NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Pandemic: Disruption Writ Large

In December last year when planning this edition of NiTRO, we started out looking at Asia and the links between Australian schools of arts education and their equivalents in the region. Then the world changed. Back then the idea of disruption had a ring of optimism about it.

By Professor Julian Goddard

In December last year when planning this edition of NiTRO, we started out looking at Asia and the links between Australian schools of arts education and their equivalents in the region. Then the world changed. Back then the idea of disruption had a ring of optimism about it. Across universities disruption was seen as a good thing, a shake-up that would bring about change and renewal, move things around a bit and generally give a shove in the right direction. Management especially loved it because it enhanced the fluidity of the way we worked and would keep us all on our toes. Nobody, except for those pesky millenarianists, seemed to have had any notion of what was just around the corner. Real disruption on a scale not seen for generations. Well, here we are. COVID-19 is disruption writ large. This edition of NiTRO deals with what has changed and how are we dealing with this ongoing drama, how we have responded and what are some of the emerging innovations and solutions.

While seemingly, no one saw COVID-19 coming, we have all had to very quickly understand what it means for our collective endeavours as educators and arts practitioners. While the creative-arts-sector disciplines have been affected by the massive forces that have dramatically hit universities; our experiences have been acutely different. Studio-based learning, face-to-face supervision, performance-based assessment, workshop teaching and practice-led research; all the ways of educating we hold so valuable, have had to be rethought and reconstructed.

This edition, in keeping with my initial intention, includes two pieces from colleagues in Asia; Venka Purushothaman from LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore and Veerawat Sirivesmas from Silpakorn University in Bangkok. They discuss their respective institutional and governments’ responses to the emergency. We also broadly look across our disciplines with contributions speaking to music, film, theatre, art and design. Herman Van Eyken (Griffith) looks at the reevaluation of the staff/student relationship forced on the Griffith Film School, David Forrest (RMIT) considers the some of the innovative solutions addressing the pause in live music performance and education, Nicole Slatter (Curtin) writes about art and the reevaluation of the studio experience, Michael Balfour (UNSW) notes the plethora of innovative forms of creative expression manifesting in the face of the pandemic and Barbara Bolt (Melbourne) contemplates how our campus experience will never be the same.

All the following articles, while sobering, contain many points of optimism and even celebration. This is testament to our sector’s creative and innovative spirit. As Australia begins to emerge from the lockdown, many questions about the sector’s future are surfacing. Some questions do not have easy answers, for instance, how will studios operate? What we do know is that our individual and collective creative abilities will find answers that will produce opportunity and possibility for our students and staff. Creative arts disciplines at universities will be different and in ways we probably aren’t yet fully aware. As these articles show, we are already shaping the future of arts education and making our own way ahead by embracing the challenges.

The American philosopher and educational theorist John Dewey once commented: “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.” While COVID-19 has been most disruptive, it is an experience we can use to mould and craft our future in the best manner possible. In reflecting on the effects of the pandemic on our sector, inevitably many new and constructive ideas will emerge. As we reconstruct our teaching, research and engagement, hopefully these ideas will sustain and renew us in an environment of positive change.

Julian Goddard is an artist/curator and academic. He is a professor in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT where from 2015–2019 he was Dean of the School of Art. Prior to that he was Head, School of Design and Art at Curtin University. He served on the DDCA Executive, 2015-19 and ACUADS Executive, 2006–2016. Julian founded the Australian Centre for Concrete Art (2001-) and The Bureau of Ideas (2003-) and was co-director of Goddard de Fiddes Gallery (1992–2012). Julian has curated numerous exhibitions and has published widely on Australian and Concrete Art. He also makes art.

More from this issue

More from this issue

The impact of the pandemic on music … has been immense. COVID-19 has expanded our repertoire of catastrophic synonyms as they are now the new vocabulary. The response to the pandemic by some musicians and educators was swift, decisive and efficient while others have floundered.

During early February 2020, Thailand was among the early countries that encountered the COVID-19 epidemic. Personal and social health protection and prevention has risen to the new social normal, wearing sanitary masks, social and physical distancing. Certainly, the field of art and design are being affected and starting to change in response to the pandemic.

For creative disciplines like fine art, it is often thought that the move to online teaching has been the biggest challenge in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since Curtin University stopped face-to-face teaching on 23 March, numerous colleagues from other disciplines in the university, as well as family acquaintances, have shared their opinion that “they can’t imagine how you could teach art online”.

The rhetoric of fighting a war against an invisible coronavirus enemy has been invoked, perhaps too blithely, by politicians. However, the parallel between global pandemics and sites of conflict are worth reflecting on, as they create an understanding of human experience in extremis.

As a creative arts institution spanning art, design, media, performance, film and music, LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore transitioned to partial online teaching in early February 2020 before closing its campuses and going fully online by the end of March 2020. Each discipline required a calibrated way of transiting the curriculum.

We are training artists-in-the-making, and unforeseen challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic might give birth to some wonderful opportunities, despite the pressure and the rush into semi-lockdown from the top. If we were going to make this work for us, it was up to us to come up with new ideas and turn them into opportunities.

On Tuesday 10 March this year, I flew Qantas (QF456) from Melbourne to Sydney with colleagues to attend the opening of the 2020 Biennale of Sydney, NIRIN. We were blithely unaware of the towering cruise ship at the Overseas Passenger Terminal near the Museum of Contemporary Art as we partied hard, cheek-to-jowl, at the vernissage.