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In a modern visual and consumer culture, Mechanics’ Institutes and Schools of Science and Art were one of the first institutions to advance access to industrial art education for the working classes and promote attendance to public exhibitions. Widely critiqued for their unsuccessful attempts to improve workers’ education, and as a middle-class form of social control, recent studies claim that after 1840 Mechanics’ Institutes aligned their curriculum to the labour needs of local industry. Contrary to arguments that employment rates declined, the demand for semi-skilled, skilled and artisan workers in art-labour increased.

Historical discourse on the proletarianisation of art-labour, the denigration of craft skills through mechanisation and ideological distaste for Victorian design, undermines discussion of the artistic processes and skills required between industrial worker and machine. In this paper I focus on archival material from Mechanics’ Institutes and Schools of Science and Art in Barnsley and Leeds as well as the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics’ Institutes. I argue that mechanics’ institutes supported workers’ pursuit of art-industry skills and that associations existed between Mechanics’ Institutes and local manufacturers, which underpinned the formation of the School of Science and Art, School of Art and government School of Design.

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend but registration is required.