By Professor Denise Ferris
The most outstanding recollection of the ANU School of Art & Design (SOA&D) in 2020 was the increasing and incredible capacity of my colleagues to develop new ways to teach and make, adapting quickly to offer students truly imaginative learning experiences. During the year’s student representative meetings and through student evaluation results it was clear that students recognised the invention and efforts of staff and the trust was obvious. Planning an online graduation exhibition, which broke with a loved and established tradition, this faith in the institution was critical, allowing the event not just to occur but additionally, led by collaborative staff, for students to acquire new skills in online presence.
To support to ANU’s Recovery Plan addressing the COVID-19 impact, in November the SOA&D Change Management proposal was released nominating specific disciplines for closures as well as structural changes to administration. In addition to voluntary staff redundancies, the plan proposed further staffing redundancies. While the Change Management document identified the huge adaptations the School has made to continually innovate and position the studio disciplines, the proposal focused concern on greater financial sustainability.
The ANU received 483 submissions (220 from within the ANU and 263 external) to the request for feedback. Many SOA&D staff contributed reflective submissions, from deep understanding, offering ideas for future initiatives. However the Change Management’s obligation to meet financial benchmarks focused on salary savings, wherein a strategic vision must fit. External submissions considered the necessity of contemporary technology, the impact on the cultural sector, the loss of disciplines now rare in Australian tertiary institutions, as well as the loss of specialist expertise.
SOA&D post-2020 is robust, recruiting staff in Sculpture and Design, but proceeds with a slightly reduced staffing profile – through voluntary separations (6.5FTE academic and technical), and redundancies across the school’s academics (4.5FTE), gallery (.4FTE) and technical officers (1FTE). However additional roles, subject to expressions of interest, have been created mitigating the redundancy losses – two Level C (1.5FTE) and three Level B academic roles (1FTE and 2 x .5FTE). Technical staff may apply for roles in a new organisational structure.
The School’s longstanding reputation for maintaining the broadest range of traditional studio disciplines nationally may be challenged and the loss of three independent disciplines is confronting –Furniture, Jewellery & Object, and discontinuing Animation and Video’s stand alone courses. While the School is afforded greater financial sustainability, for the few individuals losing current roles, their sense of devastation must be acknowledged.
Within this difficult environment, there are concrete and positive signs of the School’s prospects. Just pre-COVID, SOA&D recruited new staff (4FTE) with ground-breaking practices and international reputations to lead their disciplines and contribute to the School’s stellar teaching and research. The proposed renovation and new building extension remain on the university’s infrastructure schedule. The School remains resilient, committed to studio-based practice delivering high quality teaching and learning across three programs – seven studio disciplines, art history and curatorship, and design.
* ANU Change Management information is publicly available.
Professor Denise Ferris was Head of the ANU School of Art & Design from May 2013 to December 2020.