Emma Edmondson introduces an alternative postgraduate art programme, designed to fit around the lives and bank balances of today’s artists.

A group of people talking around a table.
TOMA 2016 artists with artist Richard Wentworth

The Other MA (TOMA) is a 12-month artist-run education model based in Southend-on-Sea in Essex. I set it up in 2015 and it is currently the only postgraduate-level art programme in Essex, after all the others were discontinued by their host universities.

We are particularly interested in those who do not have a formal art education … or have been out of art learning for many years

TOMA has welcomed mothers, fathers, carers, cleaners, teachers, gallery assistants, crafts professionals, art psychotherapists, gallery assistants, entrepreneurs, technicians, activists, admin assistants, project managers, recent graduates, less recent ones – and everyone in between and outside these definitions. We are particularly interested in those who do not have a formal art education, have come to art later in life, or have been out of art learning for many years and want a route to enter contemporary critical thought. That can include women who have been supporting a family or are single parents just now finding time and the support to commit further to their art practice.

We also welcome those from communities under-represented in the contemporary art world. We are not interested in looking at CVs, just the work people make and how they want to interact with others in the world. We want our programme and the dialogues within it to represent the diverse world we live in.

During TOMA artists work and develop their practice within a critical framework that is shaped by the participants. Artists are given the tools and active learning to access, practise and survive in our precarious contemporary landscape. It is run like an artist cooperative with all decisions put forward to group votes in our aim to be a fair and ethically run community.

Visits and shows

The scheme is designed to fit the everyday lives of contemporary working artists, so the group meet on Thursday evenings and at weekends. We have an active programme of visiting artists, practical workshops, tutorials, residencies, studio visits, collaborations with other artist groups, public projects and exhibitions.

Over the past three years artists and practitioners have visited, recruited through suggestions by the current cohort so they are diverse and rich in their interests and artistic language. Participants directly steer the study programme, choosing those who come to teach on it and the topics explored. They are also in charge of curating and installing their own exhibitions and staging public programme events.

Last year we had a temporary project space in Southend’s shopping centre. We hosted our meetings, the educational programme and a run of experimental shows where the artists tried out new ideas. We launched the ‘open crit programme’ which welcomed practitioners to the TOMA community to receive supportive, critical feedback. We continue these crits at Metal Southend and are now looking to re-engage our project space this year with a new programme of free learning, and a public programme of exhibitions and events.

Emma Edmondson is a practising artist and Founder of TOMA.

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Photo of Emma Edmondson