Behind the scenes of Britain's oldest art school

Tucked beneath the RA's galleries are studios, workshops (and a bar) that make up the RA Schools: home to post-graduate artists making contemporary work in all media.

Behind the scenes at the RA Schools (2017)Royal Academy of Arts

There are no tuition fees, there are bursaries for living expenses, and everyone has their own studio.

The RA Schools are tucked beneath galleries, where ad-hoc structures for editing suites, a library, print drying, workshops, and a canteen and bar (among other things) have accumulated over time.

You can explore the RA Schools's Cast Corridor using the arrows in this image.

Behind the scenes at the RA Schools (2019)Royal Academy of Arts

Historically the RA Schools was known as a traditional home for painters and sculptors, but in the 21st century (after a period of dwindling relevance) the programme adapted to contemporary art practice. Today it’s a respected space for exchange and discussion, where artists working in all fine art media come to evolve their practice.

Let’s hear from some of those artists and the staff who support them...

Behind the scenes at the RA Schools (2019)Royal Academy of Arts

"Being here is like having Christmas dinner with all your aunts and uncles every day. It’s people you grow to love, and you’re sitting down, you’re all talking, you have to walk past each other all the time.”

Hamish Pearch, class of 2019

Behind the scenes at the RA Schools (2017)Royal Academy of Arts

“I’ve learned to be a bit more generous. Before the RA, I was very particular about the type of work and subject positions I entertained. Being here has taught me that I can spend 90 minutes intimately discussing formal abstract painting – I still don’t enjoy being around it, but such debate certainly is a good tool.”

Jenkin van Zyl, class of 2020

Behind the scenes at the RA Schools (2017)Royal Academy of Arts

“The RA Schools are driven by the idea of robust discourse. Talking about art – whether yours or another’s, at lunch, in a crit, in the studio or in passing – is a way of getting closer to knowing why anyone makes art in the first place.”

Rebecca Salter PRA, who was 25th Keeper of the Royal Academy (the Academician responsible for overseeing the RA Schools)

Behind the scenes at the RA Schools (2019)Royal Academy of Arts

“I’ve had some amazing and pertinent conversations about the work I’m making, not just with tutors and visiting artists, but with my peers. It has really accelerated my practice. Before coming to the RA, being in my studio was so isolating. I could go days without speaking to anyone. Now I can just turn around and someone is there. That is not something to be underestimated. What the RA offers beyond anything else is a community. That is one of the most important things art education can provide.”

Jala Wahid, class of 2019

Behind the scenes at the RA Schools (2017)Royal Academy of Arts

“Everything is secondary to the individual students who come to study and contribute to our programme. It’s the student group who influence and determine the direction of the RA Schools.”

– Richard Kirwan, Senior Lecturer

Behind the scenes at the RA Schools (2017)Royal Academy of Arts

“The three years give people a chance to understand the way they work and the way they think, and enough time to put that into practice before trying to push that position out into the world, which is really difficult but necessary. A lot of artists have to block out the noise, or the particular dominant ways of thinking in contemporary culture, to be able to focus on what’s important to them. Finding your pace and rhythm as an artist can be hard.”

– Brian Griffiths, Senior Lecturer

Humphrey Ocean RA gives a lecture on perspective for students, in the RA Library (2019)Royal Academy of Arts

“It takes real strength to keep an institution like this going for so long. Every time we see the shows upstairs, spend time with the RA Collection, use the archives and even the Life Room, we have the opportunity to tune into a lineage of people who’ve dedicated their whole lives to art. I really like that idea.”

Hannah Farrell, class of 2021

Students working from the life in the Ladys Painting School [sic] (From article published in The Lady’s Pictorial, 19 February 1916) by Unidentified photographerRoyal Academy of Arts

And let's not forget! Today's RA Schools is the legacy of 19th-century women artists who fought for their right to an arts education equal to their male contemporaries – learn how those women changed British art history.

Credits: Story

Interviews by Sarah Handelman.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Meet the Royal Academy
London’s Royal Academy of Arts has been championing artists and architects for more than 250 years, and doesn’t intend to stop now. Explore their Collection, stories and spaces.
View theme
Google apps