NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Fighting Old Battles Again?

By Malcolm Gillies — Sitting on my shelf for the last eighteen years has been a copy of "The Strand Report".  Dennis Strand's excellent work was for a project overseen by the Head of the Canberra School of Art, David Williams, and chaired by Peter Karmel, a leading economist and former vice-chancellor of the ANU.  It was the first coordinated attempt to bring together the full range of visual and performing artists to address how they might better fit in with the developing research expectations of the National Unified System. 

Its advisory group brought together representatives from the Australian Research Council (ARC), the Australia Council, the Higher Education Council and that curious bureaucratic beast then called DEETYA, along with a wonderful array of half a dozen younger creative arts professors with a sense of academic-political conviction, occasionally breaking out into simple outrage.  For at this time, when students of “The Arts” were about five per cent of university enrolments, creative arts departments were only gaining under one per cent of research funding. While some institutions gave supplementary support from central funds, or even had private benefactors, many others just had to rely on what the teaching and research formulas produced.

I think I was invited onto that advisory group because I had recently written an essay about “The Arts” for an ARC “discipline research strategy” document, coordinated by the Australian Academy of the Humanities, entitled Knowing Ourselves and Others (1998).  That essay had concluded:  “If The Arts are to develop in strength within universities, and Australia consequently enhance its vibrant cultural life, then it is imperative that research about and research in the various art forms be embraced as equal partners, and disseminated in whatever media are most appropriate to their nature.  Practical creative work, too, must be encouraged, whether or not it falls within the ambit of ‘research’.”

Over the succeeding couple of decades, there has been more recognition of why research or “research equivalent” or “necessary non-teaching activity” in Arts areas need to gain their own funding recognition and respect.  There was perhaps a zenith to that recognition in many countries in Australasia, North America and Europe in the early years of the millennium.  For a while, when creativity was identified as being a missing ingredient in the diet of universities, and the creative industries accordingly gained much prominence, creative artists were even feted as the seers or gurus, with special powers denied more methodologically constipated colleagues in the social or physical sciences.  (Let’s just remember that ARC definitions of research in the 1980s, while explicitly demanding “originality”, equally explicitly rejected all “creative work”.)

But those times have passed, just as business schools too are now half a dozen years past their peak of recognition.  And with that passing, and the inevitable succession of new research policies, metrics and priorities, some of the key arguments first consolidated in the ground-breaking Strand Report of 1998 need to be revisited and replayed. In short, we are seeing a swing back to a more conservative approach to what is research, which is again exacerbating the interface between practice and scholarship.  I looked back at Strand for some guidance, and there it was on page 52, neatly and politely outlining eight areas of creative arts activity that needed to be recognized (and funded) as research, or its creative equivalent.  And what were these areas?

1.  advancement or extension of knowledge;

2. new discoveries;

3. innovative ideas, techniques, technologies;

4. solutions to problems;

5.  refinements or reinterpretations of methods, techniques, existing knowledge;

6. conceptual advances;

7. constructive critiques and synthesis;

8. new means of dissemination.

I wonder what a re-run of Strand’s criteria would now identify in our universities against this checklist of creative activity, and how much creative activity would be found to have clustered around those areas which have gained recognition in publication, impact, funding or other metrics over the last two decades.

Emeritus Professor Malcolm Gillies AM takes up the interim headship of Music at ANU in October (2016).  He was previously a vice-chancellor of two British universities, a deputy vice-chancellor of ANU, and president of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.  

More from this issue

More from this issue

By Su Baker, President, Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts — In this issue of NiTRO we ask how well are we connecting the academy with artist practice outside the Citadel. How well are we preparing our students and how do we support our colleagues in their core career aspirations, that in most cases will be outside the university and educational context?
By Dr Jenny Wilson — In his 1999 book, Art Subjects, Howard Singerman saw the university as ‘a crucial structuring site where artists and art worlds are mapped and reproduced'. University teaching, research and engagement agenda and the strategies that are adopted serve to enhance or restrict how its artists, staff and students, connect with and advance their genres and professions.
By Arun Sharma — Creative and performing arts disciplines are at an interesting juncture. After decades of concern about lack of funding, and about being sidelined in favour of the STEM disciplines, there may be some positive signals. The question is whether these disciplines are ready for the opportunities emerging from these signals.
By Tamara Winikoff OAM — Earlier this year ArtsHub, published an article by National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) CEO Tamara Winikoff on the changes in art schools following the Dawkins amalgamations. It collated views and experiences of those currently working in the university sector and provides a useful starting point to consider how contemporary universities are influencing artistic practice. With the permission of NAVA and Arts Hub the article is republished below and has been updated by Tamara for NiTRO.
By Eileen Siddins and Ryan Daniel — As Bourdieu describes in his text ‘Firing Back’, the modern world has moved into a work situation dominated by employment precariousness, constant insecurity and downsizing to increase profits and therefore shareholder return. While artists have in general faced employment stresses for centuries, the impact of the broader economic move towards dominant players and markets is affecting the art world as well.
By Dr Sue Gillett — The current trend in Australian universities has seen the proportion of enrolments in Arts subjects declining over the last decade, with regional universities and campuses more significantly affected.
By Associate Professor Vanessa Tomlinson — The second Australia Percussion Gathering, directed by Associate Professor Vanessa Tomlinson alongside advisors Tom O'Kelly, Dr. Louise Devenish and Francois Combemorel was held at Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University in July 2016. Sitting somewhere between a music festival, a conference and a music camp, the six day event brought together industry professionals, international guests, and an impressive 96% of all students studying percussion in tertiary institutions in Australia.
by Ian Haig — The status of the Avant grade has now been systematized into what Dave Hickey calls the ‘therapeutic institution' – a self-propagating structure of academics, curators, critics and artists proclaiming arts goodness for the world.
By Dr Peter Knight — The relationship between academia and artistic practice is in flux, and in my view that's one of the reasons why the space in which they meet is an exciting place to be working. I undertook two postgraduate degrees in music both of which had an emphasis on practice-based approaches.
By Professor Clive Barstow and Dr Jenny Wilson — On the eve of his 25th anniversary of his emigration to Australia, Jenny Wilson talks to artist and academic Clive Barstow about his reflections on arts education.
By Dr Linda Ludwig — The Symposium at the FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel – introduced by Carla Delfos from the European League of the Institutes of the Arts – brought together methodological reflections on research in the arts with recent activities from researchers in the field. It was goal of the Symposium to discuss how art and design generates knowledge that is of relevance to society.
By Professor Pamela Burnard — Why is it an imperative for arts institutions and academies to identify creative teaching in relation to creative learning as a vital way of addressing the politics of higher education? What is it about creative teaching in relation to creative learning that offers new priorities, new narratives, new forms of knowledge, new ways of ‘knowing how to speak' and ‘knowing how to hear' for creative teachers, artists and artist scholars?