About the South Australian School of Art

The South Australian School of Art is the oldest art school in Australia. Initiated by the South Australian Society of Arts (became Royal South Australian Society of Arts, 1935), the school (as the School of Design) first opened its doors to students in 1861, a mere 25 years after South Australia was first proclaimed (1836).

It has a long and distinguished history, which has been closely entwined with major political, social and cultural events – local and international – as an influence on, as much as a mirror of, society.

In the 150+ years of its existence, the school has educated, graduated and employed thousands of artists, designers, teachers, curators, critics, scholars and others pursuing significant creative careers. These many individuals have actively participated in South Australian and wider Australian society through countless exhibitions and cultural events - including Adelaide’s Festival of Arts - launching new galleries and public forums, guiding government policy and nurturing creativity in many generations of school children.  

Their stories have significant value, not only for individuals but for the arts and wider communities of this state. Many narratives speak of creative and intellectual endeavour, success, the occasional scandal, and a strong sense of community which also experienced alienation, censorship, and struggle against institutional amalgamation. This history is largely untold. To date, only a few brief essays on the history of SASA in the 1960s and 1970s have been located: many SASA historical archives have however been mislaid. Thus, a significant aspect of South Australian heritage has, until the retrieval of records from unexpected quarters – including the local arts community - been at risk. While information gaps still exist, further research and interviews will hopefully provide sufficient information for the next stage of critical analysis and writing up of a publication(s).

Australians may be aware of individual artists and artworks in galleries and auction sale rooms, and their interest in creative culture might represent a large sector of the national economy but little is known about the processes and formative circumstances of artists’ training, and production circumstances and even less about art as a profession. This research, which will culminate in a publication/s, seeks to increase public awareness of artists’ valuable and diverse contributions to society beyond the uninformed but popular stereotypes of an eccentric and self absorbed class of individuals.