NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Irrationalisation: Alternatives for the arts within a disposable culture

Welcome to the 38th edition of NiTRO in which we focus on the ever-recurrent discussion around an alternative arts education in Australia, brought into focus once again as a result of impending rationalisations in our universities and training institutions.

Clive Barstow

Welcome to the 38th edition of NiTRO in which we focus on the ever-recurrent discussion around an alternative arts education in Australia, brought into focus once again as a result of impending rationalisations in our universities and training institutions. While our academics and students have demonstrated a heroic commitment to maintaining this special form of learning throughout the pandemic, we see an increasing number of institutions announcing cuts and closures to arts courses in a totally disproportionate way to other disciplines, often deemed as more essential.  This of course plays into a government’s hands, a government who have instituted a form of social engineering through the job ready legislation that effectively privileges the sciences over the arts and humanities at a time when we need creative solutions more than ever. The discussion should be about balance, not about the survival of the fittest, or worse, survival of the chosen few. 

When we look back at this moment in time, we might well refer to the phrase Irrationalisation, as there seems to be no logic or rational reason to shape and model higher education based on the short-term political agendas of the day, that ignore the realities of student demand and future employment, let alone our contribution to long term wellness and the human condition. After concerted efforts by our academics and students throughout the pandemic, we have a reason to be cynical and a right to question the motives behind the savage cuts to the arts currently sweeping our institutions and industries. As the master of rational argument commented: “Madness has no purpose. Or reason. But it may have a goal.”  Mr. Spock, “The Alternative Factor, Star Trek, 1967” 

From a more academically sound source and referred to in the news section of this edition, Professor Julian Meyrick’s recent article Drama in Hell offers a stark and detailed summary of the realities of our situation for our drama schools in Australia at this time, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Apply this across all our creative disciplines and we have a disease that will have consequences well after the pandemic itself. As leaders, we are a quiet bunch, so it was great to hear an impassioned response to the Victorian lockdown by Tina Arena recently who took the opportunity on commercial TV to voice the real and immediate concerns of the arts industry to a wider audience . In the short term therefore, we have to show strength and ingenuity to survive our own institutions, and in the long term we need to change the growing disposable culture towards the arts in Australia that puts sport before everything. 

So, in desperate times we look for new alternatives, other ways of creating a system rather than beating it. To this end, Professor David Cross co-edits this timely edition and presents a number of options to our modus operandi as a way of modelling our own new normal, in case the sands of an egalitarian system of education that has benefited us all pass quickly through our fingers. 

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage our members to engage in the ACUADS/DDCA forum on the 28th and 29th October where issues around new networks and our present and future as a sector will be discussed. We have included a session at the end of day one in which we will debate further the ideas around alternative models of creative education, and how we might advocate for the creative sector as a single peak body. Day two concludes with a section on mental health, a hidden illness that is biting hard in our industry at all levels. We look forward to your participation and thank you to Professor David Cross and all the contributors to this edition of NiTRO.

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