NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Editorial: Creative Leadership

By Jenny Wilson — If we are to secure a better national understanding of the importance of creative arts, it is a task that needs to be embraced by every creative arts academic.

‘tomorrow’s tertiary leaders must take charge of developing much more sophisticated, dynamic and relevant public reports of what is being done and achieved. Demystifying higher education will unleash productive futures which prevailing discourse or practice are unlikely to realise.’

While this advice, offered by Professor Hamish Coates from the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, may be targeted towards the top echelons of the university, it has particular resonance with those charged with leadership in tertiary creative arts.

As science and technology appears to be achieving greater primacy, at least in government rhetoric and funding allocations, the role of public reporting and demystification of the contribution that creative arts brings to national productivity and societal cohesion remains an ongoing leadership task.

But do we currently have enough creative artists in formal academic leadership positions to carry out this important advocacy?

Between 2012 and 2017, creative arts disciplines in over 60% of Australia’s public universities have experienced some form of regrouping of their schools and faculties  continuing the reshaping that took place in the aftermath of the Dawkins reforms (Frankham, 2006; Roennfeldt, 2007). Typically creative arts have been subsumed into broader conglomerates of humanities and social science headed by colleagues without a detailed understanding of the specificities of creative arts practice, teaching and research.

Although we have a host of talented colleagues in Head of School, Dean or Director positions, it is perhaps unfair to expect them to take sole responsibility for the critical leadership role of advocacy. If we are to secure a better national understanding of the importance of creative arts, it is a task that needs to be embraced by every creative arts academic.

In this edition of NiTRO, we are fortunate to have the wisdom of those with experience and expertise to help us understand the increasingly complex nature of creative arts leadership and the tasks that are required in the years ahead.

Vice Chancellor, Steve Chapman (ECU) views the creative arts from his perspective as university leader in an article with the wonderful title ‘Because you are worth it’

Annika Harding, Executive Officer of the Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools (ACUADS) canvassed the views of their membership on how leadership has changed and will change in the future;

Anna Reid (Sydney Conservatorium, University of Sydney), draws a convincing analogy between the musician’s identity and leadership characteristics;

Barbara de La Harpe (USQ) and doctoral candidate Thembi Mason (RMIT) draws upon empirical research from Thembi’s soon to be conferred PhD to examine the features shared by tertiary creative arts leaders in Australian universities;

Ian Howard (UNSW) looks back on his twenty plus years as a leader in UNSW’s College of Fine Arts and Griffith University’s Queensland College of Art to share his experiences and advice for new and aspiring leaders of creative arts;

Kate Cherry (NIDA) who has recently moved from a position of artistic leadership for Black Swan Theatre to take up the role of Director of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) shares a little of her background, experience and views on the similarities and differences of these two leadership positions;

Megan Burslem (Monash) captures the essence of creative arts leadership in her interview with Monash University’s new music school head Professor Cat Hope.


Coates, H (2017) Making Universities Worth it. Pursuit. University of Melbourne.

Frankham, N. (2006). Attitudes and trends in Australian art and design schools. Paper presented at the ACUADS (Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools) 2006 Conference. Monash University and The Victorian College of the Arts Melbourne, Victoria.

Roennfeldt, P. (2007). The genealogy and anatomy of the Australian tertiary music sector: How far have we come and where are we going? Paper presented at the NACTMUS 2007 conference. Brisbane, Griffith University.

More from this issue

More from this issue

By Annika Harding — Heads of art and design schools in Australia on leadership challenges and opportunities
By Professor Anna Reid — Like most musicians, the creation of music has simply entranced me from an early age. I loved discovering out how instruments worked, how they could be played for my own pleasure and with others, how manuscript (or the lack of it) enabled me to understand composers’ ideas, and how music could make an impact on everyone around.
By Professor Ian Howard — Professor Ian Howard has spent over 20 years in leadership positions in Australian university art colleges, and is regarded by many as one of our most successful creative arts leaders. Now having returned to the ‘grass roots’, NiTRO invited Ian to share some of his thoughts and experiences on leadership in creative arts.
By Barbara de la Harpe and Thembi Mason — Working in the area of learning and teaching in Higher Education for a combined total of 35 years we have consistently questioned ourselves, while at the same time being questioned, about what the expert leader in learning and teaching for the Creative Arts looks like.
By Megan Burslem and Professor Cat Hope — “I really believe that art is important; I believe in its power to bring people together, how it helps us challenge and reflect on our views and improves our quality of life. Arts should be at the core of our national identity, as it helps us make sense of it.” – Professor Cat Hope

At the end of 2016, Kate Cherry moved from a successful nine-year role as Artistic Director and joint CEO of Black Swan Theatre to take up the role of Director and CEO of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA).  In a Q & A conversation with NiTRO Editor Jenny Wilson, Kate shares her perspectives on the move from professional arts to tertiary arts leadership

By Professor Steve Chapman — The world is in an interesting place just now. The nature of “truth” itself seems to be under threat. Now, more than ever, is the time for Universities to show leadership and to exercise their civilising influence. The Arts need to be at the centre of this.