NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

From the Archives

BY SMILJANA GLISOVIC — With the first edition for the year we’re going into the NiTRO archives to trace how some of the key concerns of the last 12 months have developed since the start of the DDCA publication.

The NiTRO Archive begins in 2016, and in the subsequent 6 years 46 editions were published. Apart from doing the work of generating discussion on key issues of the moment, being responsive to political changes that affect the sector and making visible the work and value of creative practice research, it now serves the purpose of a historical record that shows us the shape of the debates over time. 

With the complete NiTRO Archive now housed on this site, we are continuing the work with Creative Matters. These publications have deliberately remained non-peer reviewed as a way to remain current: responsive to the moment, capturing the first impulses, generating the groundwork before more distilled positions are formed over time. 

The archive helps us notice certain reference points that are still relevant, policy we have influenced as a community, and dialogues that need to continue. As we enter another important period of advocacy for what we do, and how it can best be supported and recognised, attending to our history in order to understand the present feels like a useful thing to do. This edition is a kind of reading list that traces these developments as they have been expressed in NiTRO (and not least the way NiTRO outgrew its own name and transformed into our current Creative Matters!)

This gesture of return and reflection is one that NiTRO has made before in other editions. I’ve enjoyed watching the pattern that emerges from this circling back and casting onward over time and I hope this edition gives you the opportunity to observe yet more patterns and opportunities for participating in the shaping of this story. 

The journal itself starts in 2016 during ‘a landslide of policy changes’ following Watt’s Report on the Review of Research Policy and Funding Arrangements. We are not in a dissimilar moment now, a week or so after the release of the Universities Accord Report [read the DDCA Response to the report here]. Su Baker’s words could be echoed with as much relevance today as they were in her President’s Welcome in the first edition: ‘Our goal was to determine how to advance our profession amidst the volatility of the higher education sector’. The DDCA’s intentions are still the same, we continue on with cultivating

‘the next generation of leaders, a confidence and maturity that will be needed if creative arts is to have a successful future in the ever changing higher education policy and strategic environment’ (Baker, 2016).

The frequency of change, the real and proposed shifts in the landscape, the perceived instability as well as the welcomed transformations are most apparent in the overview of the last 6 years. 

The pieces highlighted in this editorial tell this story of change, how we’ve responded to these working conditions and what the consequences have been for the creative arts and research. Perhaps a good place to start would be James Oliver’s Working with Change: culture, complexity and counter-action in Edition 26 (2020):

‘In recent times there have been many critiques of the business models and metrics that govern and shape the contemporary university; these are models and metrics that also frequently produce and reproduce modalities of change and instability. So can universities meaningfully engage with practices of change?’ 

There are other major themes and preoccupations that were recurrent. For example, a number of editions explore Interdisciplinarity and Collaboration

Edition 8: Sharing common ground: Art, science and technology (2017); Edition 22: Our Interdisciplinary World (2019); Edition 27: What do they think of us? (2020); Edition 37: Collaboration and authorship (2021) Edition 43: Boundary Crossing: interdisciplinarity + collaboration (2022); Edition 44: Indigenous collaborations and the Creative Academy (2022). 

And another key interest is in Leadership, for example in Edition 7: Creative Leadership (2017); and Edition 40: The essence of creative arts leadership, advocacy and representation (2022).

But I will continue here with a chronological approach, highlighting pieces that speak to issues we are still talking about today, such as the impact of political agendas and policy changes on our disciplines; the importance of cultivating leaders from within our disciplines; ways of valuing artistic research, which includes assessment and accounting models as well as funding opportunities. 

We are also still concerned with ‘engagement’, as Tim Cahill and Julian Meyrick were in ‘The Rough Magic of Engagement Measurement’ (Edition 1, 2016).

Malcolm Gillies in ‘Fighting Old Battles Again?’ (Edition 3, 2016) gives a useful overview of the pivotal moments that lay the ground for artistic research in universities.  

In 2017, Annika Harding is interested in Leadership: ‘Looking Back, Looking ahead’ (Edition 7, 2017) and interviews Heads of art and design schools in Australia on leadership challenges and opportunities. 

Edition 15: The Shape of Things to Come (2018), marked the 30 year anniversary of the release of the Government White Paper that influenced the Dawkins reforms, which also had particular impact on Creative Arts disciplines. 

That same year, Edition 18: Australia’s arts and culture policy (2018) focuses on the then-new Cultural Policy. Esther Anatolitis gives us a historical perspective on Australia’s art and culture policies in Arts and culture priorities? Academic leadership in a policy vacuum. And Justin O’Connor’s piece Tied to the mast: Unlocking a new cultural understanding is an interesting read in relation to Revive (2023).

The 2019 Edition 21: The Measurement Game is worth looking at again in context of the current ERA revisions. I wonder what we are still championing as the new rules are being drawn up? Have a read, for example, Jen Webb and Ross Gibson’s Accounting for creative arts research following the last ERA round. 

Another very worthwhile reflection on ‘engagement’, which many suspect will take on primacy in whatever new ERA is proposed, is Edition 25: Is Engagement a dirty word? (2019).

As mentioned, ‘change’ is the explicit subject of Edition 26: Plus ca change Plus c’est la même chose? (2020). James Oliver’s contribution on the topic is provocative: how ‘change can be understood as aggressive and competitive or a counter-action’.

In 2020, the year’s editions focus on the impact of Covid: Edition 28: Pandemic, Disruption Writ Large; and a student-focussed Edition 29: Dare we ask the students?

The enquiry of the impact of the pandemic continues into 2021, with Edition 33: All in this together, which asked the ‘heads of creative arts schools and faculties to provide short pieces on how 2020 has affected them.’

The focus on well-being continues into Edition 35: Motivation, structure and meaning. The guest editor, Jane Davidson, in the Editorial says: ‘For the majority, creative arts engagements give motivation, structure and meaning through the psychophysical and social work they do.’ 

By the last offering for that year, Edition 38: The rise of the alternative art school, the guest editor, David Cross, asks in the Editorial about the ‘emergence or increasing viability of alternative education approaches and the challenges these models pose for university creative arts providers.’

The final edition of NiTRO Edition 46: Then and now (2022) is a moment of reflection and re-evaluation. The Editorial (the last one by Jenny Wilson before passing on the baton) gives a terrific overview of the context of how NiTRO started, and it comes full circle where she asks contributors to reflect on their own historical pieces. A good piece to end on might be Jenny Wilson’s interview with Barbara Bolt in Gazing back and looking forward.

And so we make these winding movements, back and forth, around and out, and pose similar questions with sometimes similar and other times radically different answers. I wonder what we make of the sameness of these conversations and also of the nuanced differences between the answers over time?

We hope you enjoy your own journey through the archives and if you are inspired to comment, contribute, continue or revise some of these previous conversations, or illuminate other themes, please drop me a line and we can discuss your future contribution: editor@ddca.edu.au.

We include our regular sections in this edition: Practice + Review. These sections were introduced with the first Creative Matters edition in 2023 as a way to celebrate and share the artefacts of creative practice research, and also to share resources on the theoretical material that is inspiring us. 

In this edition Natalie Krikowa shares their Practice: an interactive online documentary, Queer Representation Matters (2023). The formal approach in this work finds space for a range of tones, experiences, theoretical as well as personal frameworks and narratives. What it offers viewers, and asks of them, is also multifaceted. It enacts what it critiques: making visible the wide range of people engaged in this set of issues and why it matters to them, and why it should matter more broadly. This is a demonstration of creative practice research and its real-world impacts which includes the aesthetic, social, personal, intellectual and academic concerns. This is the innovation: using form, materiality, technological ability, and conceptual framing to find new and other ways of seeing, doing, and thinking.

The Review looks at a theoretical text that I came across in the compilation of this edition, which I felt still had currency for debate and inspiration. It appears in an article by Carol Gray, ‘The long and winding road’ (Edition 20, 2019), which is also well-worth a read! 

More from this issue

Review

In ‘The long and winding road’ (NiTRO, Edition 20, 2019), Professor Carol Gray offers up ‘an alternative way of considering

Read More +

More from this issue

BY NATALIE KRIKOWA — This research critically examines the evolution of queer representation in screen media and interrogates whether meaningful progress has been made.

In ‘The long and winding road’ (NiTRO, Edition 20, 2019), Professor Carol Gray offers up ‘an alternative way of considering the role of artefacts / creative works in a doctoral submission, by offering the liberating concept of ‘epistemic objects’ – their possible forms and agencies, and the alternative display/sharing of the understandings generated from these […]