NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Boundary Crossing: Thinking through best practice in interdisciplinary collaboration

By Professor Vanessa Tomlinson — Collaborating with colleagues outside our own creative disciplines can bring tensions as differences in terminology, understanding and methodologies are drawn to the fore. It also brings unexpected benefits by creating a deeper understanding of ones own practice while adding new dimensions that serve to expand and blur rigid disciplinary boundaries.

In this edition, contributors seek to share their experience in boundary crossing as they uncover examples of collaboration across disciplines in teaching, research and engagement. From a Griffith University perspective, the Creative Arts Research Institute was setup in mid 2021 to begin to develop a broader understanding of the intersection between research as art, research about art, and research through art. CARI is tasked with providing research support to the disciplines of film, animation, gaming, visual art, design, music, performing arts, and theatre. This is inclusive of individual art practices that will flourish with or without CARI, and the development of new research teams where practices translate into many different fields.

Theatre-maker Linda Hassall (included in this edition) is exploring the role that Australian theatre organisations can play in addressing the global environmental crisis in a project Culture for climate. Working with a larger team of theatre-based creatives including Tanja Beer, Jacqui Somerville, Natalie Lazaroo and Julian Meyrick, they are unpacking the potential action individual theatre companies can take in addressing the climate crisis through design practices, lighting practices and even the choice of creative content. This project is working on multiple levels simultaneously – leading to creative-led “green-recovery” to industry practices.

The Creative Change Project (Prof Brydie-Leigh Bartleet’s ARC Future Fellowship) aims to investigate the role community music can play in addressing social inequalities in Australia. Drawing on place-based initiatives, CCP will map and analyse a range of social outcomes fostered by community music and explore how these outcomes can enrich current efforts to address social disadvantage. Specifically, it seeks to bring a “creative turn” to these place-based efforts, by examining how music initiatives can leverage the cultural capabilities and creative assets of communities to drive positive social change.

The collaborative project FilmHarmonic, began in 2021 to explore the intersection of live orchestral performance, film, animation and VR as they “play” together in front of a live audience. Straddling research and teaching, FilmHarmonic included collaborations between artists at many stages of their career from student composers and filmmakers, to alumni and new award-winning projects by Griffith academics. Co-Director A/Prof Peter Morris says, “As a performer, educator, researcher and collaborator the intent of this research was to collaborate with meaning, and to publicly showcase the potential of inter-disciplinary art forms.” Together with Co-Director Professor Herman Van Eyken, Filmharmonic is now inspiring creative experimentation as it defines a new collaborative artform.

The Australian Research Council funded Remedy Project (2021-2014) led by Professor Naomi Sunderland adopts arts-informed research from conception to output in ways that strive to promote diverse First Nations ways of seeing, being, and doing in research, health, wellbeing and healing. The project explores the interwoven and generative terrain of research about arts (in this case First Nations music), research through arts (songwriting, sound making, graphic design, and visual art as part of research processes), and arts as research (individual PhD candidates and Chief Investigators artistically exploring felt and embodied responses to research processes and the field of study).

Lilium is a post-digital cine-symphonic mural, exhibited in the inaugural Big City Lights Festival (Gold Coast) in July 2022. The imagery was created by Peter Thiedeke and the immersive ambisonic soundscape was created by John Ferguson and Andrew R. Brown. As members of CARI, these interdisciplinary practitioners are operating at the intersection of art, design, music and technology that converges in the emergent field of media architecture. As cities transform and the digital layer becomes a part of the fabric of the future Smart City, this research area offers city planners, and architects the opportunity to engage more deeply with artists, designers and the broader community to participate democratically in the aesthetic practices that shape urban environments.

The Storytelling project draws on specific forms of storytelling from creative writing, visual poetry, singing, performing arts, to film, animation and photography to use storytelling as a powerful, transformative methodology that helps solve societal problems and creates real impact for youth in marginalised communities. Working with high schools and other youth-focussed organisations, this two-day event (Story Festival), brings together young people from diverse backgrounds, to share stories, and cultures, through a unique Story Festival. It will also support the emergence of young people as the next generation of story-makers, innovators and influencers who bring about social and cultural change. Through participate in the process of both telling and listening to each other’s stories.

While CARI does not necessarily instigate these projects, having a cross-art form research institute helps to facilitate and grow these projects across school boundaries, and create access to new knowledge systems. These projects are a taste of the interdisciplinary activity happening in CARI that is intentionally and actively encouraging researchers to be bold, disruptive creative thinkers. Creative Arts plays an important role in activating, communicating, translating and responding to many forms of knowledge. Contributors in this edition seek to find a  context in which to explore these intersections.


Professor Vanessa Tomlinson is the director of the Creative Arts Research Institute at Griffith University. Her research places artmaking at the centre, exploring the role of sound and music in our lives, working at the intersection of musical genres and approaches, engaging in art-science collaborations, and using listening as a primary methodology in her practice. Key projects and collaborations include The Piano Mill, The Immersive Guitar, Clocked Out, The Australian Art Orchestra, Water Pushes Sand, and Sounding the Condamine, The Listening Museum, Early Warning System and Ba Da Boom Percussion. For more information please go to vanessatomlinson.com and clockedout.org

More from this issue

More from this issue

By Linda Hassall — We are living in a world where eco-anxiety is on the rise, yet Australians largely remain confused about scientific and political reactions to climate change and its effects on Australian ecologies (Clayton 2020, Hogg & Stanley et al 2021, Kelly, 2017, Mackey 2013, Wang et al 2018).
By Dr Charulatha Mani — Regardless of whether an individual makes a conscious effort to understand why or how music operates the way it does in their life, music continues to permeate the life-course. A visit to the gym or a café; a long car ride; or the wedding of a loved one – these occurrences, vibrant or mundane, are often accompanied by music.
By Leah Barclay and Tricia King — Listening to place offers a rich and dynamic way to understand patterns and inspire connections. Listening as method has been integral to a series of interdisciplinary collaborations on Kabi Kabi Country in Queensland that have explored the idea of listening with images, listening with Country, and listening as an active method to inspire action and engagement with the changes taking place in our environment and communities. 
By Stephen Murphy — There’s a question I used to dread: “So, what do you do?” It has a second part to it, assumed and unvoiced: “ … for a living”. And what I dreaded was the rabbit hole this opened. If I told a taxi driver “I work in film”, there’d be a follow-up – typically, “like an actor?”
By Lindsay Vickery — The Limited Hangout: in the field project, was a series of site-specific long form compositions for performers, and optionally electronic sounds in the environment.