NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Examining Value: perspectives on the ACUADS Conference 2017

Thinking about tertiary creative arts in 2018, it is worth reflecting on the 2017 ACUADS Conference at the ANU School of Art and Design, which probed the theme ‘Value’. At a time when Australian tertiary art and design schools are facing increasing economic and political challenges, this was a vital focus, and resulted in the sharing of key research, and productive discussions.

By Denise Ferris and Annika Harding

Thinking about tertiary creative arts in 2018, it is worth reflecting on the 2017 ACUADS Conference at the ANU School of Art and Design, which probed the theme ‘Value’. At a time when Australian tertiary art and design schools are facing increasing economic and political challenges, this was a vital focus, and resulted in the sharing of key research, and productive discussions. Art and design academics and researchers from around Australia attended the conference in late September.

In her keynote address, T’ai Smith drove home the point that art’s value is qualitative, in contrast to economic constructions of value.

Keynote speakers included T’ai Smith (University of British Columbia, Vancouver), Anthea Callen (Professor Emeritus ANU & Professor Emeritus University of Nottingham, UK), and Scott Brook (University of Canberra).

As the opening speaker, Anthea Callen asked ‘What does ‘value’ actually mean?’ and explored how our notions of value are influenced by power, and reflect and construct normative models of worth. This led on to sessions examining value in art education within the broader university setting, the broadly applicable value of design thinking, and the value that can be found in interdisciplinary research and teaching projects. Further sessions on the Thursday explored how value can be added in thinking about art and design education and research through the unexpected application of research tools, and the value that can be added to the broader arts ecology and other sectors by tertiary art and design schools.

Two roundtable discussions, one focused on design, and one on visual art, proved lively. Among the issues discussed were the value of interdisciplinary collaboration and research, value-adding through ethical frameworks, and the tension between what is valued by tertiary art and design schools and how we are valued within the context of overarching tertiary institutions.

In her keynote address, T’ai Smith drove home the point that art’s value is qualitative, in contrast to economic constructions of value. Smith also unpacked how time, work and value function in fashion and creative practice.

Day two of the conference began with a conversation with T’ai Smith, conducted by Ann Stephen. Stephen and Smith drew out key concerns from Smith’s 2014 book Bauhaus Weaving Theory: From Feminine Craft to Mode of Design, exploring the value of the Bauhaus weaving workshop and its practice of craft as an intellectual and interdisciplinary pursuit. The following sessions investigated accessibility and possibilities inherent in digital technologies for art and design fields; studio practice and differing values relating to time, outcomes, materiality and colour; and the value of interdisciplinary and cross-cultural design education and practice.

Scott Brook explored the value of creative work and education, and the cultural rather than economic values that motivate students and practitioners in our sector. We are willing to forego financial security and other comforts because of the many kinds of value we see in what we do, and the opportunity to create value in our lives and our world.

In the afternoon, sessions looked to the past and the future. They explored the history of tertiary art and design education in the early 20th century as well as the mid-twentieth century as its place was argued for within the university. They also reevaluated measures of value, art and design education models, and explored the creation and promotion of new values within the sector, including through future-oriented curriculum design.

In his provocative closing address, Scott Brook explored the value of creative work and education, and the cultural rather than economic values that motivate students and practitioners in our sector. We are willing to forego financial security and other comforts because of the many kinds of value we see in what we do, and the opportunity to create value in our lives and our world.

ACUADS is proud to be able to present conferences that further these important discussions, as well as provide an important platform for the presentation of new ideas in tertiary art and design education and research. Many of the peer reviewed conference papers have been published on the ACUADS website. We look forward to this year’s conference, hosted by Curtin University and Edith Cowan University, in Perth 27-28 September. All staff and researchers based at ACUADS Member institutions are eligible to attend and present. (For more information on membership and ACUADS’ Conference and initiatives, please visit the ACUADS website).

Writing this at a time when we are all doing the hard work toward ERA submission, it is timely to reiterate the question of value and what is valued in the evaluation criteria of the ERA. Quite publicly our value as individual institutions is determined in the ARC’s ERA measurement of research performance by a single number. That number stands, representing us as institutions to our universities, the funding sector and government. We need to ensure that the criteria determining that value encompass the breadth of what we value as a sector.


Professor Denise Ferris is an educator and art practitioner, who is the Head of the School of Art & Design at the Australian National University. Denise is currently Chair of the Australian Council of Art & Design Schools (ACUADS).

Ms Annika Harding is the Executive Officer for ACUADS, and a PhD Candidate at the ANU School of Art & Design, Centre for Art History and Art Theory. Annika is also a visual artist and curator.

ACUADS is the national peak body for tertiary art, craft and design, and represents over thirty Australian university and TAFE art and design faculties, schools and departments. www.acuads.com.au

More from this issue

More from this issue

The sleeve notes for a 12 inch vinyl record – or the ‘liner’ as it’s known in the US – comprise on average 700 words ... thrice that of the ‘textual descriptor’ – the Research Statement - which is all that’s allowed when describing the content of a non-traditional research output [the INTRO] for the forthcoming research assessment exercise...

I was recently introduced to a verb I hadn’t encountered before. I was attending—as a supervisor—a session looking to create opportunities for doctoral researchers (mostly of a STEM kind) . . . . the session (for me) had one good outcome, and this was learning this new verb. Angular, gauche and graceless, with zero poetry, it is however precise and pulls no punches: to self-select-out.

Following a period of research consolidation in 2015 and 2016, 2017 saw the Australian Screen Production Education and Research Association (ASPERA) ‘up the stakes’ with regard to its capacity for disciplinary research and, importantly, its future. We launched the report Screen Production Research Reporting: An ASPERA Scoping Project ... to capture some of the long-standing discussions and issues the discipline was facing.

On Tuesday December 12, 2017, in unceded Wurundjeri territory, a group of 40 artists/designers/researchers/curators/educators from Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand came together at RMIT University to start to discuss the future of Social Practice in Art and Design. Using human relations as method and content across art and design, social practice connects creative practitioners with communities, industries and institutions to address contemporary social and political issues.

Here in Australian higher arts education, we are presiding over some ‘interesting’ times ourselves. With a divided polity, seemingly, but not only, separated along education and value and belief system lines, we are finding an astonishing and baffling suspicion of ‘expertise’ and what has been called ‘wilful ignorance’ or the US legal term ‘wilful blindness’.

Like many of us who supervise research in Creative Arts practice, I spend a lot of my time navigating what I do not know. Perhaps this is part of the attraction of mentoring research at this level. Although I have been supervising Creative Arts PhDs for almost 20 years, I have become aware in the last decade of a rich interface between our disciplines and indigenous inquiry

The extraordinary growth in both quality and quantity of Asian arts education arrived with a distinctly new edge in 2017. After more than 15 years of identifying needed aspects of Western contemporary arts and arts training, the last decade has been focused upon catching up, on inviting Western experts to teach, sending staff abroad, and in establishing conferences that allow arts training to be discussed within Asia. There is now a wealth of quality arts colleges and universities across Asia, and activities and publications on arts education now surpasses Australasia.

Friends, relatives, colleagues and past students are mourning the death of Debra Porch, until recently an Associate Professor of Fine Arts at Queensland College of Art.

I’m writing in the weeks following the end of Singapore Art Week 2018, and the full schedule of exhibition tours and meetings with international museum, gallery and education professionals it marked at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore. The ICA Singapore is the curatorial division of Lasalle College of the Arts. Art Week’s many and various artists and visitors are reminders of the increasingly global context for our programme but also of the capricious field into which Lasalle fine arts graduates will emerge.

The arts have always been at the center of human life and civilisational progress in African communities. In the pre-colonial period, the arts defined cultural expressions, mediated community structures, and facilitated the generation, articulation and flow of knowledge within communities

A conversation between Clive Barstow, and Professor Chen Huagang, Dean of Art & Design at Guandong Baiyun University in China (with thanks to translator Jie He).

An ongoing state of wonderful “little ease” might be the best way to sum up 2017. What that ongoing state of “little ease” continued to reveal and what is exciting moving forwards is the very extraordinary ways in which dance training produces truly ‘agile beasts’ – capable, intelligent, resilient, adaptable and inspiring collaborators and artistic leaders.

Art and research, typically, have their own focal points and contextual understanding of relevance for their fields. But there is at least one strong overlapping area, and artistic research is at the core of this today. Artistic Research is multi-coloured, curiosity driven, open to apply and adapt methods and reach out for topics challenging the given

As we settle into the 2018 academic year in Australia, surrounded by the confused faces of new students (and staff) and enmeshed in ERA statements, research impact and engagement justifications and the uncertainty of government plans for teaching and learning funding, we can forget that our world of creative arts education is bigger than the institutionally created boxes that immediately surround us.