Sara Arrhenius has this past week notified the chairperson of the board, Ewa Kumlin, that she is no longer available for a new term as Vice-Chancellor of the Royal Institute of Art. Arrhenius, who assumed the post in 2017, was offered and has accepted the position of Director of the Swedish Institute in Paris. In consultation with the chairperson, the Swedish Institute and the Ministry of Education, an agreement has been reached whereby Sara Arrhenius will take up her new role on 1 January 2023. This gives the Royal Institute time to recruit a new Vice-Chancellor, a process that will begin immediately.
Ewa Kumlin speaks of the immense work that under Sara Arrhenius’ leadership has created a better functioning university college. The Royal Institute of Art, armed now with a vision and a strategy for the future, has built a robust organization that offers a more transparent, democratic and inclusive work and study environment in line with its mission as institute of higher education and government agency.
”The board regrets the departure of Sara Arrhenius, all the while we congratulate her on her well-deserved assignment as Director of the Swedish Institute in Paris. Sara has managed an extensive realignment during her years as Vice-Chancellor of the Royal Institute of Art, always with artistic development as the guiding light.”
When Sara Arrhenius took over as Vice-Chancellor in 2017, she had most recently served as Director and Curator of Bonniers Konsthall in Stockholm, where she led the gallery through its initial construction and opening, to the position it currently holds in the art world.
Likewise at the Royal Institute, exhibiting has been a cornerstone of Sara Arrhenius’ leadership and vision. During her years as Vice-Chancellor, the school has opened up to the outside world, on both local and international levels. The theoretical framework of pedagogy has been coordinated with a public program, and the school’s research and continuing professional development have made it viable for artists to evolve their practices in an educational context.
Sara Arrhenius, who took over as Vice-Chancellor at a turbulent time for both the school and the world at large, describes her time at “Mejan” as exciting and challenging.
”I am proud to have taken the school, alongside staff and students, in a fresh direction to become a community in which studying, researching and teaching are once again enjoyable and rewarding. We have embarked on new ways of working, experimenting and taking artistic risks and so have propelled our operations artistically, pedagogically and organisationally in a number of ways. At present, the Royal Institute of Art is a dynamic body that gives rise to both the creation of wonderful art and the exploration of vital discourse about art and architecture. Conversations and collaborations with colleagues have been highly stimulating, and to follow the work of our outstanding students has been a privilege.”
From the very start, Sara Arrhenius has aimed to involve the Royal Institute of Art in dialogue with other cultural institutions, artists and society at large. One particular focus has been in the field of sound art. In the spring of 2018, sculptor and sound artist Susan Philipsz joined as guest professor. Sound artist and composer Tarek Atoui was also brought in early in the course Composing / Public / Space, which hoisted the school several steps and onto the international stage, including the Venice Biennale 2019. Together with the Swedish Arts Council, the continuing professional development course Of Public Interest was initiated under the artist Jonas Dahlberg, a collaboration that persists in providing artists opportunities to work with the processes that shape our society.
Arrhenius has extended the same confidence to the school’s students. Several new fields of artistry have been introduced and with them new practices. In 2019, artist Marcia Kure was recruited as guest professor. Her course Pushing Boundaries: New Forms of Sculptures would issue challenges and add new perspectives. Inaugurated that year was Mindepartementet, the school’s new location on Skeppsholmen for study and research in moving images, photography, performance and sound art. Ming Wong also joined the faculty as Professor in Performance in the Expanded Field. At the same time, the Royal Institute invested a generous donation in expansion, and the Listening Room, one of Stockholm’s most sophisticated acoustic environments for sonic experiments and listening, was incorporated into the study environment.
As curator, author and critic, Sara Arrhenius has applied her editorial insights to the ample vision and communication work that has marked recent years. Strategy, vision and operational planning have been set out and formulated through large-scale, co-creative processes, not unlike the working methods of an editorial staff. The vision statement assumed an unorthodox format in the context of an institution of higher learning: conceived as a chamber play, it takes place at the school in an imagined future.
During her stay as Vice-Chancellor, Sara Arrhenius has consistently created the space and the platforms for an institute that bears the stamp of the vision’s generosity and curiosity, reflection and intellectual respect, experimentation and artistic risk-taking.