NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

An Australian Academy of Creative Arts

By Professor Cat Hope — I am always glad to hear a representative from the Australian Academy for the Humanities (AAH) in the media, speaking so articulately for better support of the humanities in higher education and demanding recognition of the humanities as key to a healthy society.

AAH undertake considerable and highly valuable policy work that informs various arms of government and related agencies. The sixty-two Academy Fellows listed on the AAH website includes twenty representatives from my discipline, music, almost all musicologists very worthy of recognition. In my career as an artist academic, I have attended and spoken at the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS) events and adjudicated their prizes. I have attended CHASS conferences where I was always surprised to be one of very few (sometimes the only) artistic research scholars, given that the performing arts are considered to be part of a comprehensive university in terms of international rankings, so staff in these areas are essential the ongoing success and sustainability of our universities.

These organisations undertake important work, but they are missing voices of practicing creative artists from higher education institutions and arts industry. Similarly, there are peak bodies representing the industry, such as the Australasian Performing Arts Association, as well as the government’s own federal and state arts agencies. Claire Bowditch’s address “Music, Meaning and Money” to the National Press Club in May this year was so impassioned and important, but these industry perspectives don’t have room for what feeds and supports the flourishing of that community: education. The AAH speaks on behalf of creative arts their lobbying, but given the ongoing decimation of meaningful support for creative artists both in the industry and within our tertiary institutions, now seems to be the right to focus in on specific recommendations for this vulnerable and important community. How do we get a voice to government on behalf of the broader creative arts community that incorporates the nexus of industry and education in the creative arts?

The Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) exercise includes important recognition of creative work through the evaluation of non-traditional research. The first full round of ERA data collection occurred in 2010, and was recently reviewed by the Australian Research Council (ARC), with the DDCA and ACUADs presenting a submission. The words ‘art’ or ‘creative arts’ do not even get a mention in the resulting report. Whilst the AAH and members of the GLAM sector were represented on the advisory body and related working groups, artistic researchers were conspicuously absent. Similarly, the ARC‘s Engagement and Impact agenda introduced in 2018 seemed a ray of hope for recognising the impact of research in and through the creative arts, but seems to have unfolded into a contract research scoping project, which when applied to an arts industry on the financial brink, and a university sector where many arts academics are feeling undervalued and under siege, has little to contribute. The possibility of partnerships between universities and arts industry organisations funded at any significant level is currently extremely low. A seemingly impermeable wall has been established between education and the arts in many government agencies. How can creative arts contributions be recognised in the larger research and impact agenda, and enable meaningful contributions to our artistic culture?

One of the best ways to address these issues is for art and education to come together as a singular voice. We would have a stronger position when lobbying for a place at the decision making tables of government and research. This will enable us to make a claim for the importance of the arts at the centre of any and all policy development. This coming together could be an Academy of the Creative Arts, a representative body with the heft to cut through and provide a voice to government on behalf of artists and audiences Australia wide. To start a conversation around what this might look like, I have drafted a proposed mission statement and terms of reference. Staking a claim amongst the other Australian learned academies, the Australian Academy of Creative Arts will bring the experience of practicing creative artists in and out of the higher education sector to bear on Australian culture. Given the consistent acknowledgement of the value of the arts for mental health, economic prosperity, international relevance and the quality of life expected of a wealthy nation, an Academy of the Creative Arts is overdue. The time is now.



Mission Statement

The Academy of Creative Arts sits alongside other learned Australian academies to champion and celebrate diverse artistic practices that build Australian culture. It serves as a voice to government regarding artistic contributions to knowledge and Australian cultural life more broadly.

The Academy of Creative Arts champions the arts by celebrating and supporting a broad range of artistic practice in industry and higher education settings. It promotes sustained international artistic engagement and cooperative thinking. It aims to build public awareness and understanding of the role of creative arts in Australian life.

In turbulent and complex times, the arts provide us with ways to understand ourselves and our place in the world. The Academy of Creative Arts is an independent representative for the arts industry and education.

Terms of Reference

Represent artists, arts organisations, arts educators and audiences in discussions pertaining to the future of the creative arts in Australia

Advise Government on strategies to support the creative arts in Australia

Support collaboration, interdisciplinarity and cooperation

Establish priorities, capabilities and resources for the creative arts in Australia

Promote links between higher education and industry in the creative arts

Promote Australia’s artistic capability with both Australian and international stakeholders.


Membership of the Academy is open to artists, art organisations, education institutions, associations and peak bodies.

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More from this issue

More from this issue

By Professor David Cross — School of the Damned is not the type of anodyne name we usually associate with international art schools. With faintly Hammer House of Horror overtones, this alternative educational programme was founded in 2014 by a group of UK-based students “as a reaction to the increasing financialisation of higher education”.[i]

In Australia we train artistic Higher Degree students in the creative arts – it is one of the things we do best … As part of this process, we sometimes work with critical theory, applying it to the making of creative works. The exegesis which underpins this process offers the chance to be both convergent and divergent at the same time. The Orpheus Institute in Ghent, Belgium offers a compelling example of an approach to research and post graduate study in music practice.

“What is to be done?” is a provocative demand employed by a number of diverse actors to call for change. Vladimir Lenin’s political pamphlet (1901), Barry Jones, our own former politician on the state of modernity (1982), and the Russian art collective Chto Delat, with a mission to combine political theory, art and activism are a small smattering of manifestos calling for change.

As the landscape of higher education continues to shift in response to COVID-19, alternate art schools have become a competitive option for prospective university students. Comparisons between alternate art schools and Australian university degrees may focus on economic and structural differences, yet another key consideration necessitates that education systems support and protect students’ wellbeing.

Reflecting upon the current state of higher education in the arts, the pre-COVID lyrics from Inertia Creeps, a song by Massive Attack in 1998, come to mind. As the songwriter, Robert “3D” Del Naja, explained of the lyrics, “It’s about being in a situation but knowing you should be out of it, but you’re too fucking lazy or weak to leave”. The inertia of online learning has been “creeping up slowly” on creative arts programs for more than 20 years; indeed, the University of Phoenix Online offered the first online degree program as early as 1989.

This text is an edited transcript of an interview between Swedish-based academic and artist Maddie Leach and David Cross. It specifically examines differences between the Swedish and Australasian art school models and questions whether the pre-conditions exist in Scandinavia more broadly for alternative education models to flourish at the expense of the current university-based system.

One of the noticeable disconnects between creative arts higher education and industry is that we train many more artists than our sector can support. For our graduates, this situation is often experienced as a personal failure … Recent research on musicians’ mental health and well-being tells us that training and industry cultures can be detrimental to musicians’ health both during their studies and after graduation. We might have continued to gloss over these limitations were it not for COVID, which has highlighted how unworkable many people’s creatives lives became without the option to work as normal.