Why Falmouth Campus rocked in the 80s
19 April 2022
Lead photo credit: Katie Murphy
Fancy dress nights and ‘Neighbours’ on TV in the common room – Falmouth School of Art alumni Dan Mullaly and Mitty Stiles take us back to Falmouth life in the late 80s.
The Cold War was ending and Band-Aid was asking Do They Know It’s Christmas? – but what was the vibe here at Falmouth in 1989? Mitty Stiles, a student that year, went on to careers in hospitality and commercial photography, while Dan Mullaly has since worked in merchandising, tour management in the music industry and bespoke carpentry. We asked the pair to reflect on life at Falmouth School of Art back in the day.
You both studied General Art & Design. What brought you here?
Mitty: My parents met at Goldsmiths and lots of their friends were also artists, so we call it the family curse. I grew up in Falmouth as mum and dad [Dick and Sally Stiles] owned the King’s Head pub in town, which was then frequented by most of the art school lecturers and students. I remember being taken to all the degree shows in the late seventies. When I dropped out of sixth form college, art school was seen by my parents as acceptable – they felt it would give me a good grounding.
Dan: I had no focus as to what I’d do after leaving school and this seemed the most entertaining of a range of quite unattractive options.
Mitty: It was all about finding your peer group. A lot of the people we wanted to hang out with were the arty crowd, so we fitted in better with them. Falmouth might be a small town, but for us the Art School was a new pond to swim in – with fresh blood.
We weren’t working to a syllabus or a curriculum; we were allowed to have a go and discover what we liked. I suppose we learned the art of seeing – understanding the creative process and our place in it.
What can you tell us about the course and its focus?
Dan: The atmosphere was very bohemian and there was an interesting cross-section of students. We were on the two-year foundation course which included drawing, printmaking, photography, fashion and sculpture, although strangely no design.
Mitty: It was good to have that freedom. We weren’t working to a syllabus or a curriculum; we were allowed to have a go and discover what we liked. I suppose we learned the art of seeing – understanding the creative process and our place in it.
Dan: Back then, getting a job afterwards wasn’t part of the remit; the focus was on gaining “an education in art”. We were encouraged to keep sketchbooks, but I don’t remember producing anything decent. If I had that opportunity now it might be different. Those were the glory days of student grants, and at that age I was more into girls and drinking…
Mitty: They say education is wasted on the young! We spent most of our energy organising parties and making props for Victor Dragos, the nightclub on the site of what later became Ships & Castles. I remember creating a scale replica of Stonehenge, using lots of chicken wire and papier-mâché, to go on the dance floor.
So a career in the arts wasn’t high on the agenda?
Mitty: In the back of my mind, I never expected to come out of Falmouth as a fine artist. Most of my parents’ friends had gone into the creative industries and while we always believed we’d find our place in that world, there was no worry about getting a job. The funny thing is that both Dan and I did both end up doing something with general art and design. I discovered that I was good at photography and also that I was quite lazy, so it was the ideal medium.
Dan: I don’t think I excelled at Falmouth. I remember being pulled in as my work was not up to scratch; my focus had shifted to doing the bare minimum and I was put on probation once or twice. I think there was concern that my low standards might be bringing the Art School down! We weren’t so career-driven, but in retrospect the course hugely influenced what I’ve become. The ability to put an idea down on paper and present it to someone – that way of thinking stays with you. And when I worked in the music industry, that creative vocabulary was fundamental in how I communicated with musicians.
They were good times. And there were no computers or phones – which is just as well, as it meant none of our indiscretions were captured on camera.
Away from your studies, what was student life like?
Dan: We had a lovely canteen on the Woodlane campus where the food was home-cooked and ahead of its time, with great vegetarian options. Next door was a common room with a TV, where everyone squashed in at lunchtime for 'Neighbours'. All the Fine Art students came round, looking the part in their overalls and smoking roll-ups, and we’d sit on chairs, tables and the carpet to watch.
Mitty: There was no student bar on campus, so the Jacobs Ladder was the hostelry we were most familiar with. A lot of pool was played there at lunchtimes. We also had some nice gatherings on site and everyone went to a huge effort with fancy dress, spending weeks making their outfits. I remember going to a campus Halloween party as the shower from Psycho, complete with large amounts of tomato ketchup and a cassette player around my neck playing the theme.
Dan: The demographic was different then. The Students’ Union was basically a socialist organisation and I remembering us marching at Westminster against the abolition of student grants. The SU organised coaches to take us all up there, which was a bit of a jolly.
Looking back on your years at Falmouth – time well spent?
Mitty: Definitely. Falmouth School of Art gave us the freedom to grow and offered a nice environment to find our place in society. It was, and still is, an extraordinary institution.
Dan: They were good times. And there were no computers or phones – which is just as well, as it meant none of our indiscretions were captured on camera.