Although formed just a few months ago, DIY Art School has quickly secured a place in Manchester’s busy visual arts ecology. It was set up by graduates from Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and describes itself as ‘a user-generated postgraduate education project/social experiment/art club’.

“We’re not modelling ourselves on the free universities and independent art schools. DIY is more like a fourth year of art school,” says member Marcelle Holt. “We’re creating our own peer-to-peer network, keeping ourselves and our confidence going.”

Many of the DIYers are graduates from MMU’s Interactive Arts course, which encourages ‘individual, flexible, employable graduates, capable of adapting to a changing world’. Also taking part in DIY is history of art graduate Katy Morrison. Her aim is to set up a Manchester-Rennes exchange as a year-long project. “The idea is to help artists experience the grass roots arts scene elsewhere and develop international peer support networks,” she says. Morrison adds that 2012 graduates from other universities are also welcome to join in.

DIY members come together for weekly sessions such as crits and workshops, and to share the skills they have collectively. Term two began on 14 January. Being based at Lionel Dobie Project (LDP) means DIY Art School is right on Castlefield Gallery’s doorstep. As Holt says: “We all give time to be supportive of other arts organisations: it’s a discipline.”

The DIYers get support and camaraderie from LDP, a one-year venture for emerging curators coordinated by Helen Collett and Lois Macdonald. LDP run a series of curatorial residencies – currently Toby Huddlestone is presenting the first part of Auto Archive – and also provide contexts for critique and peer exchange.

As part of LDP’s monthly road trips designed to broaden knowledge and networks, DIY has been to Leeds, visiting East Street Arts (ESA), artists’ collective Enjoy and artists’ curatorial venture Mexico Projects. “ESA’s Karen Watson was really helpful,” says Lois Macdonald. “We’ll be keeping in touch”. The next trip will be to London, including to Enclave in Deptford, location for the next stage of Huddlestone’s Auto Archive.

DIY members appear confident and articulate. They know all about portfolio working and recognise that the poverty – the living hand to mouth – is “how it is for artists now”. They say they haven’t needed a formal organisational or membership structure yet, but it’s clear they know where to go when they need advice, with a-n forming part of their information pool.

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