By Su Baker
In June 2016, we launched the first issue of NiTRO and it is hard to believe that that was nearly 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. In that first editorial meeting, the impetus for NiTRO was born. Jenny Wilson and I sat in a café in Degraves Street Melbourne and tossed around names. Jenny came up with NITRO and I wanted to make the ‘i’ into the icon of a stick of dynamite! Sensibly, we didn’t do that, but rather we engaged production student Max Piantoni to design the site. He then got a real job and he referred us Travis Cox, and subsequently to fellow musician Tom Barton who has been with us ever since. We are so grateful for all the work done in building this early platform.
The creation of NiTRO was to reflect the national standing of the DDCA and to provide an accessible virtual front of house for the organisation. It has become much more.
In my first editorial as President I highlighted that the purpose of NiTRO was to expand the conversation beyond 25 people around a table.
At the DDCA annual conference in Adelaide in 2015, a group of 25 leaders in the creative arts engaged in rigorous and expansive discussion following a series of highly astute commentary and presentations by invited colleagues. Our goal was to determine how to advance our profession amidst the volatility of the higher education sector.
The glaringly obvious fact occurred to us that, this material, so useful to progress our profession, had been heard only by the 25 people in the room, and that was all. The discussion and debate featured only the experiences and perspectives of those of us attending. This would not do. These discussions needed to be more widely distributed, more comprehensively heard and responded to and so the idea of the new model of communication was born. And we hope that this will be the beginning of a more inclusive and more nuanced discourse; one which will deepen our internal and external reach and the breadth of this professional dialogue.
I think we can say with an active readership of over 11k site users in 2022 alone that we have done that, and that NiTRO has fulfilled those ambitions, and that we have created a community conversation that not only builds our own capabilities and understandings that can be used as a powerful, advocacy tool, the very purpose of the DDCA.
It is through the remarkable and consistent and insightful work of both our editor Dr Jenny Wilson and the design work from Tom Barton, and active participation of the leadership of the DDCA over this time, and contributing writers from across the sector, that we now reach a substantial section of the academic community.
The most recent roundtable discussion hosted by the DDCA was held in Melbourne and with elegant symmetry included a presentation by two of the people who were there at that in Adelaide in 2015, Professors Julian Meyrick and Justin O’Connor (along with co-presenter Tully Barnett) . Our conversations have matured and evolved as one would expect and hope, and I believe so has the sector, and its leadership.
So, now, with this, Jenny Wilson’s last issue as editor and the completion of my active role in the DDCA, it is it exciting to see new generations of academic leadership taking both the Council and NiTRO forward into the future. The technological options for publishing have had an exponential expansion and we are all more fluent with communicating at a distance and in virtual forums. The creation of NiTRO anticipated this by some years and its new iteration could evolve to increase interactivity and reach to new generations of academics in the creative arts.
Higher education operates in such a volatile and politicised policy environment but is also a longstanding and enduring part of the social fabric of this country. No doubt this dynamism will be the new normal but as a sector we are more cohesive and I believe we appreciate the strength of a united voice to power. The reviews of both the ARC and the Higher Ed sector more broadly will be something to pay close attention to and for the DDCA to present a confident and informed position, both to policy makers and the leadership of universities in particular. It is clear that personal predispositions towards the arts of individual Vice Chancellors plays a key role in the success of our work. Let’s not forget that cultures of management are made up of people and their relationships! (People don’t often know what they don’t know!) So, let’s keep conversations open through NiTRO and the advocacy that DDCA can make be felt at a personal level as much as possible. Early invitations to key VCs and other influential figures helped to keep those connections alive. There will be much to discuss in the coming years.
With that gratuitous advice I sign off and know that the new leadership of NiTRO, and indeed the current DDCA Board, will move us forward to meet these challenges and I wish all great success.