NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Interdisciplinarity: between the arts and other fields: how do we break the silos?

If we can look up and away from the ongoing challenges to both the arts and tertiary sectors, we may see some opportunity. Ways of doing things differently, working together in new ways, trying methods we may not have previously, looking at sustainability in different ways.

By Professor Cat Hope

If we can look up and away from the ongoing challenges to both the arts and tertiary sectors, we may see some opportunity. Ways of doing things differently, working together in new ways, trying methods we may not have previously, looking at sustainability in different ways. As artist academics, we have a complex duty of care toward two sectors  – arts and academia – sectors that will surely not be the same when the pandemic begins to fade.

Already, arts organisations are cancelling programs for the remainder of 2020, perhaps as a way of providing some kind of certainty, but also giving themselves the chance to redefine what they might be doing on the other side. Perhaps as we all learn to live with these unprecedented levels of uncertainty in our everyday lives, we have started to become cross disciplinary. Areas that may not normally be our radar are impacting our practices in various degrees: statistics, epidemiology, civic freedom, the health care system, our own dependencies, workplaces, the role of mainstream and social media, federal and state political structures, and of course, each other.

The way I see it, this is an enormous opportunity to do things differently, to reboot in a better way. How can we all work together more effectively, in new structures where learning from each other and working together are part of our core aim. We need to invest in methods that make better and more sustainable outcomes. Now is the time to chat to our colleagues in other disciplines, if not just to see that they are OK.

The review of the ANZSRC Fields of Research classifications[1], in which the DDCA made a submission, could be seen to have created a further siloing of fields, in the very act of making them more precise. Whilst risking the ability to meet threshold for some smaller disciplines, artist researchers can be clear about our research strength and quality, rather than try to “make them fit” into fields that often, were only tangentially relatable. Further, the clear articulation and ever more specific measurement of the value any research has to our communities is an ever-growing expectation of university and Australia Research Council Engagement and Impact (EI) assessment exercises[2].

Whilst many of us resist making a case for the value of the arts, and indeed have little expertise in doing so, we can get others to do it for us by way of association. This may come across as flippant, however having the arts work with other disciplines, alongside, within or indeed driving them, provides new ways to articulate our value in the world, when we know it is needed more than ever.

In this edition of NiTRO, our contributors share their experiences and viewpoints on this important topic.

Samuel McAuliffe (Monash) shares a PhD student’s perspective of interdisciplinarity and offers suggestions for improvement

Roger Dean (WSU) explains how understanding research method in all disciplinary collaborations is needed for authorial credibility and can offer new artistic avenues

Christopher M. Conroy (UTS), Craig Batty (UTS), Noel Maloney (La Trobe) and Carl Rhodes (UTS) show how creative writing can expose ethical leadership issues in a way that formal management reporting cannot

Kim Cunio and Denise Ferris (ANU) explore the importance of interdisciplinarity at one institution and the supportive steps being taken

Clive Barstow and Lyndall Adams (ECU) discuss the interdisciplinary learning that takes place working with industry in a public art project

Keely Macarow (RMIT) issues a call to artists for greater interdisciplinary collaboration

Ionat Zurr (UWA) and Oron Catts (UWA) outline the essential contribution of artists to mitigate the ideological risks posed by scientific approaches alone

Kit Wise and Dr Ruth de Souza (RMIT) share their discussion on Ruth’s fellowship appointment as a health researcher in the School of Art.


[1] ANZSRC Review

[2] Australian Research Council, Engagement and Impact (EI)

More from this issue

More from this issue

Winding through ARM (Ashton Raggatt McDougall) Architects’ 2001 design for the Garden of Australian Dreams at the National Museum of Australia Canberra, snakes an impressive architectural interpretation of the Boolean string rising and plunging like a rollercoaster. This bold element is intended to conceptually embody the past and future of our Australian history, within which we are entangled.

2020 has waged a remarkable and sustained attack on the ranks of the glass half full creative practitioner. As the consequences of COVID-19 have leeched through every fibre of our industry, trying to identify anything that might signal a bright, or even brighter, future could be seen to be the preserve of a strange cabal of tin hat wearing creatives.

2020 has brought major changes that have, and will continue, to impact upon higher education and tertiary creative arts in particular. But as our contributors remind us, these upheavals have brought resilience and innovation to the fore in creative arts.

Regional tertiary students learned alternative skills in performance when after just two weeks of face to face acting classes, we were forced to undertake all teaching and learning online via Zoom due to the pandemic. Emergency remote teaching offered in response to a crisis such as COVID-19 is different to well-planned online learning experiences.

My friend, Kate Daw, died from cancer on 7 September. Kate was Head of the VCA School of Art, in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, at the University of Melbourne. I first met Kate in 1994 when I was a third-year undergraduate student in Sculpture at the VCA. I saw her one day just outside the Sculpture yard and I approached her to introduce myself. From that moment we stayed within each others’ psychic radar.

The arts publishing industry in Australia is remarkably vibrant and resilient, offering a platform for a range of voices and serving the interests of multiple demographics in a nation built on the virtues of cultural diversity and equal opportunity. In this ecology, the running of a nationally distributed arts magazine can be a complex, albeit highly rewarding endeavour.

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. 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.

It’s probably not a good time to be using flu symptoms as a metaphor for the grim circumstances that envelops us all. But being the good scholar I aim to be, if I am going to use it then I’d better use the right source. It was, in fact, not an American politician but the Austrian diplomat, Klemens von Metternich, who first coined the snappy phrase “When France sneezes, the rest of Europe catches a cold.”

On 28 September, Currents, a new post-graduate arts research journal, was launched through the Centre of Visual Arts (CoVA) at the University of Melbourne by editors Kelly Fliedner and Jeremy Eaton. This new initiative, established between CoVA and the School of Design, University of Western Australia, draws on a broad range of arts-based research to form an interdisciplinary, supportive and valuable platform, which highlights the rigorous inquiries being undertaken by emerging scholars.