John Beck and Matthew Cornford: The Art Schools of the Midlands (exhibition)

Loughborough College of Art building on Frederick Street, Loughborough taken in 2022

Booking information

No booking required


The former Loughborough College of Art building, Frederick Street, Loughborough (photographed August 2022)


Contact information

LU Arts
01509 222948

An exhibition of original photographic images of the Midlands' forty-eight art school buildings, along with a display of historical images and archival ephemera.

About this exhibition

Loughborough University's Martin Hall Gallery presents The Art Schools of the Midlands, the latest iteration of John Beck and Matthew Cornford’s ambitious Art School Project exploring the history and legacies of the nation’s art schools. The project combines original photography, textual and archival materials to examine the vital role art schools have played, and continue to play, in the cultural and economic life of our towns and cities. 

The twin Victorian engines of industrial ambition and social reform powered the British art school system, which developed by the end of the nineteenth century into a complex network of institutions providing training and exposure to the arts to thousands of workers and students across the country. By the mid-1960s there were still over 150 art schools in the UK, by which time ‘art school’ had become shorthand for creative innovation across the arts, design, music and advertising. Yet at the peak of their influence on British cultural life, art schools in many towns and cities were already being amalgamated, reorganised and rebranded as part of a drive to reshape education in the arts. Most art schools have long since been absorbed into larger institutions, many of the buildings repurposed or demolished.  

The Loughborough exhibition focuses on the impressive number of art schools located in the Midlands and features original photographic images of all 48 sites from across the region, from Hereford to Boston, Chesterfield to Northampton, alongside a display of archival images and ephemera focusing specifically on the history of Loughborough College of Art. The Art Schools of the Midlands is at once an exploration of a key aspect of the civic and architectural history of the region since the mid-nineteenth century and also, importantly, an investigation of our present moment, recording the sites of former art schools which have been redeveloped or reused. 

The exhibition aims to create a space for dialogue and debate, raising questions about the role of the arts and art education in relation to community, history, and identity, and the shifting complex role of cultural production and cultural labour in the contemporary environment.  

John Beck and Matthew Cornford began researching the history and legacies of British art schools when they noticed that Great Yarmouth College of Art and Design, where they both studied in the early 1980s, was disused and for sale (it is now social housing). Emerging out of a series of talks and papers, the Art School Project currently takes the form of regionally oriented exhibitions that respond to the particularities of place. In the North West, they have shown in Liverpool, Bury and Rochdale, while in 2023 their work on the West and East Midlands was the focus of exhibitions at, respectively, the New Art Gallery Walsall and Bonington in Nottingham. John Beck teaches literature and visual culture at the University of Westminster (incorporating what was once Harrow School of Art), and Matthew Cornford teaches fine art at the University of Brighton (formerly Brighton School of Art). 

Follow The Art School project on Instagram

Please note that the exhibition will be closed for the bank holiday on Monday 27 May.

The Art Schools Project - In Conversation with John Beck and Matthew Cornford

Artists John Beck and Matthew Cornford will discuss The Art School Project in a special event on Wednesday 29 May at 1pm. They will be joined by Jill Vincent and Jonathan Hale who have been instrumental in the development of The Generator, a new arts space within Loughborough’s original art school building on Frederick Street.

The Arts Schools Project - In Conversation event details

History of Loughborough College of Art, Frederick Street, Loughborough

Classes at Loughborough Government School of Art began at the Board Schools, Cobden Street, in 1881. By 1900 the School was operating from Church Gate and was integrated into the new Technical Institute in 1909. The Institute became Loughborough College in 1918. After a number of name changes the School became Loughborough College of Art in 1951 and the following year was one of four institutions created by splitting Loughborough College. In 1966, the College of Art and Design, as it was now called, relocated to a site adjacent to Loughborough University. The College of Art and Design became an independent Higher Education Institution in 1989, merging with the University in 1998.


There is step-free access into the gallery via a ramp and side door. During opening hours, there will be an invigilator on duty in the gallery. If you require their assistance, then please alert them on arrival by calling to them or waving at them – the entrance to the gallery is fully glazed and the main entrance door should be open.

For more information about the venue, including photographs, view the access guide for Martin Hall on AccessAble.

If you have any specific access requirements, then please contact in advance of your visit and we will do our best to accommodate them.


There are toilets located on the ground floor of Martin Hall including an accessible toilet. There is step-free access into this building.

Martin Hall Cafe serves light refreshments and is open from 8.30am to 5pm Mon-Fri. It is located behind the gallery, accessed through the main entrance to Martin Hall.


Please note that visitors are now required to register their vehicle and pay to park on campus. There are various ways in which you can register and pay (both in advance and on arrival).

More information on visitor parking

Public transport

If you are travelling by public transport, you can take the Sprint Bus from Loughborough railway station or the town centre (Ashby Square) and alight at Loughborough College. Cross Epinal Way at the pedestrian crossing and keep going straight ahead to enter campus. This brings you onto Shirley Pearce Square with Martin Hall on the left. 

View the full Sprint Bus timetable.