Renowned Art School at Risk of Closure

Malmö Art Academy has been given notice to vacate its premises in one year. According to Dean Gertrud Sandqvist, this could imply that the school is will be forced to close.

The Art Academy in Malmö.
The Art Academy in Malmö.

Over the course of the past week, Malmö Art Academy has been subject to a lively debate in social and national media. The reason is that the school has been given notice to vacate its premises located in a former elementary school in west Malmö.

Presently, 4,918 signatures have been collected by the petition “Save Malmö Art Academy”, which has circulated online since Monday. In the appeal, the termination of the institution’s lease is described as definite, but in fact such a decision can be made only when the municipal board convene next in August and September. In order for the academy to vacate by the summer 2017, the lease has to be cancelled before October 1, 2016. The purpose is to make room for renovations during 2017–18, after which a planned elementary school could move into the premises in the fall of 2018.

Malmö Art Academy is part of Lund University, and since the beginning of the year there has been a plan in place that would merge the university’s faculty of the arts, which includes institutions for music, theatre and fine arts,together into a larger campus. Until the inauguration in 2023 at the earliest, Malmö Art Academy has been promised that it can remain in the building where it has been located since 1995, or that it will be offered a comparable facility.

Solfrid_Foto Lunds universitetDuring a meeting on June 9, dean Solfrid Söderlind of The Faculty of Fine and Performing Arts was notified that the Malmö Art Academy must  vacate its premises. She calls attention to the fact that a university operation does not relocate painlessly.  The regulations that have to be followed are many, while time is short.

– It takes planning more in advance, and it is futile to refer to the new campus planned ten years from now, Söderlind tells Kunstkritikk, and stresses that Lund University will not shut down the art academy, and that the City of Malmö, too, wants the institution to stay in the city.

– The sudden turn implied by a notice to vacate without any alternative has however forced the university into crisis planning, she says.

In an article titled “Rethink, Malmö!”, the directors of the region’s contemporary art spaces and museums raise the fact that Malmö Art Academy was the only school in the country to have all its educational programs, including bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels, given the highest estimation by the Swedish Higher Education Authority, in their review of Swedish art education in 2014. Furthermore, it was at Malmö Art Academy that the first doctoral theses in fine arts in the Nordic countries were presented by Matts Leiderstam, Sopawan Boonnimitra and Miya Yoshida Iwasaki in 2006.

Anders Rubin.
Anders Rubin.

Now, ten years later, the social democratic municipal commissioner of education in Malmö, Anders Rubin, claims that it is easier to find new premises for a school of 60 adults than for young people in Malmö, where the population is growing at a fast rate. He therfore sees no alternative than giving notice to the art academy and instead housing a new elementary school in the premises. He stresses that the City of Malmö is responsible for the young students, while Lund University is responsible for the Malmö Art Academy.

– Usually we do not offer spaces as favourably as in the case of the Art Academy. This is about prioritizing the property that we have, and as a landlord giving notice to the Art Academy. Our ambition is not to shut down the school, Rubin tells Kunstkritikk.

Director of Malmö’s city planning office, Christer Larsson, emphasizes that the relocation of the art academy will be done in consultation with Lund University, and will be discussed in a meeting with the university’s vice-chancellor, Torbjörn von Schantz, on June 28. Larsson, too, stresses the importance of the art academy to Malmö and the Skåne region.

– That is why the city of Malmö has collaborated with Lund University for some time, in order to find new ways forward, says Larsson, who stresses that the art academy will not be tossed out without being offered a satisfactory alternative.

The Dean at Malmö Art Academy, Gertrud Sandqvist, is worried by the fact that the school’s management has not yet been notified about any such alternatives. According to her, it is difficult to imagine how a satisfactory alternative could be provided by the fall semester of 2017, and she stresses that a possible alternative space must meet the institution’s criteria for studios and workshops.

Gertrud Sandqvist.
Gertrud Sandqvist.

– We cannot conduct an art education without adequate facilities, which is why a relocation could force us to close the school and phase out current students, Sandqvist tells Kunstkritikk.

Sandqvist notes that the City of Malmö had the school renovated in the 90s, when it was threatened with demolition, into what is now the fully functional study environment of the Malmö Art Academy. This includes workshops for many artistic media, as well as separate studios with natural light. Sandqvist stresses the importance of these places for individual study, claiming that this is primarily where the students develop their artistic practice.

– The studio provides the student with an environment that resembles, to the greatest extent possible, the professional art world. A substantial part of artistic practice is individual work, but it is up to the student how to use it, she says and draws attention to the school’s fundamental premise: that the student invites visitors to their space, not the other way around.

Viktor Rosdahl.
Viktor Rosdahl.

Viktor Rosdahl is one of many alumni who, after graduating from Malmö Art Academy, have received prestigious awards such as the Maria Bonnier Dahlin grant. He is shocked by the news about the notice to vacate, and is among those who have returned to the school building this week to help with the work that is done now to emphasize the school’s importance.

– The art academy regards you as a professional artist and this makes it possible for you treat your own work as such. This possibility distinguishes the school from other art academies in the Nordic countries that I have visited or taught at since I was a student in Malmö, says Rosdahl. He stresses the benefit of studio practice to the students’ development at the art academy, which has resulted in several internationally active artists as well as locally based studio collectives and galleries such as Galleri CC, CEO, Woodpecker Projects and MFK (The Malmö Free University for Women).

– In another environment, this development would not be possible, says Rosdahl.

Failing to see the consequences of such a well functioning school risking having to close is ominous, according to Gertrud Sandqvist, and all too similar to the planned reconstruction of Lund’s Konsthall six months ago. Similar to the konsthall, the Malmö Art Academy has received great international support that reminds how important the school is to contemporary art. Yet Sandqvist wishes to emphasize the school’s influence locally. 

– It would be catastrophic for both the city and the region if the school disappeared, she says.

On Friday Malmö Art Academy is open to all from 7pm. Besides exhibitions and the present petition, two tours of the school will be given.