web School of art

The first Art School in New Zealand

In 1870 David Con Hutton migrated from Scotland to found the Dunedin School of Art. The rest, as they say, is history. 

In the early years, many high-profile lecturers arrived from the United Kingdom and Europe, such as the Italian, Signor Girolamo Nerli. These European influences introduced modernist art to New Zealand. Despite ravages to student numbers due to two world wars, the school survived. It went on to become a major driver of arts education and Māori involvement in New Zealand primary and secondary schools under the now famous Gordon Tovey Scheme. In the sixties, it became a division of Otago Polytechnic and started offering degree and postgraduate degree programmes.


Photo: The Otago School of Art. Reorganised by Mr R.Hawcridge: The Antique Room.

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Celebrating 150 years of art education in Dunedin

The Dunedin School of Art is very much the jewel in Dunedin’s cultural crown.

A hot pot for the contemporary arts scene, the school has spawned generations of cutting-edge artists who have fostered the unique cultural identity of Dunedin.

Let’s come together in 2020 and celebrate the sesquicentennial of the oldest art school in New Zealand!


history David con hutton without text
Photos: David Con Hutton, Head of the Dunedin School of Art from 1870 to 1908.


A full account is recorded in Scope: Art & Design 12, Dunedin School of Art: A history




New Zealand’s first art school established in the Exchange by Scottish immigrant, David Con Hutton.


Moved into redeveloped premises in the old Dunedin North Intermediate buildings on the corner of Albany Street and Anzac Avenue.


Relocated to Moray Place with 244 students and 3063 secondary school pupils receiving tuition.


Honours fourth year of study approved.



Signor Girolamo Nerli arrived from Italy to teach, influencing Frances Hodgkins.


Diploma in Fine Arts (Hons) approved

Introduced Certificate in Craft Design


Joined King Edward Technical College and moved into their Stuart Street premises.


The Department of Education approved the purchase of 8 Commodore Amiga 2000 computers at a cost of $35,000 and Computer Graphics being introduced as a new subject.

Master of Fine Arts was approved.


Students Colin McCahon and Toss Woollaston introduced modernism to New Zealand.


Three-year Diplomas in Ceramic Arts and Craft-Design.


Moved to purpose-built premises at the corner of York Place and Tennyson Street.


Four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts replaces three- year Diploma in Fine Arts 


Emerged from WW2 with only four fulltime staff and five senior students enrolled.


Inaugural SITE exhibition.


Became part of Otago Polytechnic.


Diploma in Fine Arts at Otago Polytechnic’s campus in Oamaru ceased.

Shifted to a purpose-built facility in Riego St.


Diploma in Fine and Applied Arts was introduced


Master of Fine Arts programme established – Otago Polytechnic’s first master’s degree programme.


Celebrated centennial anniversary.


130th anniversary celebrated with a significant exhibition titled ‘aureliae’


Fine Arts Conservation being introduced.


Junctures Journal founded.


A certificate in ceramic inbeing introduced.


Scope Journal: Contemporary Research Topics (Art & Design) established.


Became a stand-alone department at Otago Polytechnic.


Three-year Bachelor of Visual Arts replaces four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts.


Degree-equivalent Diploma in Fine Arts introduced.


Postgraduate Programmes in Visual Arts approved including Honours year and Master of Visual Arts


Diploma in Fine Arts approved as degree-equivalent.


Dunedin School of Art Foundation launched.


School’s skeleton stolen.


150th anniversary celebrated.



Our distinguished 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.


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.


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