NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Editorial: Dare we ask the students?

How has it been for the students, as we slowly and carefully manage the return to campuses across the country? There is no doubt that the impacts and challenges will be ongoing particularly for students entering the workforce and coping with extended study after deferrals, which some have indicated will come.

By Professor Su Baker

In the last issue of NiTRO we have heard from our members and colleagues how they have managed, interpreted and adjusted to this sudden disruption to the world of university life, both the changes to teaching and research delivery, from a richly campus-based with the embodied learning experiences, one that we have continued commitment to, and a sudden cessation of contact and the rapid transition to the virtual campus experience. The workload and rapid upskilling of the academic and administrative workforce has been phenomenal and, in most cases, highly effective, at least from this side of the screen. The stresses and energy of university staff has been remarkable.

So, how has it been for the students, as we slowly and carefully manage the return to campuses across the country? There is no doubt that the impacts and challenges will be ongoing particularly for students entering the workforce and coping with extended study after deferrals, which some have indicated will come.

There have been reports of frustration but also an extraordinary degree of mature understanding from the students at all levels and these responses have given the staff much encouragement that their efforts have been appreciated. 

We offer this issue of NiTRO to the voice of students and hear how it has been for them.

Music student Darin Aqila explores how lockdown has increased creativity but limited the physical interaction that inspires music.

Ceramic artist Pie Bolton describes the gains and losses of distancing and digital interaction while acknowledging that, in Victoria, ‘normal’ is not coming any time soon.

For Isobel Carver the limitations of COVID resulted in unexpected achievement and direction in her fine arts practice.

Theatre PhD student Josephine Christensen discovers that while some drama techniques can be translated to the digital realm, significant challenges remain.

Performance artist Chelsea Coon cites Natalie Loveless to explain how she ‘fell in love’ with the virtual space.

Loren Kronemyer, a PhD student at University of Tasmania, reveals the power shifts, often in favour of artists, that have resulted from the COVID environment.

Naomi Dinnen describes her first semester as an ANU lecturer which coincided with campus closures and online learning.

Leo Liu shares the struggles of adapting to distance study.

Rhymney Mazza discovers new skills as she transitions her theatre study to online production.

WA Screen Academy student Holly Miller finds a reinforced understanding of the role of screen production from her COVID experiences.

Tasmanian artist, Anna Van Stralen, discovers that home schooling brings her own doctoral focus into sharp relief.

Christine McFetridge considers the memories, emotions and doubts that emerge from the current situation.

Professors Vanessa Tomlinson, Ruth Bridgstock, Brydie-Leigh Bartleet and Dawn Bennett share the findings from their recent research project on music careers pointing out the lessons that emerge for post-COVID education.

More from this issue

More from this issue

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on how music is taught and practised, not least because the reliance of so many musical activities on physical proximity has been turned on its head. With virtual lessons and ensembles becoming the norm, the move to online has challenged music educators to consider how we might do things differently in the future.

To describe this semester as anti-climactic would be an understatement. For my cohort and I, this would have been our final year of music school. As the new semester approached, our anticipation to collaborate, create, and learn together for what would have been the last time at Monash was almost unbearable. We were excited to perform, explore, and to succumb to our collective desires to make art and music.

It begins with me buying two 10kg bags of bread mix. I think we might have to bunker down for a while even though my husband’s words “Don’t worry it will all blow over in a day or two” continually float around the house.

As we find our way to a ‘new normal’ this is a good time to upgrade remote learning resources to support students who do not need to be on campus all the time, or even any of the time.

In the years leading up to 2020, the experience of studying my postgraduate degree had been highly anticipated. Having heard so many wonderful anecdotes from plenty of alumni students, I was thrilled to finally ‘have my turn’ and accept my position as a producing student at the WA Screen Academy in 2020.

COVID-19 has been a pivotal moment in my creative practice, pushing it in an unexpected direction. It has both challenged and inspired me in evolving my work … throughout this period of time my studio set up has altered drastically in not having access to the machinery that ultimately defines my work, a potter’s wheel.

It’s taken me a few days to start writing. My reactions are slow at the moment. I find it difficult to focus. I’m distracted; often glancing between my work, the Guardian live blog and commentary on Twitter. I think often of home – Aotearoa – and trust I won’t find myself in a position where I need to return on compassionate grounds.

By March 2020, after months of planning and organising, I was poised to enter the recruitment and data collection phases of my PhD research projects … studio practice had been identified as the key methodology through which I would test research questions and generate creative works.

Virtually all students have been affected by COVID-19 in one way or another. From the restriction of social distancing arose the transition towards online teaching, some courses were ready for this change while others weren’t.

Art for me has always been a process to make sense as I am a performance artist that utilises endurance to challenge the contingencies of space, time, and the body. The focus of my PhD research is precisely this.

Continuing to study the arts in isolation required self-motivation, perseverance and the ability to think, even further, outside the box. The sudden shift from practical exercises to the confines of a screen was … frustrating for professors and students alike.

The portal is closing, and the artists in Australia have managed to seize control of their sector. The career ladder has broken down into snakes and slithered away. The old models of making and presenting have shed their skin, to reveal new ways.

As I began the journey of my PhD candidature, my main drive to proceed was a social conundrum. I wanted to explore and if I could, rationalise, the visceral empathy which at times many are affected by, when witnessing upheaval in the lives of those around us.