Erik Viskil is taking over from Henk Borgdorff as academic director ACPA

The Academy of Creative and Performing Arts (ACPA) recently appointed a new academic director. Erik Viskil is taking over from Henk Borgdorff, who held the post for the past four years. What has been achieved in those years? And what does ACPA’s future look like?
In this double interview, Leiden University discusses these questions with the former and present directors.

Henk Borgdorff looks back at four years as director

How do you view your time at ACPA?
It has been an honour and privilege to serve ACPA as its academic director. ACPA offers a unique and stimulating environment for students, lecturers and PhD candidates, an environment where artistic research and practice are closely linked. I’m proud that we at ACPA bring the creation and practice of art to the university and that we bring the academic teaching and research into contact with the Royal Conservatoire and the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague.’

What is your most important achievement as director of ACPA?
‘During my time as director, ACPA has become an albeit modest, but leading national and international research institute. I’m extremely pleased with the results of the research evaluation: ACPA’s research was deemed to be excellent. That is obviously thanks to our staff and PhD candidates’ research results. I’m also proud that we have been able to take further steps towards integrating the artistic research in the university’s academic system. I just heard that the university’s new PhD regulations state that non-traditional forms of dissertation can now be presented in the arts. An achievement that is important for other domains too, visual anthropology for instance.’

If you had to choose one ACPA research project, which would you say was the best one to be carried out during your time as director?
‘I’d find it difficult to single out one particular ACPA project, and it wouldn’t be right to do so now. I advise visiting our website pages about our staff, our alumni and the impact of our research. The breadth and depth of the research jumps off the page. The university and the faculty have a unique institute in ACPA, with research that makes a difference in the worlds of art and academia.’

Will you continue to be active in the arts after you retire?
‘I will stay active in art research, be it at more of a distance, within the scope of the Dutch Research Agenda, for instance. Over the past 15 to 20 years, my focus has been on the theoretical and political rationale for research into the arts. I now hope to broaden this focus and link it to an older love: my interest in those forms of knowledge and understanding that also hover on the boundaries of academia and evade a simple theoretical framework, but are nonetheless fundamental to how we relate to the world, ourselves and others, forms of knowledge and understanding that are studied in philosophy of mind and the cognitive sciences.’

Erik Viskil looks ahead to the next four years


What is according to you the importance of art to society?
'Art is many things in one, diverse and layered. Art offers experiences that elevate us above ourselves and our everyday existence. We derive pleasure and comfort from it. At this moment in time, we need art more than ever. Society is in chaos; the earth’s surface is in a state of crisis. We want to learn how to improve our understanding of the world, we need explanations, new perspectives, we want to see alternative futures and arrive at new visions. This is the very strength of art, a strength that is found nowhere else in society in such a concentrated form: art is imagination. The arts create alternative worlds and enable us to experience the ineffable and the unknown.’

What makes ACPA unique in the Netherlands?
‘ACPA is an art school at a university. That is nothing special in other countries, but it was in the Netherlands. For a long time ACPA was the only place in our country where artists and designers could work on a PhD based on their artistic work. Accreditation has made it clear that the quality of ACPA’s research is high. Society is beginning to appreciate what is possible in arts research. I hope that ACPA will be unique in other ways in the coming years: as a catalyst for interdisciplinary teaching and intensive forms of collaboration between artists and scientists.’

What appealed to you about the post of academic director?
‘In ACPA various subjects come together that I have experience within my career. I trained as a researcher specialising in argumentation theory. After my PhD I worked in the field of academic and artistic policy, and at a certain point opted for the context of the arts. I have held all sorts of posts at art academies, and have taught at PhDArts, one of ACPA’s two PhD programmes. Here my knowledge of argumentation and art practice came together in unexpected ways. Artists and designers traditionally conduct the discourse through their work. What makes arts research as it is conducted at ACPA so special is that the research is explained, made explicit in a discursive form, and that it then flows back into the practice. For me both the subject matter and the policy make it interesting and thrilling to be academic director of this institute.’

What do you hope to achieve in the next few years as director of ACPA?
‘My predecessors have made ACPA strong. Frans de Ruiter built the academy up from nothing. There were no examples, but there was a visionary university board that shared the same dreams. Over the past few years, Henk Borgdorff and the staff have strengthened the institute’s international position and brought the quality into wider focus. It is logical that in the coming years the emphasis will continue to lie on surprising and solid PhD research. For me collaboration is important. We are working with the University of the Arts on a platform that will make all the arts research in Leiden and The Hague visible. I would like to invest time in teaching at the point where art, science and society meet, and in developing interdisciplinary experiments. I hope that we will be able to work on projects with others from all corners of the university.’

About ACPA

The Academy of Creative and Performing Arts (ACPA) provides artistic research and education in the arts. ACPA is a research institute of the Faculty of Humanities at Leiden University and embodies the collaboration between Leiden University and the University of the Arts The Hague, the Royal Conservatoire (KC) and the Royal Academy of Art (KABK). In addition to research in and through the arts, ACPA offers academic education for art students of KABK and KC, and art education for students at Leiden University.