New Contemporaries, the annual open exhibition for current and recent graduates, is to begin accepting submissions from non-degree awarding art education programmes.

The move comes as the popularity of non-mainstream alternatives to higher education continues to grow, with the cost and accessibility of courses in the UK under increasing scrutiny.

Previously, the exhibition was open to final-year undergraduates, postgraduates and those one-year out of study at higher education institutions.

A statement from New Contemporaries explaining the decision said the organisation “recognises that tuition fees, student loans and the cost of living make it a challenging environment for artists from a broad range of backgrounds to enter higher education”.

New Contemporaries director Kirsty Ogg added that this meant “the quality, breadth and diversity of submissions to our annual show is directly affected by access to study and by changes in how art is valued and taught in the UK”.

Mentioning “alternative learning programmes” such as AltMFA, Islington Mill Art Academy, Open School East, School of the Damned, The Syllabus (which New Contemporaries helps to deliver), TOMA and Turps Art School, Ogg said: “These programmes encapsulate what has been described as the educational turn, which places an emphasis on process, peer-led learning and activity outside of existing educational structures.

“The costs of these programmes are less prohibitive than mainstream education, but their approach to learning and artists’ development is no less meticulous and productive. Often, artists who have studied at undergraduate level in a traditional educational institution choose to study on these programmes as an alternative to formalised postgraduate study.”

Responding to the announcement, Margate-based Open School East said it “wholeheartedly” welcomed the decision: “This is something we, as a team, as well as Open School East alumni, have been campaigning for.

“We are delighted that such an important institution for emerging artists recognises the importance of the work of OSE and like-minded organisations in giving artists alternative learning and development opportunities.

“In the climate of high education fees, talented artists from less privileged backgrounds are faced with fewer opportunities than ever and risk invisibility. This new policy will contribute to making the arts a more open sector and we very much hope that other organisations will follow this move.”

Maurice Carlin from the Salford-based Islington Mill Art Academy welcomed the decision as “a significant step towards recognising the validity of alternatives routes to developing an art practice”.

He said: “At Islington Mill, we believe that the choice to take an alternative path is about reimagining the world as you would like to see it as well as developing a viable art practice. Choosing a life of debt is not the only option. I hope that this decision by New Contemporaries opens up more ways for more people to become artists.”

2018 submissions for New Contemporaries open on 4 December and participants in next year’s show will be announced in spring 2018.

The current Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition, which recently finished its run at Baltic and Baltic 39 in Gateshead and Newcastle, opens at Block 336, London from 27 January 2018.

1. Jack Howell Evans, CAMP, 2017, installation view, Bloomberg New Contemporaries, Baltic 39, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Photo: Chris Sharratt
2. Associates at Open School East, Margate, June 2017. Photo: Chris Sharratt
3. Robbie Campbell, Reclining, 2016, installation view, Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2017, Baltic 39, Newcastle. Photo: Chris Sharratt

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