NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Editorial: Is Engagement a dirty word?

Aligned with the 2019 Australian Council of University Art & Design Schools annual conference on the same theme, this edition of NiTRO will focus on the meaning of engagement for the creative arts: across disciplines, nationalities and cultures; but also with industries, communities and the world at large.

By Professor Kit Wise

Aligned with the 2019 Australian Council of University Art & Design Schools annual conference on the same theme, this edition of NiTRO will focus on the meaning of engagement for the creative arts: across disciplines, nationalities and cultures; but also with industries, communities and the world at large.

 ‘Our guiding principle was that design is neither an intellectual nor a material affair, but simply an integral part of the stuff of life, necessary for everyone in a civilized society.’ – Walter Gropius

2019 marks the centenary of the founding of the Weimar State Bauhaus by Walter Gropius. Revolutionising models of art, design and architecture education at the time, the school drew on interdisciplinary ideals, international parameters and a deeply held social conscience. Gropius established the archetypal Modernist school by engaging across media, disciplines, cultures, classes and genders, with a deep commitment to the material, the applied and the experimental. These aspirations still ring true one hundred years later, although the models and context have changed. 

As we look to the start of a new decade in 2020 and beyond, how do we demonstrate value without instrumentalising creativity? How do we research in order to achieve impact but also to explore the unknown? How do we educate to achieve innovation but remain connected to history? How do we sustain a critical commentary on society whilst receiving the rewards and resourcing? What can we learn from indigenous perspectives on engagement?  In the year when the Excellence in Research for Australia framework articulated the first sector-wide measures of impact and engagement, we ask: does engagement allow new futures for the creative arts, or has engagement become a dirty word?

In this edition of NiTRO we have asked authors from both within and outside the academy to explore these questions. 

NAVA Executive Director Esther Anatolitis argues that disengagement will not only damage the future of art but of society.

Associate Professor Scott Brook (RMIT) adds to this call to action by considering the sector’s research needs.

Nadège Desgenétez (ANU) explains how self empowerment emerges through creative engagement.

Anita Gowers (previously University of Tasmania) delves more deeply into the ERA definitions to argue for greater clarity.

Frieze magazine Editor at Large Jennifer Higgie questions the wisdom of attempting to capture and measure creativity.

Dr Grace McQuilten (RMIT) outlines The Social Studio and its work to overcome the social and economic barriers inherent in the art market.

Dr Warren Asher (University of Tasmania) explores the messy and complex world of engagement through the creation of Living Room Musicals.

More from this issue

More from this issue

What does the ARC Engagement and Impact framework have in common with the Bauhaus? This was the framing question of Engagement, this year’s ACUADS Conference, offering a productive way to contextualise social, intellectual and political engagement within the most impactful creative legacy the world has ever known.

How can learning to make things in glass assist a student’s broader creative and social development? Can glass working foster social awareness?

Art, being art, is never straightforward: to expect or to demand precise things from it is, perhaps, a fool’s dream – and one that can be counterproductive. Over the past century, some of the most politically and culturally engaged art movements and schools … have emerged from chaos, tragedy, disaster …

There is a grim temporality to much policy-engaged research on the Creative and Cultural Industries that reminds me of the closing dialogue in the first Terminator film … Sarah Connor drives into the desert to prepare for the struggle that lies ahead. At the petrol station a young boy points to the dark clouds and says a storm is coming. Sarah sighs and says, ‘I know’.

It was a windy afternoon in Melbourne when I was gifted a small monopoly house by artist Ceri Hann … Over several years, Hann made and gifted objects from a fictional casino – symbols of economic value and exchange that were hacked and hijacked to provoke the receiver to think and talk. While these objects have no real economic value, they point to the invisible yet essential currencies that fuel the art world.

There are two significant factors that combine to undermine creative outputs being classified as new research internally in many Australian universities … These two issues, complexity of creative research methodologies and research staff turn-over, can result in creative academics feeling undervalued and sometimes under siege.

Is engagement a dirty word? It’s one of the dirtiest words I know. Like many words that have come before it (synergy, impact, interaction), it has been taken up as a buzzword, stretched to such levels of generalised abstraction it can stand for almost anything.