Crawford still inspires as building gets revamp
The Crawford College of Art and Design is marking its centenary with an important refurbishment programme, restoring the original design and the marble pillars in the foyer
FOR OVER a century, learning in various guises has been ongoing at the Sharman Crawford Street campus in Cork. The red-bricked building, located close to the domineering steeples of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, has housed technical instruction in areas as diverse as botany, gardening, building construction, electrical engineering and tailoring.
It helped provide graduates to drive the Cork motor industry when the likes of Ford and Dunlop were a major part of industrial Cork. Since 1979, the building has been heavily associated with art students with the Cork Institute of Technology Crawford College of Art and Design situated at the site. The college itself has been in existence for two centuries. From time to time, in the past few years especially, there has been talk of the students moving to a campus in the suburbs, or of the art college being reassessed in line with tightened third-level funding.
Art degree courses, be it in photography, fine art, design or sculpture, can often be costly to run and require a smaller pupil-to-teacher ratio than perhaps straight arts or business degrees. Yet the Crawford College of Art and Design stubbornly remains. It recently branched further into the city by taking over part of the old FÁS buildings on Sullivan’s Quay and since 2010 has held a lease on the Wandsforth Quay art gallery.
To mark 100 years of learning, a refurbishment programme is ongoing in the foyer of the building, which will restore it to its original form and reveal the marble pillars. Throughout Heritage Week (from August 18th), the building will be open to the public, with an exhibition in the foyer featuring memorabilia from the past 100 years.
One morning recently, walking down paint-spattered corridors with head of fine art Trish Brennan, the college was a hive of artistic activity.
From large printing presses to sophisticated digital design studios and traditional art rooms, the definition of what constitutes an art degree has expanded in line with the type of students enrolling in courses. The downturn has encouraged some people to reconsider attending art college and there are many older students on campus.
Brennan estimates at least 30 per cent of the student population are mature students and some of them may have put off art college for “sensible” careers many years earlier. I chatted to some who cited parental pressure as reasons why they decided not to pursue art as a college or career choice at a time when art college was perhaps seen as an indulgence only for the very gifted or financially secure. It reminded me of a story a friend in rural Ireland told about bringing home an art college student, complete with long hair and dungarees, to the family farm in the mid-1970s. Her father took her aside in the kitchen, agreed he was a nice lad, but warned: “You can’t ate art.”