Dropping out is no embarrassment for Riches

Published: 29 March 2019 at 15:00

Dr Harriet Riches

Former student is appointed as Head of Anglia Ruskin’s Cambridge School of Art

Dr Harriet Riches has been appointed as the new Head of the Cambridge School of Art at Anglia Ruskin University, completing a remarkable journey for someone who admits to “dropping out” of art school in the 1990s.

Dr Riches succeeds Chris Owen, who recently retired, and her research expertise focuses on feminist art practice and the history of women’s photography.  

She completed her PhD at UCL, and has held academic posts at the University of Warwick, Middlesex University and Kingston School of Art.  Most recently Dr Riches was Dean of Academic Programmes at the Cambridge School of Visual & Performing Arts.

In addition to writing about photography for international journals, Dr Riches has delivered talks and presentations at venues including the Courtauld, Tate Britain, and the Guggenheim in New York.  And now she’s returning to her roots, having started her artistic education at the Cambridge School of Art in 1992.  

Dr Riches said:

“I studied for my Foundation Diploma in Art & Design at the Cambridge School of Art from 1992 to 1993.  My foundation year, and the one-to-one support I received, was probably the most exciting year of my education, and taught me the skills I still use today. 

“I then went elsewhere for my undergraduate degree but went on to ‘drop out’ of art school.  Fine art is a challenging subject and requires a lot of discipline and self-motivation.  People sometimes think it is just about self-expression or ‘being good at drawing’, but it is just as challenging as any other academic discipline, if not more so for an 18-year-old. 

“You don’t get set essay questions or a list of books to read.  There’s no multiple choice.  You have to delve deep inside yourself, be self-critical and reflective, and explore and learn a range of new and difficult skills.  It’s an ongoing, never-ending process. 

“Fortunately after dropping out I had the resilience to reflect, shift my direction and move on, but I always wanted to return to the art school environment, and that’s where I have gone on to build my academic career.  I’m truly delighted to be back at the Cambridge School of Art to help play a role in Anglia Ruskin’s ambitious future. 

“We read a lot about the lack of time and support for the arts at secondary schools, and the picture sometimes looks quite bleak.  But I think that’s changing: it’s now recognised that skills in communication, teamwork, and creativity combined with critical thinking are in high demand. 

“I know from personal experience that an art and design education empowers you to take risks and learn from mistakes.  These are core art school skills and Cambridge School of Art graduates will be the creatives helping to solve the ‘grand challenges’ of the future.”