Introducing the Unique  

Institute of the Arts, Barcelona, (IAB), is Europe’s most dynamic international performing arts higher education institution. Founded in 2013 by producer Mark Lethem and performing arts academic Giles Auckland-Lewis, the IAB is based in the cosmopolitan town of Sitges, near Barcelona.

“Unique”  sums up both the IAB story as well as its student experience. “No one in their right mind would have said ‘lets make an English language international performance arts school next to Barcelona’” says Mark Lethem. Then he adds, “but strip away all the logic and things fall into place, with some wonderful insights which emerge.” One of these insights is that mixing works. The IAB’s student:teacher ratios averaging a very favourable 12:1 reflect exceptionally personalized teaching. There is constant interaction between all levels of students and teachers, seasoned professionals in their field. The MA programme has attracted a number of graduates: undergraduates relish mingling with them. It is all part of the IAB’s culture of interdisciplinary collaboration.

Therefore its solid links with UK-based institutions are unsurprising. All degree courses (from foundation through to MA) have UK accreditation, through Liverpool’s John Moore University (LJMU): all IAB programmes are taught in English and lead to a LJMU degree. The Academic Board maintains direct communication with the LJMU on all matters relating to quality and standards. As Mark wryly adds, one could say that the IAB is “UK by sea”, just with a richer, more layered, international element.

The international experience is an intrinsic aspect of the mix. Some 6 years ago, when they came up with their somewhat offbeat idea, they had no idea that they would become so successful so quickly, or for that matter, so international. Yet some 11 months after they first launched themselves with their Foundation course, they had over 100 students of varying nationalities. The current student body comprises some 350 students, who come from over 30 different countries. As Mark says, “Our students have invented us”.

Today the IAB provides 1 year Foundation, 3 year BA Hons and 1 year Masters programmes in Dance, Commercial Dance, Acting, Musical Theatre, Popular Music Vocal Performance and Contemporary Circus Arts. They also produce over 30 shows a year. The first BA Hons and Masters students will graduate this year.

IAB’s innovative digital marketing strategy is largely responsible for the early leap in growth. They had the foresight to convert the challenges of a limited budget into an outstanding opportunity to connect directly and immediately with students saving not just costs, but time.

The majority of their students discovered the IAB through social media. This reflects a more proactive student stance, shifting away from teacher recommendations towards own online research to come up with informed decisions.

Besides resourcefulness in choosing their own destiny, the fact that they have made a conscious decision to leave home to come to a new, unfamiliar place, gives IAB students that notable extra dimension of maturity. Their teachers who come from comparable institutions have all commented that the IAB students are “a bit different.” Thanks to their unique, shared experience, students form very powerful, lasting friendships. The family-like atmosphere, backed by a solid student support facility encourages the sense of an IAB “tribe”.

Fittingly, the IAB “home” is a stunningly luminous building with a design heritage. Once the design headquarters for Audi and Seat, the building has found its perfect match: “a bit like someone who lost their job but found something that suited them better”, says Mark. IAB rescued the building from anonymity, giving it a new lease of life. It has now been refitted with 11 dance studios, a 200-seat theatre, 3 acting rehearsal theatres, singing rooms and recording facilities. Among the social spaces inside and outside, students can often be seen rehearsing with a sense of lightness and freedom, a far cry from the stuffy, stressful corridors of school in a cloudy city.

Distance from the Big Smoke has surprising advantages, besides weather. “Some people took issue with the fact that we weren’t in the West End of London”, says Mark. However, “the distance doesn’t make the work less rigorous; it’s had the opposite effect – it’s more like Boot Camp.  It has actually put the focus on the study ethic and training within a creative community in its own right, with less of the usual distractions. Given how much time students spend studying and rehearsing, they go to bed fully exercised in body and mind”.

Today the IAB is attracting even more talent. Its current dance company in residence is Jasmine Vardimon’s hugely respected Educational Company, which will establish various courses at the IAB, alongside its training hub in the UK. Expansion is planned, both in terms of offer as well as facilities.

For aspiring students, the IAB is a key destination. Mark says, “Having left home they recognize they are physically on a journey. The unusual experience here gives them a flavour of how their life will be, when travelling on work or tour. They also know that it is a launchpad to a career on an international scale, where all options are open and possible.”

Welcome to the bold, vibrant world of the IAB.,