ARTIST Emma Edmondson has spearheaded an innovative new qualification in visuals arts - an alternative MA called TOMA. It's the only one of its kind in Essex and one which is led by students and can fit around their working lives.

Her own experiences of university had failed to offer what this working-artist needed. The frustrations she experienced eventually led her to come up with the idea of a course which be run via weekend and evening tutorials at a monthly cost per student.

Once she had the idea Emma turned to local based arts charity Metal - an organisation which works to support all kinds of artists develop their ideas - to launch the experimental postgraduate art course.

Emma explained: "We have called it TOMA which is short for ‘The Other M.A’. This course is designed to fit in with working lives and works out at only £40 per month per student. We don’t want TOMA to rely on public or private funding to continue to exist, but be self-sustaining so it can have a long life span.”

TOMA will be launched as a year long alternative to conventional art education models, run at the brand new Metal Art School, which is officially launching on Thursday April 28 in Chalkwell Park next to the main Metal base in Chalkwell Hall house.

"I did the foundation course at Central Saint Martins. It had 600 people on it, and no studio space, with five minutes of tutor time. It really killed my love of art" Emma said.

Emma, who now lives in Westcliff, left the course before she finished it.

"I just became so disengaged" she said. "I got lost, and entered London night life, partying, promotion and fell into writing which I treated like every other creative endeavour. I wrote for the NME, Artrocker, various underground music magazines. I enjoyed the creative freedom and the lifestyle that goes with it."

Emma ended up working for national tabloids writing for gossip columns and becoming one of the 3AM girls.

"It's strange - it's a part of my life that doesn't feel like me now" she said, "and although it was fun for a while, it didn't suit me or my morals, the way we had to pursue celebrity stories, it felt ethically wrong. Also I was disillusioned by the way my words would get edited to end up being nothing like what I'd written, but would still have my name on it.

"I was living in a room above a pub in Bethnal Green at the time, when I had some sort of epiphany, thinking, 'what am I doing with my life?' I got my portfolio together and decided to go back to art school."

Interestingly a lot of the art work Emma began to produce from then on, responded to the her time as a gossip writer, creating pieces where she would cut up words and stick them back together again, "a way of taking back my authorship" she said.

When she graduated in 2009, it was at the time when the recession hit the arts funding. By the time she got a place at Goldsmith's to do an MA a couple of years later, she was worried about how she was going to pay for it and fit it around work.

Then a month before she was due to start the course, the college pulled the plug on it.

It was another strike against the traditional art course route for Emma.

"I'm not saying these super uni's are not for anyone - I understand they offer an amazing amount in terms of facilities and guest lecturers and so forth but they really don't suit everyone."

Emma looked into alternative models which were run by students, for students, such as School of the Damned in East London and Open School East in north London.

"I had a look at these, and how they ran and the logistics involved and realised one could easily be set up at the Metal Art School. I had already worked with Metal leading some workshops.

"So I ran the idea past Metal and received amazing support, especially from artist Simon Monk and Camilla Fox who runs the Metal Art School.

"They have given the space for free - we are setting up a library for the artists and we have a bookable editing suite. Also Kevin Marsh, of the Beecroft gallery has been absolutely brilliant, letting us have project space and will support our final show in February 2017."

Emma added: "The TOMA course will be completely responsive to artists - they will choose their lecturers, what to do... it will be run as a co-operative with all the money going into a transparent kitty so we can choose how it is spent. I suppose it's a socialist's way of running an art school.

"To be honest it has all happened quite quickly, and setting it up hasn't been hard because everyone has been so welcoming of the idea" Emma said. "I came up with the idea in November or December last year and we are already here. I suppose sometimes you have an idea and the next thing to do is action it."

Forty people attended the open day for the TOMA course. Ten applicants will be selected and notified at the end of April. The course starts in September.

"I've applied myself in the same way as everyone else - it's totally fair" said Emma. "It was my idea, but I'm not in charge or anything. If I get an interview I will have to sit in front of the panel like everyone else."

She added: "It's a very exciting time."

* Visit for more information about the course.