Art school to close after student numbers drop

LA Henley Art School will close due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Jo Harris, who founded the school five years ago, has announced the lease for the Studio, near Hart Street, and will be leaving in the spring.

She will then continue to teach privately.

Miss Harris decided to cut her losses because she was in debt of £ 12,000, after taking out a loan to try to run the school.

She says the number of people she hoped to enroll in classes since the last lockdown was not enough to cover her costs.

Miss Harris, 46, who lives in Henley, said: ‘I have a Pollyanna attitude towards most things that if you work hard and put your whole thing into something it will work, but I don’t. have not been dealing with normal settings.

“There is a virus that has been destructive and the habits have changed and it is this unknown quantity that has thrown me off.”

Since the school reopened in September for in-person classes, Miss Harris has had to cancel seven workshops and one class because not enough students registered. She said: “That’s when the warning bells started ringing that things were not the same as before the pandemic.

“I don’t blame anyone. It is because of covid that people do not want to leave their homes. It’s not just me, I have spoken to other creative centers and schools in the region and they too find it difficult.

“Two years of fighting to continue exhausted me. It was worth the fight but I am now in debt of £ 12,000 due to a rebound loan.

“It got to the point where I apologize to people all the time and it’s not fair, I just want to teach.

“I was only able to go on for so long because I have an understanding and kind owner. “

Miss Harris has almost closed the school twice before, but was able to continue.

The first time was in March of last year before all non-essential businesses were ordered to shut down to help fight the spread of covid-19.

She received a government grant of £ 10,000 which has helped her pay the rent on her studio and reimburse two-thirds of her clients whose classes have been canceled.

Miss Harris switched to online classes to try and keep the business afloat, but in the summer she again had to consider shutting down for good.

Just as she was about to unplug, she got the idea of ​​sharing the space and fellow illustrator Holly Surplice came on board.

The duo spent time growing the school’s online presence and attracted new clients from across Britain and America, Japan and Russia.

But the partnership was later dissolved, again leaving Miss Harris alone.

She said: “Holly and I didn’t work at the end and it was the first time I realized I was going to have to drop out of school and it was a bit of a shock,

“When I see a problem I try to solve it, so I rolled up my sleeves and continued as a single entity, but now my emotions have caught up with me. The online thing wasn’t a big source of money, but it kept me busy and paid me the rent and myself embarrassing wages, but I wasn’t going anywhere or doing anything .

“I did it three or four times a week for almost two years, but it’s not the same as teaching in the flesh. I found it soul destroying because there is no energy exchange.

“Not having that interaction was a novelty at first, but after a while it wore me out.

“I’m sad but quite stoic about it. I will not be an art school in the center of the city but I hope to do an annual event and I will work as a tutor.

“I just want to thank all of those people who participated and say I had the best time of my life and it was the most rewarding thing I have ever done.

“The outpouring of wishes I received made me cry and it is good to know that I have changed their lives for the better.

“For me, I loved reminding people what it was like to be creative and getting them back to producing art that they maybe stopped years ago.”

Photo courtesy of Mark Lord

Kayleen C. Rice