On 15 June 1898, the Royal Flemish Conservatoire was founded by Peter Benoit. The school had long existed as a professional education for singers and musicians for the Antwerp opera and orchestras, but Benoit elevated the Conservatoire to an international-level institution with a thoughtful pedagogical approach. Famous is his aim to educate 'not virtuosos but thinking men and women'. The Antwerp Conservatoire was also the first institution of higher education in Belgium with Dutch as the official language of instruction.
Besides music, the Conservatoire also offered drama courses from the very beginning. In addition, a new theatre studio was built in Antwerp in 1946 under the impetus of Herman Teirlinck.
In 1968, the Conservatoire moved from the buildings on Sint-Jacobsmarkt in Antwerp to a brand-new infrastructure designed by the visionary architect Léon Stynen: DE SINGEL. From the 1980s, under the impetus of Frie Leysen, it emerged as a vibrant international arts centre with leading programming for music, theatre and dance.
In the same period, Dora van der Groen as head of the drama department at the Conservatoire and Jan Decleir as director of the Studio Herman Teirlinck in the centre of Antwerp attracted the so-called "Flemish Wave", a generation of actors and theatre-makers who would strongly influence the drama and media landscape of Flanders.
In 1988, the dance school founded in 1973 by Jeanne Brabants was reformed into a three-year higher programme. The Higher Institute of Dance in Lier became the country's leading higher dance school. The school focused on both ballet and contemporary dance theatre.
After 1994, all these higher arts courses were brought under one structure, initially as a department under the AP University of Applied Sciences and Arts Antwerp, later under the Artesis University and today under the umbrella of the AP University of Applied Sciences and Arts Antwerp. A physical merger also took place in 2010: a new wing designed by Stéphane Beel was opened in the Arts Campus DE SINGEL, housing all Antwerp performing arts programmes.
With the start of the Music Pedagogy programme in 1954, Antwerp was the first Conservatoire with pedagogical courses. Later, Media, writing and performance art teacher training were added. From 2007, specific teacher training courses in Dance, Drama and Music were offered. In 2019, the Educational Master in Music and Performing Arts was introduced, embedding the teacher training courses in the School of Arts and expanding the possibility for students to choose a teacher training course immediately.
Since then, Royal Conservatoire Antwerp has been the only School of Arts in Flanders to offer all performing arts disciplines: music (classical and jazz), drama (Acting, word and performance art) and dance with continuing teacher training in all these disciplines. Anno 2023, the 125-year-old institute is alive and kicking and buzzing with activity. The Conservatoire cultivates an open mind and an innovator's mentality, setting its sights on the international arts field from a strong awareness of the performing arts tradition and a focus on reflection and research.