NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Last word

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.

By Su Baker 

In my first editorial as President … I highlighted that the purpose of NiTRO was to expand the conversation beyond 25 people around a table.

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. 

As a sector we are more cohesive and I believe we appreciate the strength of a united voice to power.

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.

More from this issue

More from this issue

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 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.
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.

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.