Danish design schools have been leading a turbulent life since 1969. This is evident in the many mergers and changes of name as well as in the changes of ministry, from the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Culture and, next, to the Ministry of Science, now the Ministry of Higher Education and Science. These changes may be seen to reflect the dual desire of the schools and the design profession to elevate both the artistic status and the academic research accreditation of design, but it has also made for a rocky path with political pressure and administrative demands. It is little wonder, then, that this history has yet to be written.
Design education and its reforms were continually debated in the precursors of Formkraft.dk, and the online archive contains both feature articles and theme issues on these topics. In 1972 the journal addressed educational reforms in Sweden, Finland and Norway, where several schools had already attained academic research status. This was just before Kunsthåndværkerskolen (the School of Arts and Crafts) in Copenhagen changed its name to Skolen for Brugskunst (the School of Applied Art) in 1973.
In 1989, a topic of debate was the ‘revision of craft programmes’ that began in 1990, when the Danish Design School was established through a merger. In 1995, the theme issue Om uddannelse (On Education) revisited the topic. Kunsthåndværkerskolen i Kolding (the School of Arts and Crafts in Kolding) went through similar reforms and one name change in 1998. The journals also offered students’ perspectives, for example in Helle Hove’s essay Giv os et sprog (Give Us a Language) in 1995. The then editor, Bent Salicath, was in close dialogue with the students at the School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen during the student rebellion in 1969.
The protests in Copenhagen began with a meeting in February 1969. The students, spearheaded by Kirsten Dehlholm from the Textile line, had invited representatives of the Directorate of Vocational Training and the design profession. Despite some concessions by the Directorate, the students subsequently staged a week-long boycott of classes. During the boycott, together with student activists from Psychology, Sociology and Architecture, they held seminars on educational and social issues with invited external speakers. The meetings resulted in a proposal for an independent school with five lines: Product Design, Communication Design, Scenography, Unique Designs and Environmental Design.
Like Bent Salicath and other design professionals, the students had lost patience with both the Polytechnic and the committee that had been established as early as 1967 (in connection with the opening of the school in Kolding and the merger of the School of Arts and Crafts and the School of Drawing and Art Industry, both in Copenhagen) with the purpose of reforming the programmes. Perhaps the American designer Victor Papanek further fanned the flames during his first visit to the school, in January 1969.
On 3 March, the alliance with the students from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture in Copenhagen and other student activists led to a joint occupation of the Ministry of Culture, which was responsible for the architecture programme. On 30 April, the same alliance occupied Rector Ole Gjerløv-Knudsen’s office at the School of Arts and Crafts. Prior to this event, a number of students from the Textile and Ceramics lines had boycotted graduation and end-of-term exams; as a result, five students were expelled prior to their anticipated graduation.
In January 1971, another dramatic revolt occurred, this time in Kolding, where more than half the students signed a no-confidence petition against the school’s director, Kjeld Jensen, after his dismissal of a teacher and expulsion of a student for fomenting unrest, that is, student activism. There are fewer sources for the events in Kolding, but according to national newspapers, the protest was supported by several teachers and one board member. Here, too, the protests called for a separation from the polytechnic, and a draft for a breakaway school was proposed before the protests died down.
It is interesting to see which of the protesters’ demands were met and came to shape the schools going forward and which were later rolled back or modified. As mentioned above, a key issue in both Copenhagen and Kolding was the close ties to the local polytechnic. The goal was an independent school with the same status as the schools of architecture under the Ministry of Culture. The schools of arts and crafts were regulated by the same executive order that governed vocational education, which required exams in a range of technical subjects and a schedule based on brief lessons. The students wanted a more independent, artistic approach with an individual graduation project in lieu of the many exams. The rebellious last-year students from Textile and Ceramics boycotted their final exams and instead worked on graduation projects, even though this meant they would leave the school without a graduation diploma.
The Copenhagen school became an independent institution in 1973 as the School of Decorative Art. The introduction of a graduation project was one of the lasting changes. In part, the dissatisfaction with the exams stemmed from declining respect for authorities and professional evaluations, and thus, another demand was to do away with marks. Instead, critique became an important aspect of the school culture until a reform in 1996, which reintroduced the use of marks. Another early demand, which was not achieved, was the abolition of graduation exams.
One of the general points of criticism during the student rebellion was that the programme ought to be more open and reflect a more diverse view of society. As one of the most radical outcomes of the revolt in Denmark, theschools of architecture in both Copenhagen and Aarhus had free enrolment in 1970–77. However, as their budgets remained unchanged, this led to a certain degree of chaos. In another change, many decisions about educational issues and teaching staff were now made by the Student Assembly in reflection of an ideal of ‘direct democracy’. That provided opportunities for younger, untenured teachers who knew how to navigate in this new political environment and were sympathetic to the rebellion.
The previous committees at the School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen, which only had a few, select student representatives, were dismantled by the students. As a gesture of cooperation the rector was involved in forming new committees with an equal representation of students and teachers. The goal was to ensure greater mutual acknowledgement and dialogue to ensure that the students’ wishes and commitment to learning were reflected in the programme.
Sadly, both the students’ influence and their commitment have since diminished, as is also the case in Danish universities, especially following the University Reform of 2003. In this light, it is interesting that we are now seeing the Student Rebellion of 2022, also in the universities.
The calls for greater influence on the form and content of the programmes pointed in three different directions around 1970. During the years leading up to the rebellion, articles and yearbooks show that students are frustrated that their training does not prepare them for the real-life requirements of the profession. If female students raised this issue with their teachers, they might be told not to worry about it – all they needed to do was to find a good husband, ideally an architect! However, the Youth Rebellion also led to growing social criticism. The students took a critical view of the consumer culture and the design profession, and some called for elective courses and group projects with a more social angle. During the 1970s, calls for a programme that reflected the needs of the design profession gradually changed to involve a greater focus on the needs of society. Finally, there was a parallel demand for greater latitude for individual projects and personal artistic development.
As these three demands were not necessarily pulling in the same direction, schools and teachers struggled to accommodate them. One of the institutional goals of the schools was to achieve the same artistic status as the schools of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. In 1969, the Danish Arts Foundation’s scope had expanded to include crafts and artistic design, which marked a step in that direction. Another goal was to achieve academic research status; a goal that the leading schools in the other Nordic countries had already achieved during the 1970s. In Denmark, this effort became a prolonged tug of war between different political, administrative, artistic, professional and business interests that was not resolved until 2010.
As part of these ongoing processes, the design education programmes remain under continuous adjustment – and debate.
1967 Kunsthåndværkerskolen i Kolding (the School of Arts and Crafts in Kolding) established as part of Kolding Polytechnic
Merger of the School of Arts and Crafts and the School of Drawing and Art Industry, both in Copenhagen, as part of Copenhagen Polytechnic
1969 Student rebellion in Copenhagen with debate week, boycott of graduation examins and various occupations
1971Student rebellion in Kolding with a petition of no confidence and plans for an alternative school
1973 The School of Applied Art established as an independent institution to replace the School of Arts and Crafts
1989 Crafts programmes revised and transformed into a five-year programme of higher education
1990 The Danish Design School established in a merger of the School of Applied Art and the School of Interior Design (the latter previously part of Frederiksberg Polytechnic)
1996 The School of Arts and Crafts in Kolding becomes an independent institution
1998 Change of name to Design School Kolding
2004- 2012Danish Centre for Design Research
2011Merger of the Danish Design School and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture and Conservation
2020 The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture and Conservation changed its name to The Royal Danish Academy – Architecture, Design, Conservation.
Aktuelt (1971, 7 February). Forstanderen alene tilbage (The director alone remains).
Fallan, K., Zetterlund, C., & Munch, A. V. (2023). Nordic design cultures in transformation, 1969–1980. Routledge. Available online.
Information (18 April 1969). Elever boycotter eksamen på Kunsthåndværkerskolen (Students boycotting exams at the School of Arts and Crafts).
Jyllands-Posten (1 May 1969). Protestmarch mod eksamen til rektors kontor (Protest march against exam to the rector’s office).
Kunsthåndværker- og Kunstindustriskolens Årsskrift 1968/69 (The School of Arts and Crafts and Art Industry, Yearbook 1968/69).
Land og Folk (1969, 4 March). Kulturministeriet besat af studerende (Ministry of Culture occupied by students).
Papanek, C. (1970). An alternative to sterility/Om design og designuddannelse. Mobilia, (182).
Salicath, B. (1969). Revision af kunsthåndværkeruddannelsen – eller blot en emaljeplan? (Revision of crafts education – or merely an enamel plan?]Dansk Brugskunst (5-6).
Theme: Student rebellion
Formkraft gives the floor to both students and institutions and examines contemporary educational opportunities for craft artists and designers.
Follow along from November 2022 – January 2023 when Formkraft takes stock of the design education in Denmark. Read more