A former nightclub and current church in south London’s Brixton isn’t the most likely location for an art school. But for the School of Communication Arts, it’s the perfect fit. “I like the churches for their space – they’re nice and open so ideas can flow around the studio,” says Marc Lewis, the school’s Dean. “Our space used to be MASS Nightclub, my office used to be the DJ booth.”
So in that respect, the building’s long housed creativity; and continues to do so by offering a brave new way of learning to students who want to get into advertising. “We deliver the learning in a really unorthodox way. Some say it feels a bit like a cult, particularly at the beginning of the course, when we introduce mindfulness, Buddhism, and other behavioural changing stuff,” Marc explains. “We are the opposite of university. Everything is focused on getting students jobs, so there’s no essays, no lectures, no final projects that take all year.”
The courses focus on making students truly multidisciplinary, so “copywriters end up learning typography, art directors get into the habit of writing straplines, and everyone learns about emerging technology trends.” The course only takes on 36 students, but has a network of more than 800 teachers (including big name industry professionals such as Sir John Hegarty, Rory Sutherland and Laura Jordan Bambach) offering support, with at least six physically in the studio each day. Students choose how many contact hours they have each week, and learn through working on briefs supported by the teachers (known as mentors) who mostly work in ad agencies themselves. Students range from 18 year-olds straight out of school to a 38 year-old father of four.
At the moment, the course is keen to get more students from a visual background on board, and looks for people with “character, personality and a positive attitude.” Marc says: “We want people to have a sense of visual confidence and a point of view. They need to know what they like, they should be out connecting dots and they should be able to demonstrate an interest in making stuff.
“Our selection process is as unorthodox as our learning model (come and watch one next year!! It’s like a Britain’s Got Talent audition!!) and it’s all designed to help us choose people with character. We look for natural collaborators – people who say YES, AND more than NO or BUT.”
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