NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Our field of reference – the micro-ecologies of industry connections in creative research

By Professor Vanessa Tomlinson — The Creative Arts Research Institute began at Griffith University in July of 2021, in the middle of a pandemic which has caused profound disruptions to all our research; both in the tertiary sector and the arts sector.

It is tempting to think of 2022 as a re-start or clean slate, but many are still grieving lost opportunities, projects, tours, and events missed while struggling to adapt to ever-changing modes of making and delivering our work. 2022 is not so much a lurch into re-activation as a wary and weary heads up. This sense of caution and self-preservation is understandable, but those with current academic jobs are the lucky ones and we need to hone in on ways to support the broader arts sector – no easy task when we are still trying to get our own house in order.

A new Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) paper provides opportunities to re-examine micro-ecologies of industry influence that exist in HDR creative practice research. From 2022, the Research Training Program funding incorporates weighted funding for each research doctorate student reported as completing an eligible industry internship. These internships “must be related to a research doctorate student’s area of research, be at least three months long, and consist of 60 full-time equivalent days of engagement with a research end‑user” (DESE, 2021). Research end-users are defined as “an individual, community or organisation outside of academia that will directly use or benefit from the output, outcome or results of the research”, (DESE, 2021, p. 12).

HDR (Higher Degree Research) candidates in the arts often return to university with a significant body of professional experience. Further study affords them the opportunity to extend and re-focus their thinking and skills, while enlivening their practice through new theoretical approaches. Benefits gained have been articulated within the Doctor of Musical Arts cohort, where candidates state the program of study provided them with:

  • Critical feedback and peer assessment

  • Time off-stage for experimentation and play

  • Development of clarity of communication

  • Awareness of local, national, international scenes

  • Building confidence in advocacy

  • Honing both written and performance skills to “deeply explore the self and expand creative repertoire within the organizing framework that the DMA provides” (Draper & Harrison, 2018).

What we have not yet tracked is the impact of this research on industry, community and end-users. Following is a glimpse into ways HDR candidates are intersecting with industry, and the potential of using the aforementioned DESE criteria to revitalise the web of influence that exists between academia and the broader arts sector.

One current DMA candidate is working on a solo album that consists of five commissioned works by various sole-trader composers, working closely with a sole-trader recording engineer, and presenting the work in city-based festivals and at individually owned venues. Right there is an ecosystem of industry relationships that are being nurtured through a single research project. These pieces will be disseminated through national peak bodies, broadcast on the radio, presented in major Australian venues and festivals, listened to by individuals. There again is a clear list of individuals, communities and organisations that are directly benefitting from this research output. The generation of this new work interacts with the practice of the composers, the engineer and the researcher.

Another PhD candidate is researching a particular musical approach in their composition and has recently applied this methodology to a largescale public-facing project. Seeking competitive funding opportunities, working with two small-to-medium arts organisations, collaborating with a state-based venue and digital presenting partner, this project has developed another ecosystem of mutual benefit. Musicians (industry) and audiences (communities) are being exposed to cutting-edge research, while the researcher is gaining valuable industry links through the project. The public-facing product of the research is enhanced by all these industry relationships, and the role of experimentation, articulation, clarity and advocacy are foregrounded as vital outcomes of doctoral research in music.

These interwoven artist-researcher, industry-academia examples are not unique. They provide insight into the deep, shared values between academic research projects and the broader arts sector. Where our HDR candidates can articulate these relationships, the academy can benefit from more deeply understanding their own current impact within the sector. These RTP-funded HDR candidates are providing transformational experiences for industry and communities, while themselves being offered access to high-level, individually focussed study. Perhaps post-COVID recovery in arts and academia is not necessarily about doing more, but rather taking the time to value and nurture these extant relationships. If we can manage the terminology of “industry” and “internship”, this new reporting measure can unpack the synergistic relationship between industry and academia for mutual benefit going forward.


Department of Education, Skills and Employment. (2021). Growing industry internships for research PhD students through the Research Training Program: Implementation paper.

Department of Education, Skills and Employment. (2021, 17 December). Research Training Program.

Draper, P., & Harrison, S. (2018). Beyond a Doctorate of Musical Arts: Experiences of its impacts on professional life. British Journal of Music Education, 35(3), 271-284. doi:10.1017/S0265051718000128

Professor Vanessa Tomlinson is Director of the Creative Arts Research Institute at Griffith University. She sits on the Board of DDCA and is an active musician performing regularly with the Australian Art Orchestra, Clocked Out and at various pop-up events.

More from this issue

More from this issue

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By Lee Hornsby — Creative UK champions, connects, supports, and invests in creative people and businesses. We’re a group of diverse and inclusive professionals who believe in the power of the creative industries to change lives, placing creativity at the heart of the UK’s culture, economy and education system.
By Genevieve Jacobs — I grew up in and have lived most of my life in NSW wheat country. From the wide expanses of West Wyalong to the rolling, fertile hills at Wallendbeen, the places of my heart are dotted with the familiar architecture of silos.
By Lucy Brown — Strides have been made to tackle the lack of gender equality within the screen industry but despite this only 14% of all directors are women, 27% producers, 20% writers, 17% editors and 7% cinematographers –statistics that have barely changed in 20 years (Calling the Shots).
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.
By Jamie Lewis — When I completed my undergraduate studies in art school in Singapore, I remember thinking I knew the theatre that I didn’t want to make, and not the theatre I wanted to make. I then lapped up the opportunity to undertake a postgraduate diploma in Australia a year later.
By Claire Watson — It is easy to lament the chronic underfunding of the arts in Australia. Some may mistake the tireless production of content for festivals, exhibition tours and online programs as evidence of a healthy and robust industry. Optimism and impactful advocacy are, of course, necessities in the current climate.