NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Tertiary creative arts 2020: The state of play and road ahead

2020 has brought major changes that have, and will continue, to impact upon higher education and tertiary creative arts in particular. But as our contributors remind us, these upheavals have brought resilience and innovation to the fore in creative arts.

By Dr Jenny Wilson

2020 has brought major changes that have, and will continue, to impact upon higher education and tertiary creative arts in particular. In Australia the start of 2020 was marked by horrific bushfires which impacted our regional institutions particularly. This was rapidly followed by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, marked initially by early concerns about international student recruitment, support and retention, which has brought major long term challenges and limitations to our tertiary institutions: closure of creative arts programs at specific campuses, staffing cuts, student deferrals, postponement of international and national research collaborations and visits, and revision of teaching programs to incorporate digital and distance teaching and learning on a more permanent basis.  Meanwhile, the global Black Lives Matter protests have brought our relationship with our First Peoples into sharp relief again.

Despite reduced parliamentary attendance, policy changes that affect tertiary creative arts have continued with the introduction of a differentiated student fee structure and the announcement of a new ANZSRC coding in research. The current ARC review of ERA and the government inquiry into Australia’s Creative and Cultural Industries and Institutions have yet to make their mark on our landscape.

But as our contributors remind us, these upheavals have brought resilience and innovation to the fore in creative arts. In this edition:

  • Lynn Churchill (Curtin) reflects the importance of Indigenous voice in our design landscape as she reminds us that guidance for the way forward exists

  • Paul Gough (Arts University Bournemouth), a regular NiTRO contributor, gives us an update on how the UK is moving in these challenging times

  • Beata Batorowicz (USQ) and Rhi Johnson (USQ) use the fable of the lion and the mouse to share unexpected developments taking place at their university as a result of COVID-19

  • David Cross (Deakin) muses on how the pandemic has reshaped our thinking about our creative communities and where the future that this reconsideration may lead

  • Linda Lorenza (CQU) considers the theory behind online learning as she recounts how acting tuition is translated to the digital environment

We are reminded that, despite current dramatic events, the pattern of joys, sadness and changes that we experience each year continue:

  • John Meade (Melbourne) shares the sad news of the passing of Kate Daw in a touching remembrance of Kate’s work and life

  • Alex Burchmore (ANU) discusses the recent changes to Art Monthly Australasia and issues a special offer for HDR students, while Jeremy Eaton (Melbourne) and Kelly Fliedner (UWA) introduce a new postgraduate journal, Currents.

More from this issue

More from this issue

It’s probably not a good time to be using flu symptoms as a metaphor for the grim circumstances that envelops us all. But being the good scholar I aim to be, if I am going to use it then I’d better use the right source. It was, in fact, not an American politician but the Austrian diplomat, Klemens von Metternich, who first coined the snappy phrase “When France sneezes, the rest of Europe catches a cold.”

On 28 September, Currents, a new post-graduate arts research journal, was launched through the Centre of Visual Arts (CoVA) at the University of Melbourne by editors Kelly Fliedner and Jeremy Eaton. This new initiative, established between CoVA and the School of Design, University of Western Australia, draws on a broad range of arts-based research to form an interdisciplinary, supportive and valuable platform, which highlights the rigorous inquiries being undertaken by emerging scholars.

Winding through ARM (Ashton Raggatt McDougall) Architects’ 2001 design for the Garden of Australian Dreams at the National Museum of Australia Canberra, snakes an impressive architectural interpretation of the Boolean string rising and plunging like a rollercoaster. This bold element is intended to conceptually embody the past and future of our Australian history, within which we are entangled.

2020 has waged a remarkable and sustained attack on the ranks of the glass half full creative practitioner. As the consequences of COVID-19 have leeched through every fibre of our industry, trying to identify anything that might signal a bright, or even brighter, future could be seen to be the preserve of a strange cabal of tin hat wearing creatives.

Regional tertiary students learned alternative skills in performance when after just two weeks of face to face acting classes, we were forced to undertake all teaching and learning online via Zoom due to the pandemic. Emergency remote teaching offered in response to a crisis such as COVID-19 is different to well-planned online learning experiences.

My friend, Kate Daw, died from cancer on 7 September. Kate was Head of the VCA School of Art, in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, at the University of Melbourne. I first met Kate in 1994 when I was a third-year undergraduate student in Sculpture at the VCA. I saw her one day just outside the Sculpture yard and I approached her to introduce myself. From that moment we stayed within each others’ psychic radar.

The arts publishing industry in Australia is remarkably vibrant and resilient, offering a platform for a range of voices and serving the interests of multiple demographics in a nation built on the virtues of cultural diversity and equal opportunity. In this ecology, the running of a nationally distributed arts magazine can be a complex, albeit highly rewarding endeavour.

The current and projected state of Creative Arts, in the context of an ongoing global pandemic, can be symbolically represented by Aesop’s fable The Lion and the Mouse. This fable refers to power balances and how these can be inverted, regardless of the implied strength or magnitude, which ultimately indicates that even the smallest being – in their creative resourcefulness – is capable of assisting a greater one.

If we can look up and away from the ongoing challenges to both the arts and tertiary sectors, we may see some opportunity. Ways of doing things differently, working together in new ways, trying methods we may not have previously, looking at sustainability in different ways.