National Art School offers bespoke in-person open day tours

NAS doesn’t mince words. The theme of its Open Day is ‘The Future is Art’ and with doors open, a dynamic, global reputation, COVID-safe and buffered from fee hikes, it is set to welcome 2021 students.

Located in Darlinghurst, in inner-city Sydney, the National Art School (NAS) boasts world-class alumni and over 100 years of studio-based teaching by practicing artists, matched with a progressive, boundary-pushing 21st century education – making it Australia’s leading fine art school.

The theme for this year’s NAS Open Day is The Future is Art. With the future so uncertain, NAS Director and CEO, Steven Alderton told ArtsHub: ‘We really wanted to reach out to prospective students this year, because we know how important that decision is to go to any tertiary education.

‘We are pushing right back to say that beyond medical and health, we need to defer to art for our future care.’

Alderton quoted the Australia Council’s most recent research findings, which show that 98% of Australians engage with arts and culture.

‘I think most people take it for granted. You cannot go a day without being affected by art. It has the capability to shift you and give you those great stirring moments in your life. Take for example all the school graduates right now, who will remember the song played at their graduation for the rest of their life – art frames occasions and futures,’ he said.

What a holistic art education looks like

NAS describes its education ethos as ‘holistic’, with Alderton explaining: ‘Visiting the students since they’ve returned to campus, I’ve seen them drawing outside, then walked into studios to see them drawing life models. I have seen them being taught everything from colour wheels to pushing the boundaries with experimental practices. I overheard as one teacher assigned students to go away and do six plein air paintings over the weekend without using photos. It is about teaching them not to rely on a secondary image, but to use their skills and knowledge right now to capture that moment.’

He continued: ‘Our students are taught those skills, and are then placed in a forum where they can deliver them and translate their ideas. It is a very multi-faceted approach that bridges technical skills and the contemporary skills of art history in the making.’

Are you the right match for NAS?

Despite huge social and technological changes over the years, the role of an artist still involves responding critically to society.

‘We are looking for enquiring minds passionate about presenting their stories, or stories of Australia, and how to create artwork of this time – the 21st century,’ Alderton said.

The qualities that make a professional practicing artist are hard work and commitment, he added.

‘You have to ask, “What do I want to do? What do I want to say?” And then commit yourself to doing that and be willing to experiment and push the boundaries, and challenge preconceptions and ideas, and add your own stamp.’

The best way to decide if art school is for you – whether it’s enrolling in a Bachelor of Fine Art, Master of Fine Art or Doctor of Fine Art degree –  is to attend the NAS Open Day on Saturday 26 September. 

‘Come and see how it all works and ask the questions that you want answered,’ said Alderton. ‘If you want to present your ideas to the world, then this is the place for you.’

A COVID-safe Open Day

Alderton said NAS chose to hold a physical Open Day this year, rather than a virtual event, for several reasons. It reflects the school’s ethos of providing in-depth, face-to-face training with teachers who are successful practicing artists, but also gives an insider glimpse of life at art school, including the opportunity to chat with current students and discover the historic campus.

Since re-opening, NAS has been operating under a strict Infection Management Plan approved by the NSW Department of Health.

The 2020 Open Day has been reconfigured so visitors can walk through campus  safely, in order to meet teachers and students and watch live demonstrations across artistic disciplines, from ceramics to Printmaking.

The day provides visitors with an overview of the school and a detailed insight into the student experience, while also maintaining secure site entry and health protocols.

Everyone is welcome at NAS Open Day, but this year all visitors must pre-register to attend via the NAS website.

Independence is key at NAS

The university sector and higher education generally have been dealt a blow by the Federal Government’s recent announcement of fee hikes. NAS sits outside that debate, Alderton said.

‘We are an independent art school, funded by the NSW Government as a State Significant Organisation and with a 45-year lease of this unique site. The big message this year is that our independence has given us sustainability. We are not federally funded and we haven’t been crunched by universities. We continue to operate under our own steam.’

During 2020, NAS has upheld its high teaching standards and pivoted to online learning, while still enabling face-to-face classes to continue. Students have returned to work in their studios with minimal disruption to their courses.

‘Earlier this year we consolidated our Art History and Theory classes into one semester over lockdown and brought all our students back by 27 July. So prospective students should not think that because our campus was closed for a period of time, they will get crushed in next year’s output. We are committed to their education and ready to go in 2021,’ Alderton said.

What you need to know

Due to NSW health and safety restrictions, regulating crowd capacity and social distancing on campus and in the NAS studios, visitor numbers are limited this year and pre-registration is essential to participate in Open Day.

Prospective students from outside Sydney and NSW are encouraged to contact NAS to arrange a virtual walk through of the campus and explanations of course offerings.

Be part of NAS 2020 Open Day – Register now.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina