By Professor Clive Barstow
Welcome to the 27th edition of NiTRO. It is difficult to know where to start to write an introduction that will not seem out of date by the time it is published. The COVID-19 virus has changed our world forever, and let us hope that some of what we enact now will improve life for us all. The current restrictions are having an enormous impact on our health and employment, especially in the arts and entertainment industries, and for the casual staff that are so crucial to our university courses. Our hearts go out to those affected in these difficult times. From an optimistic point of view, I would like to think that our respect for the aged, our health workers, our experts and our families will find a new norm once we put this behind us.
In terms of the arts, we would also hope that the value of creative culture as a marker of our humanity also retakes front stage and that our association with the sciences is again recognised as inseparable. While understandably the focus right now is on short term solutions to what is an unimaginable situation for everyone across the world, we need to keep an eye on the post-COVID world we will create. A long-term vision of how we learn from the present to improve the future will rely on input from both the arts sector and higher education. Perhaps Germany are the first country to set the bar by committing to a €50 billion aid package for the arts, stating that “artists are not only indispensable, but also vital, especially now”[i]. The bar is set high, and where it needs to be.
For all our institutions, the forced transition to online teaching in areas that are fundamentally studio based has been nothing short of remarkable. This has highlighted for me the depth of knowledge and commitment we have as a sector to solve the unsolvable and to find a way to support our teaching and research in times that are very strange indeed. This forced transition has highlighted our generosity of spirit and our collective belief in what we do. We have shared expertise, ideas, advice and knowledge to help each other in times of crisis, and for this I would like to thank everyone for their speedy and professional response to this situation on behalf of all at the DDCA.
The DDCA is currently responding to the final documentation as part of the recent ANZSRC review to better align FOR codes to the actualities of how we research and how we work across new and traditional domains. As part of this response I will highlight the effects that the COVID-19 isolation is having on our sector during 2020 and possibly beyond. While some areas of research may well produce more publications than normal, in the practice-led research space we are totally inhibited by the closure of our galleries, theatres, and public venues and spaces where normally our creative works are measured. This inevitable consequence will need to be considered in the next round of ERA evaluations in order to not disadvantage our particular area of creative research and practice.
Isolation changes our sense of time, what feels like months is only weeks, even our days and nights blend into one as we adjust our normal working routines to support our students. As our first response, moving arts online has been an enormous challenge and this will be the theme of our July edition of NiTRO where Professor Su Baker will co-edit our publication that focuses on transformation of practice to online. For the current edition of NiTRO we are taking a break from COVID-19 by asking What do they think of us? Discussions with those outside of the creative arts might reveal important aspects of our identity that we might not like to admit! It will for sure open a dialogue about collaboration and how we can take advantage of working with other disciplines that together can offer new thinking that is greater than the sum of its parts.
A recent publication by the Australian Academy of the Humanities[ii] highlights in various forms the transformative impacts of culture and creativity, a timely reminder about value but one in Australia that is often little recognised in terms of acknowledgement through changes in cultural policy. Perhaps this edition of NiTRO will start to reveal some of the identity issues that sit behind this apparent indifference towards the arts in Australia, a problem that Germany doesn’t seem to have even in times of crisis.
I hope you enjoy this edition of NiTRO, and above all stay safe.
[i] Monika Grutters, ‘I Will Not Let Them Down’: Germany’s Culture Minister Pledges Financial Support to Cultural Institutions and Artists Amid the Outbreak as Berlin Shutters its Museums