An Cass occupation – Barbara Ntumey 620
An occupier registers disapproval at plans to relocate the Cass. Photograph: Barbara Ntumy

Opposition against a £50 million sell-off and relocation of the Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design has gathered pace, with students occupying a gallery on Wednesday evening.

The students have moved into the Bank Gallery space on Whitechapel High Street to protest against London Metropolitan University’s plans to merge its departments into one campus on Holloway Road by September 2017.

The plans, approved in October, would see The Cass’s current home in Aldgate and the rest of London Met’s East London estate sold off, with the proceeds used to revamp the Holloway campus.

The occupation was sparked by the suspension of Robert Mull as Dean of Faculty, believed to be the result of Mull’s refusal to support the university’s ‘One Campus, One Community’ policy.

A group called Occupy the Cass has issued a list of demands, which include not selling the Cass’s Central House building on Whitechapel High Street, and a commitment not to cut courses, staff numbers and student places.

Courses in jewellery, silversmithing and the last musical instrument making BSc in the UK are being phased out at the Cass as part of the university’s ‘annual portfolio review’ but which the occupying students see as evidence of an “asset stripping exercise to balance the university’s books”.

The group’s actions have been endorsed by the likes of artists Jeremy Deller, a visiting professor at the school, and Bob and Roberta Smith, an associate professor and course leader there. The latter described the occupiers as “wonderful people” who are “standing up for the Cass [and for] art education at all levels.”

However, a statement released by London Metropolitan University said it is investing £125m in new workshops and studio spaces to create a new home for The Cass at the Holloway campus.

“We appreciate that some students are concerned about the move, but we’d like to reassure them that the Cass is not closing, nor will its making ethos or successful studio model of teaching be lost,” the statement read.

“By moving to Islington, the Cass will be in one location as opposed to the faculty’s current split between Central House and Commercial Road. Students have already highlighted the success of the previous merger between the School of Architecture and School of Art and Design to form the Cass three years ago, and we believe another move, with considerably more investment, can only be positive.

“We are inviting students to work with us to shape the Cass’s future together, and we’d urge those occupying today to accept that offer.”

The occupation is the latest measure in an increasingly high-profile campaign to ‘save the Cass’. A petition opposing the one campus plan has more than 2000 signatories, and last week the school’s proposed move away from East London was mentioned during a debate in the House of Lords. Bob and Roberta Smith has created a new artwork protesting the move, an open letter to chancellor George Osbourne penned on convector heaters, which is on display at William Morris Gallery.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs has described himself as “deeply shocked” at the decision to move the Cass, whose alumni include members of the newly-crowned Turner Prize winning collective, Assemble.

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