By Su Baker, President, Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts.
Over 2 decades the creative art academic community has grown and matured as a sector – so have the questions of method and purpose of publically funded research, that influence the processes of evaluation. Discussions around impact and ‘end-user’ value is a live issue at the ARC and we look forward to the new thinking that will shortly emerge. The creative arts depend almost entirely on end-user experience, and the impact of these experiences aspire to have real and meaningful impact on peoples lives.
Theatres, galleries, museums, performance venues of all types are now considered essential parts of a mature university and considerable investment is being made. The new emphasis on Category 2-4 research income criteria, now more clearly defined, provides an opportunity to value the financial and capital investment in creative arts research. But why are our university art museums and their collections not understood as research infrastructure in the same way as natural science, engineering or chemistry laboratories?
The cultural artefacts and the infrastructure that supports, protects, examines and explores this cultural capital needs to be recognised as research infrastructure as it is both public and private money that invests in it.
Why are museum curators who research and publish original scholarly work, exposing in most cases, new insight into the work of artists, living and dead, not seen as valid scholarly publishing in the ERA criteria, but rather required to be seen as creative works?
Much of the best original primary art historical research is published in museum catalogues and publications available to the public. This needs to be included as a direct measure of impact, along with metrics such as public interactions, visitations and publications, all creating clear picture of end-user engagement and a good use of cultural research infrastructure. We also seek better articulation of the value of the knowledge and primary research that curators, scholars and researchers produce, drawn from the university museum and their art collections, the music, sound and film archives, and many other cultural collections. Natural history museums are synonymous with research and enquiry and so it should be with the university art museums. It is time that cultural knowledge received the same recognition.
We can not let this issue pass without a word about the ongoing and unfolding fortunes of Sydney College of the Arts and the University of Sydney, and the impact on staff and students and the future options for art education in Sydney and NSW that this chaotic environment is having. My disclaimer noted, as a former staff member and alumna of SCA not withstanding, we would not be a worthy peak body if we did not decry the disrespect and disregard shown for the value of high quality cultural education in that current conflict.
It has been a dramatic few weeks and at the time of writing still presents a very confused picture. Will there be an intake next year or not? Will the university force SCA to take a funding hit to return to operations the following year? It seems counter-intuitive to make such changes without a plan. SCA achieved the highest recognition for research excellence in the country in previous ERA evaluations, yet that achievement seems to afford no protection from these actions. That should gives us all pause for thought.
In contrasting news, it was exciting to see the appointment of Michael Lynch, as the interim Director of the National Arts School, an institution of longstanding support from the arts community and a DDCA member institution. Lynch is a consummate leader in the arts both here and internationally, and will bring great authority to that position, following the solid work done by the departing Director Michael Snelling. Perhaps this appointment can bring some strategic sense to the situation as a whole.
All around the world, there are tensions between the traditional university models of education and the creative and innovative ethos in art schools. However in many, and one might say most, great universities there is a respectful planned approach to the provision of high quality specialised arts education and a broader introduction to the arts in various forms. In some cases the universities are the custodians or hosts of the arts education, or are affiliated with stand alone schools. Either way there seems to be the will in most global cities to host a diverse range of art school options. It is surprising that Sydney, claiming this status as a city, does not share a similarly clear and sustained vision that is so familiar in other great cities. To be a global city, Sydney no doubt will recognise what cultural assets are worth and value the intellectual, artistic, emotional and social well-being of a place. Its people can only thrive if this is supported.
As President of DDCA, I am encouraged by the spirit and feelings that are still running hot about art education. I know that colleagues across the country stand ready to assist in any way possible.