NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Editorial: Then and now

By Jenny Wilson — The first edition of NiTRO was published on 30 June 2016. It emerged in an environment of policy change with the National Innovation and Science Agenda pushing research towards greater industry connections, collaboration and end user engagement in response to the Watt Review of Research Policy and Funding Arrangements.

The broader higher education arena was awaiting the outcome of the Turnbull Government’s consultation Driving Innovation, Fairness and Excellence in Australian Higher Education  and news of changes to competitive grant criteria and  research block grant funding that this consultation document presaged. In all this university/government innovation discussion, the creative arts sector was conspicuous by its absence.

Meanwhile, the Office of Learning and Teaching, one of the few Government higher education agencies that regularly funded creative arts advancement had been disbanded and the Sydney College of the Arts, AusDance and the Tertiary Dance Council of Australia were facing an uncertain future.

The aim of NiTRO was simply to provide a platform for creative artists practicing in academia to contribute to informed discussion about issues and activities relating to practice, research and teaching.

Forty six editions later we have featured the voices of over 500 contributing authors, in over 380 articles who have shared their perspectives of the sector, their experiences of teaching, research and life within academia and their hopes for the future.  Contributors drawn from visual and performing arts and creative writing in Australia have been joined by colleagues across the globe as we sought to unpack what it means to be a creative arts academic today. To give a broader perspective we included the views of Vice Chancellors and other senior tertiary education managers, media, arts practitioners and leaders of arts practice organisations, post-graduate students and academic colleagues from non-arts disciplines who share our passion about the importance of the role and status of creative arts in tertiary education.

We have featured edition Welcomes from four DDCA Presidents – Su Baker, Clive Barstow, Cat Hope and current interim President Craig Batty, and it has been a pleasure to work with all of them.  In “the backroom”, NiTRO has been supported by three web officers to have used their skills and creativity to transpose word doc text into an online “visual extravaganza” – thanks go to Max Piantoni, Travis Cox and Tom Barton, and to DDCA administrators, Kay Morrissey and Thao Nguyen.

As this is my last NiTRO as Editor, I invited some of the contributors over this time to revisit their original pieces – to update on projects and to consider how circumstances and opinions may have changed or deepened during the intervening years. Through NiTRO I have been privileged to share in the journey that so many creative artists in academia have made and I thank all our contributors for their amazing insights and collegiality.

In this edition of NiTRO:

Ian Haig (RMIT) reprises his 2016 (https://nitro.edu.au/articles/edition-3/all-that-is-bad) and 2018 (https://nitro.edu.au/articles/2018/4/23/the-impact-of-failure) pieces to focus on the anomalous position of art in the corporatised university.

Russell Kennedy (Deakin) shares the extraordinary success of the Australian Indigenous Design Charter that he introduced NiTRO readers to in 2016 (https://nitro.edu.au/articles/edition-4/styling-australias-new-visual-design-identity).

Samantha Donnelly (UTS) explains more about how her human-centred design studio approach outlined in NiTRO (https://nitro.edu.au/articles/edition-4/from-post-nineties-neglect-to-contemporary-community-social-hub-embedding-the-curriculum-in-the-community) has evolved into the regenerative design curriculum adopted at UTS.

Amanda Stuart, Aidan Hartshorn and Kate M Murphy (ANU) update us that the Balawan Elective (https://nitro.edu.au/articles/edition-4/the-balawan-elective) familiar to ANU students in 2016 has now been joined by sister program the Buugang Elective offering wider opportunities for students to learn first-hand from our First Peoples.

Jen Webb (University of Canberra) in her inimitable style revisits her question ‘Are we there yet?’ (https://nitro.edu.au/articles/2018/7/13/atelier-to-academy-or-are-we-there-yet ), to highlight some positive hopes for the future for tertiary creative arts

Barb Bolt (University of Melbourne), takes time out to look back on some of the changes and influences during her outstanding tertiary creative arts career in a Q&A with Jenny Wilson.

Su Baker (University of Melbourne) quite rightly has the final word as she steps down from the DDCA Board after many years of service. As the founding President of DDCA and instigator behind NiTRO, she will be much missed.

Reinforcing the need for ongoing advocacy and change, we also report on the DDCA Forum held in Melbourne on 24 November to give readers a sense of discussions and issues raised.

More from this issue

More from this issue

The following perspectives of the DDCA Forum held in Melbourne on 24 November 2022 by some of those who attended gives a flavour of the discussions that took place as our focus turned to the achievements – and challenges – to date and the future direction for DDCA.

For some years now, I’ve taught a course called Pop & Trash … It’s always struck me as entirely odd that I teach a course that attempts to critique such constructed cultural hierarchies, and the next day I need to report to my university my ERA outputs based on the same outdated and outmoded cultural hierarchies and notions of impact.

By Jen Webb — In 2018 I wrote a piece for NiTRO subtitled ‘Are we there yet?’, tracing some of the practical and institutional effects of the Dawkins reforms that folded art schools and other creative teaching programs into universities. At that stage I felt reasonably sanguine about the futures of creative disciplines: despite a variety of hurdles, creative practice seemed fairly well embedded in the Australian academy.
Professor Barb Bolt is well known here and overseas for her work in creative arts research and particularly the creative PhD. Now that she has stepped away from the university “day job” we took the opportunity to get her perspective of the past and current state of play in tertiary creative arts in this extended Q&A with NiTRO Editor Jenny Wilson.

In 2016 I wrote an article for NiTRO titled “Styling Australia’s New Visual Design Identity”, which sought to explore how to incorporate the amazing features of Indigenous iconography into design without denigrating or disrespecting the original owners and creators.

For those following the intensifying links between the economy, equality, sustainability and democracy deficit (clue: problems in the first three, create problems in the fourth), the absence of culture as a domain of serious policy attention is startling.

By Professor Marie Sierra — With the Federal Government pausing the next Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) round, now is a good time to consider the value, and growing influence, of non-traditional research outputs.
By Samantha Donnelly — "Architecture is really about well-being. On the one hand it's about shelter, but it's also about pleasure." Zaha Hadid (Iraqi-British Architect)

In 2015, The Australian National University’s School of Art and Design’s Environment Studio launched a unique field-based program, The Balawan Elective, honourably named with guidance and permissions of the First Nations community on Yuin Country, after their culturally significant mountain Balawan … Seven years on, much has come from these cherished relationships.

In June 2016, we launched the first issue of NiTRO and it is hard to believe that that was over seven years ago. It feels both a short time and a very long time with the last two to three years, stretching time in uncanny ways.