NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

President’s Welcome: Engaged Research and Teaching in the Creative Arts?

By Professor Su Baker, President, Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts — 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.

Where do the borders of the academy end and those of the Public begin? What are the points of intersection between the creative arts, public higher education institutions and the community? Who pays and who, hopefully, will benefit from the work done in their name? These are live questions both for government policy and in the institutions themselves.

Conventions of exclusivity and the cloistering of knowledge, the cliche of the Ivory Tower and other characteristics of previous academic models don’t make much sense in the contemporary world of the arts, as what is essential, at the end point,  is to present to the public. The work is not complete until that is done and indeed that is its measure. In the metric driven culture of research evaluation this fundamental aspect of our professional lives was little understood. This was what the creative arts brought with it into the contemporary university, this performative relationship between producers of work, of new ideas and artifacts, and a receptive public. New engagement strategies are being developed that make more explicit these relationships and the mutual benefits therein. The production of social and cultural capital and its impact –  core business for the arts – are now the subject of new indices and measuring instruments.

At the time of the emergence of creative arts in the university sector in the early 1990s, there was little thought to measure this aspect of our work, and it wasn’t until recently, following the example of the British REF system, that confidence has been shown in such forms of evaluation. Enter the concept and the measures of impact. While there was an attempt to do this a decade ago in the RQF days, it was seemingly too difficult to fit this into a simple measure. And we ourselves didn’t really know we had to do it.  However, there are now sensible discussions and indeed test measures of impact in other forms that act as case studies, and where some measures of interaction can be verified with confidence. Technological advances have made this possible too with the power of data to capture interaction and thus give a sense of uptake of ideas and products. This is indeed a factor that can really assist. This new confidence in notions of validation of impact will help. It is the recognition of what it means to open the castle gates, drop the drawbridge and let the public in.

Paradoxically, the areas in which this happens most easily is, in fact, the area of least scrutiny in public policy and measurement. It is in creative arts teaching programs where public outcomes are fundamental to both the student learning and the assessment criteria, to greater and lesser extent across courses of study and at different levels. Musicians, dancers, filmmakers, writers, actors and designers and all the myriads of creative arts disciplines, with their inventiveness and innovation, and their historical and critical insights, recognise that a public ‘outing’ is an important opportunity to both feel the love and the chill wind of judgment. Both are the stuff of quality evaluation. Artists use public facilities and the public themselves are invited onto campuses on an increasingly regular basis. 

This desire for a new porous exchange of infrastructure use allows for a controlled environment for students and access to new experiences for the public. This might include lunchtime concerts or visiting artist talks in the university museums and galleries, or fully staged theatre and dance productions. Similarly, film screenings can be both in public, in a cinema-style presentation, or on personal mobile devices of all shapes and sizes, one-on-one in private. In most cases, creative arts infrastructure needs to be a much broader-based resource than could ever be provided by the schools and universities alone. Design disciplines are more directly involved with the constantly evolving producer/user relationship. The Transdisciplinary Studio is now becoming common parlance, and as Alex Coles in his book of the same name points out, it draws our attention to the fluidity with which certain practices move between real world outcomes, between architecture, design, art, both individually driven or drawn from social and community practices, with the inevitable interplay between disciplines such as art histories, anthropology, sociology and cultural histories and theories.

Art practices emerge when the work is in the public domain, and this engagement is, in itself, the end of a beginning, of something that lives on in communities. Whether the outcomes directly engage with a community group, require individual interaction or whether the work adds to the collections of crafted artifacts leaving residual traces of artistic lives, there is always a public, someone to see, hear, feel, think and know the work. There is always someone to whom the work is addressed and it is hoped the experience of the work is duly received. It cannot be otherwise.

Special Note: Gold Medal to Max Piantoni.
Our wonderful web-designer and webmaster Max Piantoni was part of the winning team in the International Game Concept Challenge in Singapore, in September. Why are we not surprised!
Brilliant work and CONGRATULATIONS Max!!

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