NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Editorial: Connecting Communities, Campuses and Creativity

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By Dr Jenny Wilson

Unviewed paintings, unheard sonatas and unread poems fail to fulfil the criteria of the creative act, for creativity has a social dimension.
          Risenhoover and Blackburn 1976[1]

Connecting with others is a fundamental feature of creative arts, whether it is through audience engagement or through collaboration to promote artistic solutions to societal or industry problems.  We have little need of a guidance booklet on how to connect outside academia such as the one released by the Academy of Sciences (pdf) for its members recently.

Our communities are many and the benefits that these collaborations produce are diverse. In this edition of NiTRO we showcase just a few of the ways that creative arts schools and faculties are fulfilling the need for engagement that serves to both enhance artists and their work, and improve the Australian economy and society.

Although not a comprehensive sector wide representation, our Tertiary Arts Events section demonstrates the extent and variety of public activities that are taking place in creative art schools across the country. Performances, readings, screenings and exhibitions – all are open to the public, though some may be ticketed, and well worth checking out to experience the sheer quality and innovation of work from some of our emerging and established artists.

Our communities include not only audiences for creative works but local and specialist communities with whom we work to raise awareness of important issues; Lucas Ihlein (Wollongong) relates how artistic engagement is central to his work with sugar farming communities in Queensland centred around the impact of farming on the Great Barrier Reef. Our communities are often global.  For Ruth Bereson and Caitlin Byrne (Griffith), their community is the Asia Pacific region as they work with international colleagues to better understand the ASEAN region from a cultural and artistic perspective.

Creative arts also celebrates local community life such as the project outline by Lucy Bleach (Tasmania) who, together with schools in Triabunna, created a unique outdoor event inspired by the gardens in the areaAmanda Stuart’s (ANU) collaboration ‘in the field’ with students, indigenous communities and a range of other stakeholders, celebrates a particular region through art exhibition.

Through creative collaborations we channel problems into positive pathways for disadvantaged groups helping to raise awareness of important societal issues and improve community cohesion. Sean Mee (QUT) describes one such project in a socio-economically challenged area of Queensland.  

Creative disciplines also have a ‘harder’ edge, providing entrepreneurial solutions and direction for industry partners in private, public and not for profit settings. In his article, Russell Kennedy (Deakin) addresses a longstanding problem of appropriate inclusion of indigenous iconography faced by professional designers;  Tom Young (Flinders) outlines how students and volunteer organisations work together to benefit both student and organisation outcomes. For Samantha Donnelly (UNSW), the work undertaken with student design teams has reinvigorated connection between the local community and one of its former retail settings.

Our communities also include colleagues who practice outside the university setting.  Angela Goddard (Griffith) and Fiona Salmon (Flinders) highlight the important role of University Art Museums in connecting those inside and outside the university with Australia’s artists and artistic heritage.  As Curtin Vice Chancellor Debbie Terry describes in her article, art collections whether historical or newly commissioned revitalise the university campus as a special place for cultural connection.

For Cat Hope (ECU), the relationship between practitioners inside and outside academia is one that could be further enhanced. Editor Deborah Stone provides an overview of the support that ArtsHub offers to artists wherever they practice and she invites NiTRO’s student readers to access this through a free subscription to ArtsHub. Register to receive NiTRO (free) and then follow the link in her article.

The creative arts bring pleasure and entertainment to local, regional, national and international audiences, and indirectly deliver the social benefits that connection with art brings to health, welfare and community cohesion.  Whether through student or research based projects, they catalyse new thinking, products and processes in industry and business.  Yet even as the government champions industry engagement and graduate employment as a key feature of research and higher education, we remain on the margins of the national agenda.

[1] Risenhoover, M., & Blackburn, R. (1976). Artists as Professors: Conversations with Musicians, Painters, Sculptors. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

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Engaged Research and Teaching in the Creative Arts? The answer is ‘yes'. But the extent to which creative arts research engages already but is not included in the innovation agenda is something that we need to consider.

Design researchers are shaping the new professional landscape with much needed protocols on how indigenous knowledge can be ethically and appropriately included in contemporary design.

The ongoing role of ArtsHub to Australia’s community of artistic practitioners.

By working in the field,  students and indigenous communities are creating a public exhibition that culturally and aesthetically represents their region.

The Live Site Catalyst community collaboration project that brought the people and places of Triabunna to Dark Mofo 2016.

By working together students and volunteer organisations produce graduate employment and community service benefits.

Socially engaged art practice that explores how sugar farmers, and their local community are seeking to address agricultural run off challenges facing the Great Barrier Reef.

How a student interior design studio refocused community interest in a location suffering from post-nineties decline.

Working with culturally diverse communities offers a way to contribute to social cohesion and connect with prospective students who are traditionally difficult for universities to access.

The beginning of an international research project to consider the factors that influence artistic and cultural practice in the ASEAN region.

Should universities instigate greater access to infrastructure and cooperation with artists practicing outside academia?