The "Elam School of Art and Design" was established 1889 following the generous bequest of Dr John Edward Elam, a patron of the arts. The School opened in 1890 in rooms located under the bell tower of what is now the Auckland City Art Gallery. The following 60 years saw Elam provide full-time and part-time art instruction to both children and adults.
On 15 January 1949 a fire destroyed the School and its library, and a year later the School finally came under the jurisdiction of the Auckland University College Council. The School’s shift into a more academic world was the catalyst for a number of new initiatives, including the development of an academic art library. Elam gained faculty status with the Chair in Fine Arts in 1961. The Bachelor of Fine Arts programme was established in 1967 and was the first fine arts bachelors degree in the country.
During the 1950s Elam was housed at two sites – prefabricated buildings on the School’s former site in Symonds Street, and in the grounds of the former Newton West School in Grey Lynn. A new three-storey steel frame building on the current Whitaker Place site was eventually opened in 1962. However, with limited studio space and facilities, the School outgrew its available space in only three years. The University purchased the old Mansion Hotel, also in Whitaker Place, in 1967 and by 1979 the "brick mansion" and the "wooden mansion" were both occupied by the School.
When the numbers of students surged again in the early 1990s, a new four-storey building (the “Mondrian”) was finally built in 1995 alongside the steel frame building, and it was occupied in 1996. It has, however, proved impossible to move out of the "mansions" due to numbers of students and the demand for studio space. Postgraduate students have additional studio space in Elam B, close to the ClockTower in the centre of the City Campus.
Meanwhile, Elam School of Fine Arts has built its reputation as the foremost art school in New Zealand, where many of the country’s best-known artists have begun their careers.
We celebrated 125 years of fine arts education at the University in 2015.