By Professor Kit Wise
ACUADS, The Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools is the national peak body for the university visual arts, crafts and design disciplines. ACUADS represents over 20 Australian university art and design faculties, schools and departments and other academic units offering university degrees at undergraduate and postgraduate levels; as well as Vocational Education providers and private institutions. It maintains an international network of partners and peer peak bodies, with particularly strong links in New Zealand, the US and the UK.
The primary objectives of ACUADS are to:
Provide leadership to professional education, research and community service in art, craft and design in the higher education sector
Promote quality professional education of artists, crafts practitioners and designers
Identify, develop and foster research in art, craft and design education on a national international basis
Develop policy and advocate on behalf of art, craft and design teaching and research.
There are a range of forms of support provided to the sector. As well as an annual peer-reviewed conference for both academics and HDR students, ACUADS provides seed grants for initiatives of national relevance. A prestigious awards scheme recognises established and emerging colleagues in the fields of research and teaching; International and Lifelong Fellowships; and, awards for outstanding professional staff. Alongside the annual publication of conference papers, it also supported a range of peer-reviewed publications and research projects, including participating in category 1 funded projects such as the Office of Learning & Teaching.
ACUADS was established in 1981 (initially as the National Conference of Heads of Arts and Design Schools – NCHADS) as an association of heads of departments, schools and colleges of art and design. NCHADS served as an informal link between executive officers providing support and direction to the development of art and design education in Australia for over ten years. The change of name in 1994 to ACUADS was intended to reflect the location of art and design schools in the National Unified System of Australian Universities. In 2003, membership was extended to include other major TAFE institutions offering degree courses.
Emeritus Professor David Williams AM (ANU) provides an account of the evolution of ACUADS in ‘A history of ACUADS, The Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools, 1981–2015’. He comments:
“Since its inception, ACUADS has collaborated with other associations in the arts, forming a united voice in the advocacy for the arts in the university sector. This strategy has been important for addressing common concerns, such as the importance of appropriate funding for teaching and research in the creative arts, the introduction of postgraduate education opportunities and support for cross-disciplinary study.
As a leader in the broader arts education field, ACUADS has been involved in the formation of the Council of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS) and, more recently, the Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts (DDCA). In this context, ACUADS has assisted in bringing the creative arts disciplines to national attention. This united voice has proved to be successful in championing support for creative arts teaching and research in Australia’s higher education sector.”
With over 40 years of dedicated service to the sector, ACUADS is the oldest continuous peak body in the creative arts HE sector in Australia; yet despite this considerable experience, continues to evolve. Recent years have seen a focus on equity, diversity and inclusion, including ensuring both gender balance in its Executive members as well as disciplinary balance, with an increased emphasis on Design. During the COVID pandemic, ACUADS shifted its usual in-person conference gathering to online, allowing more equitable access for members and HDR students, as well as increased impact through sharing recordings of the discussions alongside formal publication of papers. It also initiated its first Work Integrated Learning project as an organisation, engaging a team of Masters students from RMIT University to refresh its identity, social media and web presence. The project was an opportunity to celebrate female and CALD design practitioners. Finally in 2021, ACUADS developed its first Acknowledgement of Country as an organisation.
This focus on not just the academy, but our students and shared, diverse community continues. ACUADS is currently working on a national award scheme for Indigenous students, under the leadership of Associate Professor Katherine Moline (UNSW); and in 2022 will sponsor the launch of Findings, a new national collection of graduate creative arts writing and an exciting opportunity to promote the textual work of emerging artists and designers from across the country. Our Craft disciplines have had mixed experiences during the restructures of many Universities during COVID and changing Federal priorities; ACUADS is reviewing approaches that support our more marginalised fields and departments, including potential cross-institutional models of collaboration.
ACUADS has always played a role in supporting and shaping national agendas, communities and opportunities, through the dedication of many and an incredibly collegial spirit. Alongside the three-year political cycle and five years of our institutional strategic plans, perhaps considering the next forty years of the organisation’s ambitions is also important. To build culture, community and real impact we know takes time, but is critical as we face challenges such as the climate emergency and achieving social justice. Revisiting our shared values and purpose has perhaps never been more important for those charged as custodians of the creative arts disciplines.
Professor Kit Wise is Dean, School of Art at RMIT University and Chair, Australian Council of University Art & Design Schools.