The Jutland Art Academy has offered higher education in the realm of fine arts since 1964. The academy’s history is entirely unique. It has been shaped by the visions and commitment of individuals, but also by being left in peace by ministries and agencies throughout an era of ‘new public management’. This has allowed scope and space for alternative ideas about the art institution and to the development of a very special academy.

In Denmark, the early 1960s saw a general expansion of the nation’s artistic and educational infrastructure outside the capital area, and the newly founded Ministry of Culture had plans to build a school of architecture and an art academy in Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark. However, they were unaware that an art academy was already evolving there – or at least an art school that used the same name: Det Jyske Kunstakademi/the Jutland Art Academy.

Back in 1960, a private art school called Det Jyske Kunstakademi had been founded at the behest of four local artists. Kam Petersen, an entrepreneurial self-taught painter who had made a small fortune selling his own and others’ art out of the trunk of his car, was the main driving force and investor behind the project. The school accepted all students regardless of experience or prior knowledge of art, and it was very much driven by the energy and enthusiasm of those who showed up. Kam Petersen was the school’s general manager, but overall the structure was quite informal. This changed in 1963, when the academy got a board of directors who wanted to create a programme and place of education that would constitute a counterpart to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. The new artistic and educational visions prompted a rift at the academy. On 7 November 1964, new articles of association were signed, and the Jutland Art Academy was established as a self-governing institution. Kam Petersen and the local teachers continued their art school under the name Aarhus Kunstakademi (The Aarhus Academy of Fine Arts) – a school now run under the auspices of Folkeoplysningsloven (the Act on Non-Formal Education and Voluntary Activities in Democratic Associations).

Key dates in the academy’s history

1964 The Jutland Art Academy is founded as a self-governing institution

1965 The academy buys the property 32-34 Mejlgade in Aarhus as its domicile

1969 The Jutland Art Academy starts receiving state-funded income via the Finance Act and students are guaranteed access to the Danish Students Grant and Loan Scheme (SU)

1979 A new funding/subsidy scheme is introduced: now, Ministry of Culture supplies 50% of the academy’s income, Aarhus County supplies 25% and the City of Aarhus 25%

1996 The academy gets its first real rector, artist Jytte Høy

1997 Amendments to the Articles of Association are adopted with a view to appointing an external board of directors

1999 The academy’s organisation and programmes undergo extensive restructuring that includes abolishing the former departmental structure

2007 Artist Jesper Rasmussen is appointed rector

2007 The Academy is awarded the Erasmus University Charter

2009 The academy joins KUNO – a collaborative body for higher fine arts education in the Nordic-Baltic region

2016 Art historian and curator Judith Schwarzbart is appointed rector

2021 The Academy launches a new profile

2022 Artist and former head of Dansk Talentakademi Søren Taaning is employed as principal

In 1965, the Jutland Art Academy succeeded in acquiring the building in Mejlgade 32-34 with chairman of the board F.W. Ørberg Petersen acting as guarantor. Initially, the academy was set up with departments and traditional workshops, but whereas other institutions of fine art education struggled with lifelong professorships and outdated pedagogical approaches, the Jutland Art Academy had the freedom to experiment.

The Danish Ministry of Culture founded the Aarhus School of Architecture in 1965, but, after some deliberation, the ministry shelved its plans for a fully funded state-operated art academy in Aarhus, choosing instead to officially recognise the Jutland Art Academy’s programme in 1969 and give the academy a smaller-scale state operating grant.

As a self-governing institution with limited state regulation, the academy continued to be run with great freedom to grow and evolve in keeping with the general development of the arts – a unique position shared by very few similar institutions. However, this freedom has gone hand in hand with financial difficulties, meaning that the support of the City of Aarhus has been increasingly crucial in ensuring that a programme of fine-art education still exists in the city.

Developments in the arts have also imposed new demands on the institution. In the late 1990s, the academy’s first actual rector, Jytte Høy, chose to discontinue the departmental structure in favour of a more conceptually driven and interdisciplinary approach to art. At the same time, some of the old workshops were replaced by a media lab dedicated to newer media such as video and digital images.

Since then, the academy has strengthened its theoretical foundations and undergone a process of growing internationalisation and professionalisation in keeping with the wider overall developments in the visual arts and in the society to which art responds and in which it unfolds.

While the academy has undergone a process of gradual formalisation, it remains an institution that has very much been created by creative artists with a minimum of bureaucratic and political interference. This aspect has facilitated independent, critical self-reflection on issues associated with institutional structures throughout a period when institutional critique has had a major impact on shaping the visual arts and the art institutions alike. This unique mix of experimentation and structure has made the Jutland Art Academy a learning environment that nurtures and welcomes innovation while also ensuring a firm anchoring in the cultural and socio-economic world in which we live.

This special story laid down the foundations on which the vision of a new art academy in the Aarhus Sydhavn district has taken shape.