NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Meet our new DDCA Board member – Associate Professor Kim Cunio

At the DDCA Leadership Forum on 30 October 2019, current board member Professor Julian Goddard, part of the executive since 2015, announced that he would not be standing in 2020. A ballot of members attending was held to approve his replacement for 2020 and Associate Professor Kim Cunio was elected as a member of the DDCA Board.

At the DDCA Leadership Forum on 30 October 2019, current board member Professor Julian Goddard, part of the executive since 2015, announced that he would not be standing in 2020. A ballot of members attending was held to approve his replacement for 2020 and Associate Professor Kim Cunio was elected as a member of the DDCA Board.

Kim is Head of the School of Music at the ANU, is an activist composer interested in old and new musics and the role of intercultural music in making sense of our larger world. A scholar, composer and performer, Kim embodies the skills of the exegetical artist, showing that writing and making art are part of the same paradigm of deep artistic exploration.

We took the opportunity to invite Kim to outline his perspective on DDCA, his board appointment and hopes for the future.

I have been hearing about the DDCA for some years now, and known more than a few members of it. I am looking forward to taking up a role on the Board because this is our organisation. We work in a double land. We have to keep our horizons clear as artists yet work within the Academy to achieve definable outcomes for our peers and students. The DDCA is needed because we often work on a case by case, project based approach that makes collective organisation difficult. As creative artists we are often pressured to do more with less money and some legacy of this inevitably comes into our own leadership roles, where we can be  compared to other disciplines that have longstanding models of external funding built into their fabric.

This can lead us to despair if we are not careful.

We know that the rate of success in ARC grants is low in our fields. A recent ANU ARC summary presentation showing all the disciplines required my (rarely used) glasses to even see our sector in the combined X/Y graph. Although we know this is wrong, we live with it, because we must. We celebrate those who obtain an ARC grant as our society celebrates the gambler who wins against the system that is rigged. We are so busy that there seems little we can do. There is the continuous need to justify our ‘non traditional’ approaches to research in an environment that often favours conservatism and static modes of presenting research that we might be in an absurdist play, simply waiting for Godot. Our schools generally have less administrative support and PhD scholarships available even though we have supervised a generation of scholar / practitioners who combine intellectual rigour with applied creativity. 

Once a year we have the chance to come together and think about our larger issues without worrying about the other pressing issues of student numbers, day to day budgets and compliance – to try and think towards the longer term. This is invaluable. Our younger leaders can understand the longer term pressures in our sector, our corporate knowledge can be transferred safely and we can take shared insights back to our colleagues. We can even dare to dream.

The news is not all dire, some of our schools are going very well by being a ‘jewel in the crown’ of their universities, offering high impact events as well as targeted research to justify a return on investment and even, for some, lower class sizes. Others are collaborating with the hard sciences to make meaning out of research and building a shared paradigm of making meaning out of knowledge. Our flagships such as orchestras and major exhibitions offer a reach that other parts of our universities can rarely achieve. Our academics get radio play and have many thousands view their art. They can influence the conversation: they have fans!

We have the opportunity to build a case for the economic value and social capital that this affords both our institutions and our society. We also have a capacity to ‘experiment’. This is wonderfully trendy academia right now, but it is old news to all of us that we can delve into an authentic artistic process and make the findings as we are going along, that the dalliances involved in deep sustained artistic practice research may themselves be as valuable as the final product. The good news is that our structural thinking is starting to catch up, meaning that our way of working in an institutional environment will become much more valuable in the next 20 years. We understand intractable problems and can express them without resorting to binaries, something that is sorely needed as politics and Institutional bias fail us. We are very good at researching in a modular sense, giving our all in a project for a period of time and transferring that embodied knowledge into the next project, something that our colleagues in the hard sciences will find increasingly compelling as interdisciplinarity grows. We ‘do’ impact! Our students will be sought after as they will find new solutions to our problems. As our society reevaluates populism and the growth at all ends maxims that dominate contemporary debate, we will be called upon.

It is my hope that the DDCA can be very practical. I would like it to inspire the music schools and conservatoriums to meet more regularly together. I would like it to sharpen our collective pens and increase our reach into the policy debate to position ourselves as the experts in applied creative thinking. I would like the DDCA to help make it clear to the public that an artistic education is never wasted by extending our definitions of what constitute good graduate and educational outcomes. I would like the DDCA to find a way to systematise the peer review and dissemination of artistic practice research in the Australian academy. We should also plan what the successor to the DDCA is even as we sustain it, by scoping what a future peak body will look like and look for the seed funding to support it, something that was well discussed in our 2019 meeting.

Go well dear colleagues, despite all of our challenges we have the intellectual capacity and creativity to carve a greater space in the Australian teaching and research landscape.

More from this issue

More from this issue

30 October saw perhaps the largest gathering of tertiary creative arts leadership in DDCA’s history, all brought together around the topics of teaching and graduate employability and measurement and assessment in creative arts research.

Employability is a buzz word and likely to remain so as performance-based funding comes into force, so what is employability in the context of design and the creative arts, and is it beyond the remit of a degree in these disciplines?

Comparisons of the data from the ERA 2010 and ERA2012 made it abundantly clear that a system adapted to measure quality at the discipline-specific level, without a one-size-fits-all approach, is a system that can be manipulated or gamed, usually to the benefit of dominant disciplines.

Entering the fourth industrial revolution poses major challenges for work and life futures. Many studies over the last decade have forecasted that we are entering an era in which digital networks, artificial intelligence, robotics and automation, together with scientific innovation, climate change, changing demographics, and globalisation will fundamentally transform the way we work, live, and learn.

Many of us are connected with UniSuper already but perhaps one of the driving factors in valuing this connection relates to the ‘in and out’ nature of many artists relationship with academia. Not all creative artists working in academia have full time or long-time positions – some choosing to combine their professional practice with bouts of sessional teaching. This to us underscored the importance of thinking about the longer term planning offered by industry Super funds, and the relevance of UniSuper to our event.