responsible for many aspects of it. Attacks on his ideas and policies are bound to mention his name in a critical manner. However, there are no instances of direct attacks which have no political point.