NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Creative and performing arts graduates: a pool of talent and industry insight

 

Over the last ten years, I have engaged in a number of research projects exploring the impact of a higher education degree in the creative and performing arts for graduates seeking a career in the creative industries. In essence, I have discovered that a creative arts degree provides students with three significant career-building opportunities. . . On the other side of the coin, . . . graduates in industry often report that they are insufficiently prepared for the complex nature of the creative industries work environments

By Professor Ryan Daniel

Over the last ten years, I have engaged in a number of research projects exploring the impact of a higher education degree in the creative and performing arts for graduates seeking a career in the creative industries. In essence, I have discovered that a creative arts degree provides students with three significant career-building opportunities: 1) the opportunity to develop deep discipline knowledge in an area or areas of creative practice, 2) a network of peers and industry contacts and 3) the opportunity to engage with spaces and equipment that they would not necessarily be able to interact with outside the tertiary environment. On the other side of the coin, my research has identified that graduates in industry often report that they are insufficiently prepared for the complex nature of the creative industries work environments and the need to have business, enterprising and entrepreneurial attributes and a range of soft skills in what is a rapidly changing world and Asian century.

Through surveys and interviews with scores of graduates over the years, it has become clear to me that they are a rich source of knowledge, however it is a source that tertiary art schools might arguably involve even more strategically.

The non-arts area of learning and development can represent the major challenge for tertiary educators working in the creative and performing arts. There is no question graduates will need the deep discipline knowledge that the creative arts curriculum provides, however they also need in-depth understandings of the employment sector, as well as a range of soft skills that will enable them to be successful over a long period of time. While academics are certainly more than capable of designing curriculum and learning experiences that cater to these emerging needs, involving graduates is important. Currently, this is commonplace with many art schools involving graduates via such methods as sessional teaching staff, as guest lecturers and speakers, as examiners or assessors, or as practitioner case studies. Through surveys and interviews with scores of graduates over the years, it has become clear to me that they are a rich source of knowledge, however it is a source that tertiary art schools might arguably involve even more strategically.

While it brings with it some complications in terms of administration and ongoing oversight, one area that is arguably underutilised is in terms of formal mentoring. Setting up an informal mentoring program is certainly an option, but there is a tremendous opportunity to embed a more formal system into the curriculum, to create a mutually beneficial arrangement between a student and a practitioner. While on the one hand academic staff become de-facto mentors, aligning a student with an industry practitioner (graduate) would certainly value add to their learning. Embedding such a formal mentoring program into the curriculum makes students are aware that it is a key part of their learning. This embedding could take the form of informal discussions in class (e.g. What has your mentor taught you about the current state of their/your industry? What feedback on your creative work have you been able to obtain from your mentor and in what ways have you responded to this feedback?). This could even be an assignment or tested under examination conditions. While the advantages for students are obvious, graduate mentors would also benefit from this type of arrangement; they would be able to garner insights into the latest knowledge or skills being taught in their field, they might pick up interesting concepts or ideas from their mentee, or they may even be able to engage students in some form of collaborative project or even employment (e.g. editors, assistants, administrators).

. . .they are usually highly disciplined. . . are creative thinkers who ponder, reflect, challenge and unpack problems and the status quo. . . .they are willing to be innovative and not afraid to take risks. . . .they are typically passionate individuals who have interesting observations of the world and how art can enhance any area of the economy.

Feedback that I have obtained through interviews with graduates who have moved into different areas of employment is that a creative or performing arts degree provides them with several benefits. Firstly, they are usually highly disciplined, having spent thousands of hours over many years passionately pursuing creative practice. Secondly, they are creative thinkers who ponder, reflect, challenge and unpack problems and the status quo. Thirdly, they are willing to be innovative and not afraid to take risks. Fourthly, they are typically passionate individuals who have interesting observations of the world and how art can enhance any area of the economy.

Australia, to a large extent, has a way to go in terms of engaging their alumni in comparison with the United States for example which has a very strong history of engagement. To do so will require that art schools or departments resource this properly, in order that graduates are engaged strategically and for mutual benefit. Given the currency of graduates’ experiences in what is a rapidly changing industry, and their usual willingness to give back and help students, there are certainly opportunities to consider and to explore for those of us in the Australian tertiary arts sector.


Professor Ryan Daniel is a senior researcher at James Cook University and has authored over 50 peer reviewed publications. His research is published in Studies in Higher Education, Journal of Australian Studies, Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, Creative Industries, International Journal of Cultural Policy, Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, CoDesign, International Journal of Music Education, Music Education Research and the British Journal of Music Education. His research publications can all be found at the following research portfolio site: https://research.jcu.edu.au/portfolio/ryan.daniel/

More from this issue

More from this issue

What do students of art need to know and be able to do today in order to flourish tomorrow? For the past ten years I have been exploring this question within the context of US art schools (Salazar, 2013a, 2013b, 2014, 2016). Reflecting on this body of research, three strategies stand out by which we, as educators, can better prepare art students to meet future challenges. We need to prompt inquiry, nurture entrepreneurial dispositions, and facilitate creative communities of practice.

Independent artists are faced with a challenging and transforming landscape that requires adaptive resilience in order to thrive creatively, today and in the future. How do we, as tertiary educators, empower and enable artists to build strong and flexible, professional contemporary art practices? To address this issue, my current research draws models of praxis from artist-run initiatives (ARI) in the Visual Arts industry, specifically from my experience as director of Boxcopy Contemporary Art Space.

If one was to believe the various reports emanating from the popular media, creative arts schools provide a waiting room for global graduate unemployment.  As we all know, nothing could be further from the truth or, as the US Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts puts it ‘Uncle Henry is Wrong’.

In higher education, we like to throw around the term “successful” when referring to our alumni, but what do we really mean by that?  Employed, certainly (if that is their goal).  Financially stable, making enough money to have a decent quality of life.  But beyond that, is more money really the best way to measure more success?  What else should we consider in this assessment?

Writing twenty years ago, Neumann (1996) questioned the existence of a nexus between research and teaching roles. Reviewing the literature up until the late-1980s, she asserted that few academics find a nexus because of the privileging of research over teaching. From the 1990s, however, she found the research-teaching nexus to be bi-directional and multi-level, with many students identifying the nexus as an opportunity for scholarly interactions. . . . This short discussion paper retains the focus on the artist academic and further extends the ART nexus through the addition of employability.

In the last thirty to forty years there has been a concerted drive in the Australian academy, to justify creative arts training in forms that articulate with economic worth, vocational function and government policy. . . . While there have been great gains in recognising the value of creative work within academic frameworks, their effect on the creative academics who deliver these graduate outcomes remains underexplored. . .

Emerging out of a multidisciplinary history, including an ongoing relationship with the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), the School of Arts and Humanities at Edith Cowan University has shaped and honed a contemporary focus through actively defining the usefulness of art for today’s society whether that be through praxis or pedagogy or a hybrid of the two. The ethos of the school is to explore and experiment and to push back from pre-determined understandings – to collaborate, innovate and find solutions through a merging of making and theory often employing whatever is to hand.

I completed a double degree in Music and Law at Monash University, graduating from music in 2010 and from law in 2013 The opportunity to study under the guidance of Australia’s leading performing jazz artists and alongside talented peers was a dream come true.

Georgie Meagher graduated with undergraduate and masters degrees in Creative Arts (Performance) from the University of Wollongong in 2008. She is now CEO of Next Wave Australia’s most comprehensive platform for emerging artists whichincludes learning programs and a biennial festival.  NiTRO editor, Jenny Wilson, spoke with her about the influence of her university years, her role as an alumni and her advice for graduating students.

After six decades of music education, Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University graduates are making their mark in the performing arts industry, both in Australia and abroad. its alumni include players in leading positions in every Australian state orchestra, and a host of Grammy and ARIA award winners and many internationally recognised musicians including Dami Im, Jayson Gillham, Katie Noonan, Piers Lane, Megan Washington, Kate Miller-Heidke, Lisa Gasteen and Brett Dean have all passed through the Queensland Conservatorium.

LinkedIn has been described as the non-sexy, sleeping dragon of social media (Buck, 2012).  It has become the premiere social media site for professionals; most employers in the UK will search for a job candidate on LinkedIn.  This makes it very useful when searching for jobs internships, exploring careers or accessing company information. Yet, while students may be active on other social media platforms they are less engaged with LinkedIn. Certainly our creative students report that LinkedIn has little appeal