By Associate Professor Beata Batorowicz and Dr Rhi Johnson
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 (Aesop, c. 620–560 BCE). 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. With this told, the lion, in all his curiosity, did initially dismiss the mouse’s capacity to return his kind act of setting her free. Yet, when the lion became caught in a hunter’s net, it was the small mouse who courageously gnawed through the roped net. By extension, this tale reinforces that smaller actions can positively contribute to the realization of larger undertakings and can have profound impact. Metaphorically, the lion can be viewed as the grand narrative of tertiary education in Creative Arts, amplified by its projected long-term impacts of COVID-19. These impacts include challenges in international and domestic student recruitment, retention and broader student support, whereby in many instances have led to a reduction or closure of university creative arts programs (Marshman & Larkins, 2020; Zhou, 2020).
The mouse represents the micro-narrative, the personalised and grass roots approach in Creative Arts initiatives as a metaphor for regional resourcefulness and creative resiliency at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), under COVID-19. The unusual dynamic between the lion and the mouse, permeates our own educational story as – it too – goes against its expected storyline. That is, within our School of Creative Arts, we are in the process of new program development. Future growth in this area is not only desirable in the context of an ongoing global pandemic and associated social and economic fallout, but is expected to be supported by the introduction of several new Creative Arts undergraduate programs including a Bachelor of Creative Arts and Community Wellbeing, commencing in 2021. The introduction of such programs on wellbeing is, in a sense, timely as a COVID-19 response and will provide strong underpinnings for further postgraduate growth in this area. As such, our emergent Doctor of Creative Arts (DCA) program, implemented at USQ in 2016, is also undergoing coursework development with sessions on self-care and tools for engaging in sensitive practitioner-centred research. Like the lion’s act of kindness, the wider university has been providing postgraduate support, including: specialised HDR access to studio spaces during on-campus study restrictions and considered leniency around HDR extension requests due to re-configuring creative works via digital formats. Perceived challenges in terms of planned travel and location-based work also pave the way for further creative adaption and innovation. In turn, we have observed ongoing development in multimodal and collaborative online community-based practices to support the student experience across all levels of the doctoral cohort.
Within these community-based practices, there is a shift from the macro-to-micro, with a greater focus on introspection within doctoral research projects; an (re-) appreciation of the small again and our immediate surroundings. For instance, international community artist and USQ DCA candidate, Augustina Droze, felt unable to carry out her planned public mural work in the current “work from home” context. In response to these logistical challenges, Augustina began to collaborate with her seven-year old-son Sebastian as an research activity that resulted in her son having his own professional artist website (see: Home | SebastianArt). In sharing this latest exploration among peer doctoral researchers, the candidate was surprised at the vast contribution that the work makes across fields of visual art, early childhood education and psychology. The work also demonstrates that the use of online working platforms as a means of exhibition and creative dissemination are at the forefront of this shift. Further, the possibility for familial or immediate community involvement and even collaboration via digital means are enhanced. While these shifting dialogue formats take into account technology and subject versatility, elements of distance and delay also emerge. As can be identified when examining the central motivations behind many historical art movements, challenge and adversity often breeds creativity – a type of creativity that allows for a small mouse to rescue a great, strong lion.
 Artist website is used with the permission of the artists-researchers.
Aesop c. 620 – 560 BCE, ‘The Lion and The Mouse’, CommonLit, viewed 8 October 2020. Retrieved from https://www.commonlit.org/en/texts/the-lion-and-the-mouse.
Droze, A & Droze, S 2020, Sebastian Art, viewed 8 October 2020. Retrieved from Home | SebastianArt.
Marshman, I & Larkins, F 2020, ‘COVID-19: what Australian universities can do to recover from the loss of international student fees’, The Conversation, 3 June, viewed 8 October 2020. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/amp/covid-19-what-australian-universities-can-do-to-recover-from-the-loss-of-international-student-fees-139759.
Zhou, N 2020, ‘Australian universities to cut hundreds of courses as funding crisis deepens’, The Guardian, 29 September, viewed 8 October 2020. Retrieved from http://amp.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/sep/30/australian-universities-to-cut-hundreds-of-courses-as-funding-crisis-deepens.
Associate Professor Beata Batorowicz is the Associate Head (Research) in the School of Creative Arts and the Doctor of Creative Arts Program Director at the University of Southern Queensland. Her visual art projects like Dark Rituals (2018-19), Antipods (2015), Tales Within Historical Spaces (2012) have secured key funding including Australia Council for the Arts (2018-19) and Social Sciences and Humanities Research (2015) and Arts Queensland (2011). Batorowicz has published in Arts and Humanities in Higher Education (2018) and Australian Art Education (2017) and is also a recipient of two USQ Citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning (2016, 2018).
Dr Rhi Johnson is a Visual Arts Lecturer (Printmaking) and the First Year Experience and Employability Lead in the School of Creative Arts at the University of Southern Queensland. She has been making and exhibiting art both nationally and internationally since 2007, and has participated in RADF funded projects including SICs Degrees (2020) and My Corona Project (2020). Johnson has recently published in Imprint: The Quarterly Journal of the Print Council of Australia Inc (2020).