NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Edition 25, 2019 – Is Engagement a dirty word?

What does the ARC Engagement and Impact framework have in common with the Bauhaus? This was the framing question of Engagement, this year’s ACUADS Conference, offering a productive way to contextualise social, intellectual and political engagement within the most impactful creative legacy the world has ever known.

Art, being art, is never straightforward: to expect or to demand precise things from it is, perhaps, a fool’s dream – and one that can be counterproductive. Over the past century, some of the most politically and culturally engaged art movements and schools … have emerged from chaos, tragedy, disaster …

There is a grim temporality to much policy-engaged research on the Creative and Cultural Industries that reminds me of the closing dialogue in the first Terminator film … Sarah Connor drives into the desert to prepare for the struggle that lies ahead. At the petrol station a young boy points to the dark clouds and says a storm is coming. Sarah sighs and says, ‘I know’.

It was a windy afternoon in Melbourne when I was gifted a small monopoly house by artist Ceri Hann … Over several years, Hann made and gifted objects from a fictional casino – symbols of economic value and exchange that were hacked and hijacked to provoke the receiver to think and talk. While these objects have no real economic value, they point to the invisible yet essential currencies that fuel the art world.

There are two significant factors that combine to undermine creative outputs being classified as new research internally in many Australian universities … These two issues, complexity of creative research methodologies and research staff turn-over, can result in creative academics feeling undervalued and sometimes under siege.

Is engagement a dirty word? It’s one of the dirtiest words I know. Like many words that have come before it (synergy, impact, interaction), it has been taken up as a buzzword, stretched to such levels of generalised abstraction it can stand for almost anything.

Aligned with the 2019 Australian Council of University Art & Design Schools annual conference on the same theme, this edition of NiTRO will focus on the meaning of engagement for the creative arts: across disciplines, nationalities and cultures; but also with industries, communities and the world at large.

How can learning to make things in glass assist a student’s broader creative and social development? Can glass working foster social awareness?