NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Edition 28, 2020 – Pandemic: Disruption Writ Large

In December last year when planning this edition of NiTRO, we started out looking at Asia and the links between Australian schools of arts education and their equivalents in the region. Then the world changed. Back then the idea of disruption had a ring of optimism about it.

The impact of the pandemic on music … has been immense. COVID-19 has expanded our repertoire of catastrophic synonyms as they are now the new vocabulary. The response to the pandemic by some musicians and educators was swift, decisive and efficient while others have floundered.

During early February 2020, Thailand was among the early countries that encountered the COVID-19 epidemic. Personal and social health protection and prevention has risen to the new social normal, wearing sanitary masks, social and physical distancing. Certainly, the field of art and design are being affected and starting to change in response to the pandemic.

For creative disciplines like fine art, it is often thought that the move to online teaching has been the biggest challenge in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since Curtin University stopped face-to-face teaching on 23 March, numerous colleagues from other disciplines in the university, as well as family acquaintances, have shared their opinion that “they can’t imagine how you could teach art online”.

The rhetoric of fighting a war against an invisible coronavirus enemy has been invoked, perhaps too blithely, by politicians. However, the parallel between global pandemics and sites of conflict are worth reflecting on, as they create an understanding of human experience in extremis.

As a creative arts institution spanning art, design, media, performance, film and music, LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore transitioned to partial online teaching in early February 2020 before closing its campuses and going fully online by the end of March 2020. Each discipline required a calibrated way of transiting the curriculum.

We are training artists-in-the-making, and unforeseen challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic might give birth to some wonderful opportunities, despite the pressure and the rush into semi-lockdown from the top. If we were going to make this work for us, it was up to us to come up with new ideas and turn them into opportunities.

On Tuesday 10 March this year, I flew Qantas (QF456) from Melbourne to Sydney with colleagues to attend the opening of the 2020 Biennale of Sydney, NIRIN. We were blithely unaware of the towering cruise ship at the Overseas Passenger Terminal near the Museum of Contemporary Art as we partied hard, cheek-to-jowl, at the vernissage.