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Ian Farren

Ian Farren is the Head of School of Art and Design, University of Cumbria. He has been active in both Further and Higher Education Art and Design since 1983 as a lecturer and manager. He has worked with national awarding bodies in England and Wales developing the post 16 Art and Design curricula, publishing research into progression pathways to facilitate a widening participation agenda in the Arts generally. He is currently working with the NALN on the ‘Endangered Subjects’ project where the University of Cumbria is the lead partner.

Ian has in the last two years been preoccupied by the formation of the new University of Cumbria, where as a senior manager at one of the legacy organisations, Cumbria Institute of the Arts, he was involved in (amongst many other aspects of this development) scoping the art, design, media and performing arts provision for this exciting new opportunity for higher education delivery of the Arts in North Lancashire and Cumbria. 

Having trained in the US at postgraduate level, he has maintained strong links with colleagues in North America, organising collaborations and staff/student exchanges, in addition to attending and contributing to a range of conferences and seminars.



For discussion: ‘Endangered Subjects’, ‘Minority Specialist Subjects’ and ‘Niche or ‘At Risk’ Subjects’ in the Creative and Cultural Industries


Background information

NALN (National Arts Lifelong Learning Network) Definition:

  • These subjects are those that are both niche specialist subjects and in decline - proving hard to recruit to, and subsequently at risk courses.

CHEAD (Council for Higher Education Art and Design) Definition:

  • “Minority Specialist Subjects” (MSS) would encompass those subjects that are concerned with the teaching and learning of core skills, materials and processes; specifically this would cover subjects that are concerned with non-digital issues, and with the physicality of processes / materials.

Subjects identified through case studies and research to date includes:

  • Ceramics, textiles, metal work, wood work, glass, stone carving, conservation, book-binding and restoration, printing, letterpress, typography, wet photography, jewellery making, traditional music, traditional dance, traditional drama, traditional rural crafts (blacksmithing, willow work, basketry, dry stone walling, thatching).


Some key points for consideration, discussion and to question:

  • The importance of these subjects to the creative industries – the economic and commercial benefit: highlighting that these subjects have traditionally formed part of a core learning that give the UK its creative ‘edge’. Can it be argued that this ‘edge’ would be threatened if there was a drop in investment in these subjects in HE?

  • The role of these subjects in school curricula and student progression: teaching students the sensitivity to basic materials and processes needs to start in schools. Would this also address the concern over skills shortages in teachers able to teach these subjects?

  • Contribution to the wider curriculum and learning through the arts: Would this be to defend the underlying assumption of the importance to learn about fundamental skills and materials before being able to manipulate them through IT?

  • Endangered Subjects and practice-led research: highlighting that basic research and the ability to conduct such research could be lost without the necessary infrastructure and facilities.

  • Wider issues: Endangered Subjects and social responsibility: maintaining cultural heritage that is based on the knowledge and existence of certain of these subjects; the role of these subjects within certain regional contexts; securing provision of Endangered Subjects to leisure learners within the wider communities. Sustainability: without necessary investments, processes cannot be made more environmentally sustainable.




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