NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

The brave new world order

Normally in the final edition of NiTRO for the year, we look back and take stock of what we achieved, a celebration of our unity and our togetherness and usually from a national perspective. 2020 was different, a year to forget in many ways but also a year from which to learn.

By Professor Clive Barstow

Normally in the final edition of NiTRO for the year, we look back and take stock of what we achieved, a celebration of our unity and our togetherness and usually from a national perspective. 2020 was different, a year to forget in many ways but also a year from which to learn. 

When the DDCA held our last AGM on the 30th October 2019, we had just celebrated a successful conference at the VCA, sitting together in a small intimate room discussing the important issues that were front and foremost in our sector: teaching and learning, employment in the arts and creative research. Fast forward a year and the world has changed in a way that no-one could have imagined or wanted. The issues facing the sector now are survival for our universities, mass unemployment and global financial collapse, the health of the world’s population and for the arts, how we can outlive what is clearly an indifference toward the value of culture in society at a time when we could and should make a major contribution to our recovery as individuals and as communities.

It has been a testing time for the arts where it has been clear that we have been overlooked and devalued both as professional artists and as educators in terms of government recognition and support during the pandemic. A sad indictment of one of the least affected and most wealthy countries on earth when we could have shown the world how important arts and education are to our recovery and to our long-term wellbeing. In the big wash up of a post-COVID Australia, I hope we look back and revisit our ethical and moral judgement in terms of our decision making and our priorities, and identify where and why the partisan politics returned so quickly to colour the rhetoric of we are all in this together. 

The ill-timed Job Ready legislation driving student fees for instance will have a significant long-term impact on the arts and is clearly a form of social engineering in the guise of social recovery, and is lacking in vision and morally and plainly unfair for students. From an educational perspective, there is an overwhelming body of evidence that tells us that future work opportunities for our graduates will depend on creative and interdisciplinary skills, and that the arts and sciences together will play a major role in equipping our graduates to be work ready by offering multiple approaches to problem solving. So now more than ever we need to approach this from a position of respect and inclusivity, we need to appreciate the depth of knowledge we have created in our universities across all disciplinary domains and to use what we have to forge new ways of thinking about humanity particularly in an increasingly technological world.

What it means to be human is now being challenged, as are the priorities of governments worldwide as to the immediate and long-term need of creative thinking in a post-pandemic world. At a local level our universities are struggling and will be for years to come. Within this resetting of our business models, arts education and research could be seen as expendable, so at no time like any other it is important that the various arts institutions and peak bodies come together with one voice to advocate for what we do and to say with authority, and why it is essential that we do it. 

During 2020 the DDCA has worked closely with ACUADS to write a number of joint submissions to the ARC, HERDC and the Australian Government on behalf of the arts sector to ensure our voices are heard. In recent months there have been discussions between DDCA and ACUADS to examine the possibility of joining forces to create a new entity, one that encapsulates all current peak bodies in the practicing arts to give greater strength and focus to our adversarial work with governments and key funding bodies. The creation of such an entity establishes the critical mass necessary for meaningful and forceful advocacy and representation for our sector. More to come … 

At our recent AGM we ratified our new Strategic Plan 2020-23 and welcomed two new members to our executive, Professor Jane Davidson (Creative & Performing Arts Uni Melbourne) and Professor Denise Ferris (Art & Design ANU). Jane and Denise bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the DDCA and we look forward to working with them over the next few years. The board also agreed to appoint three distinguished Professors as co-opted members for 2021 to help guide two important projects. Founding members of the DDCA Professor Su Baker and Professor Marie Sierra from the University of Melbourne will join us to advance discussion around a new peak body, and Professor and ARC Laureate Fellow Dennis Del Favero from UNSW will help bring focus to the creative research agenda as we march toward the next ERA round. 

So, in this turbulent and unpredictable year, we focus this edition on the brave new world, a world in which we interrogate our new norms, and one in which our age-old practices of teaching and research are being questioned. Professor Kit Wise co-edits this important discussion to find how the creative arts can survive and thrive. The famous quote from Winston Churchill again comes to mind. As soon as the second world war came to an end, and the UK was on its knees and people were scrambling for food and shelter, Churchill invested heavily in great art for the nation. When asked why he should be wasting precious money at this time he answered “so what was the point of fighting?” 

 I hope you enjoy this important edition of NiTRO.

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