Otago Polytechnic

History of the Dunedin School of Art (DSA)

The first Art School in New Zealand

In 1870 David Con Hutton migrated from Scotland to found the Dunedin School of Art, the first art school in New Zealand. Subsequently, many high profile lecturers followed from the United Kingdom and Europe, Signor Girolamo Nerli from Italy being an example. They introduced modernist art to the academic model instituted by the founder. Despite ravages to student numbers due to two world wars, the School survived to become a major driver of arts education and M¯aori involvement in New Zealand primary and secondary schools under the now famous Gordon Tovey Scheme after WW2. Later, it became a division of Otago Polytechnic and started offering degree and postgraduate degree programmes.

Our achieving alumni of yesterday and today

Many famous artists are now associated with the School, either as students or through their involvement with its sister institution, the Dunedin College of Education (now incorporated into the University of Otago). Colin McCahon, Toss Woollaston, Marilynn Webb and Ralph Hotere come to mind. Closer to our time, Simon Kaan, Rachael Rakena, Bridgit Inder, Marie Strauss, Kurt Adams and many others spread the word nationally and internationally about how well students are equipped through the integration of practice and theory during their years in the School.

The workshop studio system

A key element of study at the Dunedin School of Art revolves around the workshop studio system through which students are provided with hands-on experiential learning. Cohorts work together and communities are created within the larger body of the School. These interface with external communities through embedding their activities across the built environment of the city. Exhibitions, seminars and public workshops invite the public into the School. In these ways the disciplines taught in the School become highly visible. Students can choose from Ceramics, Electronic Arts, Jewellery & Metalsmithing, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, Sculpture or Textiles. These are supported by core subjects: Drawing and Art History & Theory.

Our programmes

Programmes are spread across tertiary levels 5-9. The Diploma in Ceramic Arts is the only distance programme of its kind in New Zealand. A three-year Bachelor of Visual Arts feeds into postgraduate study in a range of options from honours to an internationally acclaimed Master of Fine Arts. Students’ work is project-based and engages with the issues of our times: ecology, animal ethics, globalisation, food politics, gender issues, inequality in the work place and many other topical concerns. Viewers are often moved in ways they cannot quite explain: after all, a picture says more than a thousand words.

A qualification for a creative future

Students in the Dunedin School of Art are encouraged to engage in robust debate and to defend their position about cultural issues. They become extremely flexible in the process and go on to find a wide range of employment after graduating. Teaching, project management, curatorial services, professional photography and positions in the electronic arts sector are a few examples from many. Staff are highly qualified and have current research profiles; they exhibit, write and present in New Zealand and overseas’ galleries, journals and conferences.

Our place in the art community

The Dunedin School of Art is a tight-knit community which values intelligence, imagination, passion and discipline. It serves its students and the wider public and it contributes to the cultural density within all its networks. These extend to members of its permanent external advisory committee, other stakeholders, and communities of practice. Through the politics of friendship, the School gifts its expertise to other schools and bodies worldwide and receives reciprocal support. Special projects connect the School to its alumni, future students and communities. These are: Art in a Living Campus and City, Internationalisation, Digital Capability for Social Connectivity, Community Service, and the Dunedin School of Art Foundation.

The Foundation: looking to tomorrow

Reciprocity lies at the heart of the Dunedin School of Art Foundation. It invites community support and promises to consider public requests, for example invitations to exhibitions, seminars, symposia and other events or custom-planned events for teams of corporate staff and professional bodies. Nicolas Bourriaud writes that the role of art today is “…learning to inhabit the world in a better way…the role of artworks is to actually be ways of living and models of action [rather than being isolated objects].”i  Through the Dunedin School of Art Foundation, creativity and its communities in this city could become an art work together in itself: modelling reciprocity through cultural engagement for mutual benefit and providing an innovative example of art and community interface for the world at large