NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Valuing Artistic Practice for a New Era

SMILJANA GLISOVIC, CRAIG BATTY, GRAYSON COOKE, TULLY BARNETT –––– As we read these voices side by side in this edition the field that they make visible is complex but coherent, the expression of the complexity is clear. The insights, suggestions and visions for the future are bold. The maturity we hear has been cultivated for years – trial and error and attentive consideration on how to create conditions for good research.

The first 2023 issue looks a little different. We’ve taken the opportunity to ride this growing wave of change and give you an issue centred around renewal. At NiTRO there has been a change in editorship: Jenny Wilson has taken a step back after her dedicated involvement since 2016, and Smiljana Glisovic has stepped into the role – with a sense of responsibility to continue the work achieved so far, and also with energy to think and do things in new ways that support an ever-changing climate. As we have collectively been reflecting on Jenny’s leadership it has come up time and again what a valuable contribution Jenny has made with her book, Artists in the University: Positioning Artistic Research in Higher Education (2017). Colleagues have bemoaned that the book hasn’t received as much attention as is due to it, and that it continues to remain relevant – we’re still handing it out to our colleagues that need to learn about creative practice! 

Jenny’s influence can also be seen across the 46 editions of NiTRO over six years. All of these past editions are curated in the NiTRO ARCHIVE section of our new website. This is an invaluable resource that tells the history of where we’ve come from and what kinds of issues have shaped the current moment. 

We have also had a name change: Creative Matters (note the change in URL NiTRO references the non-traditional research output nomenclature given to our work since creative research outputs were recognised by ERA (Evaluation Research Assessment in Australia). We think it’s time that we position our work in a more affirmative way, to signify what we think has been an important evolution in how creative practice research is positioned within the university – or perhaps this is too confident and we should say how we want, or rather don’t want, to be understood in relation to other disciplines (and what we think is a hangover from Anglo-European post-Enlightenment supremacy). 

The format of this new-look Creative Matters is also a little different so that we can accommodate the growth this sector has had since the publication’s first edition in 2016. We will be releasing three main, themed issues each year, and also publishing a NEWS section more regularly so we can keep you updated with developments in policy changes, events of interest, job opportunities and any other relevant updates. We hope this enables the DDCA community to stay connected and to have a place to come for up-to-date information relevant to creative practice research. 

It is within this context of growth, change and reflection that we have collected the pieces in this first issue of the year to interrogate how we want to be Valuing Artistic Practice for a New Era. We start with a A Manifesto for the Future of Creative Research Excellence composed by three of the four editors of this issue: Grayson Cooke, Craig Batty, Tully Barnett. As with all good manifestos this one ignites a fervour for positive change that celebrates the productive complexities inherent in artistic research. The piece articulates precisely the revolutionary potential of artistic research: not just for our disciplines, or universities, or governments, but expanding our philosophical understandings, and practices of, this condition of existing as social beings.

2023 has seen the release of the new national cultural policy Revive. Tully Barnett, Emma Webb, and Justin O’Connor have kindly given permission for us to publish their Submission to the Senate Inquiry into the National Cultural Policy. The authors are part of the Reset Arts and Culture collaborative group that seeks ‘new concepts and language drawn from heterodox economics, feminism, Indigenous thought, and environmentalism to develop new understandings of arts and culture as part of the foundations of social life’. In their letter this imperative is clearly articulated in how we might put into practice the notion that the arts have ‘intrinsic value’ in our society.

In Susanna Castleden’s elegant essay Navigation and Visibility: an artist in a university, she weaves the various strands of her roles as artist, academic and Dean of Research to show ways in which these positions and the spaces they traverse are not always in a comfortable relationship. One of the outcomes of this is a variously conceived notion of ‘value’ and a difficult-to-measure ‘impact’ of creative practice research works.

Joseph Toltz in Artistic Research: if we are not for ourselves, who will be for us? composes a list of unhelpful practices that have been institutionalised as a result of previous ERA guidelines. But he also offers us a second list of things that might help to find a healthier place for creative practice research in the university research ecology. 

Vanessa Tomlinson in Untethered and Together considers what this moment of suspension in the ERA exercise has both troubled and enabled in regards to the ways we practice and ways we understand that practice in relation to broader contexts of university and government agendas. Vanessa shares a triumph which is Griffith University’s Creative Works platform which makes visible and celebrates the creative practice research conducted at the university. It is certainly a way to get a sense of the scope and diversity of research practice. 

We end with Julian Knowles’ piece Recognising and Understanding Creative Practice Research in the Modern University: the problem of historical blindness, some theories, and a new NTRO benchmarking project. Julian has seen various iterations of reporting, changes in government and institutional structures that have influenced how we do what we do, and how it is understood and valued. He also contextualises these rather recent drivers in the institution within a much more established history of creative practice music scholarship to demonstrate a misguided notion that creative practice is something new and ‘non-traditional’. As the title suggests, there’s a lot of ground covered in the read which shows the many interrelated strands that influence some of the ‘problems’ encountered (and perhaps confected) in our disciplines and how we report and evaluate what we do.

As we read these voices side by side in this edition the field that they make visible is complex but coherent, the expression of the complexity is clear. The insights, suggestions and visions for the future are bold. The maturity we hear has been cultivated for years – trial and error and attentive consideration on how to create conditions for good research. What we also read here are the ways in which these mature voices can be undermined by bureaucratic demands and lack of understanding and flexibility. Too often we find reporting systems and systems of evaluation are too rigid to truly account for the scope and diversity of creative practice research. Reporting systems ought to be enabling, not a hinderance and creation of busy-work that does not serve the creation of research. This edition of Creative Matters has much to offer, both practical and conceptual, to the decision-makers currently drawing up new models for reporting and evaluation for research, as well as to leaders, practitioners and administrators, all of whom shape the tone of the conversation, processes, procedures and policies.

At this time we have the opportunity to revision systems that create conditions for creative practice researchers to practice at the edges of what we already know; systems that can account for the truly new; systems that don’t encourage defensive positions and binary thinking around the apparently traditional in relation to the apparently non-traditional. The National Cultural Policy has just enough poetry and expansive thinking to allow us an optimism that we might be in a time of positive change.

This editorial ends with a moment of pause and reflection on the passing of our respected colleague, mentor and friend, Ross Gibson. For over three decades Ross Gibson has given Australia and the world his remarkable insights into culture, country, language and history. Ross’s unique sensibility and sensitivity to how language shapes land, and country shapes culture, was so important to creative research in Australia because it was expressed across so many modes and forms, from academic writing to poetry, curation, art and screen production. We will miss the breadth and generosity of his voice, as much as we will miss his presence and mentorship in our theatres, conferences, classrooms, galleries, residencies and other places.

More from this issue


Each issue of Creative Matters will focus a particular theoretical work on the topic of creative practice research. For this

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Each issue of Creative Matters will focus a particular creative practice research project. But for this edition we put out a

Read More +

More from this issue

GRAYSON COOKE, CRAIG BATTY, TULLY BARNETT ––– As leaders in creative research in our institutions, we want to foster success, engagement, ambition and sensitivity to the needs of the sector. As artists, we want to focus on making and supporting creative work.
TULLY BARNETT, EMMA WEBB AND JUSTIN O'CONNOR ––– We contend that work will need to be done to ensure that the policy can be implemented in a timely and resourced way and in a manner supports a bipartisan approach to cultural policy so that Revive can set a foundation for the sector for decades to come.
SUSANNA CASTLEDEN ––– Being an artist and an academic is about contributing to the cultural capital of a community. From its inception a work of art is created to engage, however, navigating how to measure the success of this, what the cultural impact is, remains difficult to measure and evidence. This ‘wicked problem’ seems to be pertinent for funding bodies, galleries and universities alike.
JOSEPH TOLTZ ––– Artistic practice researchers had been battling internally (within the academy) for years for peer recognition and a slice of the awards and grant offerings. Inclusion in ERA may have seemed like a victory in 2009, but it was fairly pyrrhic. Is it any wonder that academics engaged in artistic research are weary?
VANESSA TOMLINSON ––– Endless questions linger about creative research processes – and everyone reading this article would have heard these before: what is the threshold (size, length, importance) for a work or a body of work being accepted as a creative research output? Who is qualified to endorse this decision? How do we have parity and consistency across artistic disciplines with different working methods, timelines and artefacts (a feature film may take longer to produce than a poem, an exhibition of works longer to paint than an improvised music event)?
PROFESSOR JULIAN KNOWLES ––– By way of background, I have been working as an academic since the mid-1990s across four different institutions... and my career has been built on creative practice research and the leadership of creative practice-based disciplines and schools. In that time, I have worked as an ERA code leader and Head of School at three of these institutions and assessed ERA for all four rounds...

Each issue of Creative Matters will focus a particular theoretical work on the topic of creative practice research. For this edition we put out a call to the community to share their most dear, influential or go-to publications. The list below is long, the dates span 1993-2022, and we also note the discipline-specific and more […]

Each issue of Creative Matters will focus a particular creative practice research project. But for this edition we put out a call to the DDCA community to share recommendations on peer-reviewed outlets that publish creative practice works. We share this list with you here. This is not a complete list, of course, and there are many venues […]

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By Samantha Donnelly — "Architecture is really about well-being. On the one hand it's about shelter, but it's also about pleasure." Zaha Hadid (Iraqi-British Architect)

In 2015, The Australian National University’s School of Art and Design’s Environment Studio launched a unique field-based program, The Balawan Elective, honourably named with guidance and permissions of the First Nations community on Yuin Country, after their culturally significant mountain Balawan … Seven years on, much has come from these cherished relationships.

For some years now, I’ve taught a course called Pop & Trash … It’s always struck me as entirely odd that I teach a course that attempts to critique such constructed cultural hierarchies, and the next day I need to report to my university my ERA outputs based on the same outdated and outmoded cultural hierarchies and notions of impact.

By Jen Webb — In 2018 I wrote a piece for NiTRO subtitled ‘Are we there yet?’, tracing some of the practical and institutional effects of the Dawkins reforms that folded art schools and other creative teaching programs into universities. At that stage I felt reasonably sanguine about the futures of creative disciplines: despite a variety of hurdles, creative practice seemed fairly well embedded in the Australian academy.
Professor Barb Bolt is well known here and overseas for her work in creative arts research and particularly the creative PhD. Now that she has stepped away from the university “day job” we took the opportunity to get her perspective of the past and current state of play in tertiary creative arts in this extended Q&A with NiTRO Editor Jenny Wilson.

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For those following the intensifying links between the economy, equality, sustainability and democracy deficit (clue: problems in the first three, create problems in the fourth), the absence of culture as a domain of serious policy attention is startling.

By Professor Marie Sierra — With the Federal Government pausing the next Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) round, now is a good time to consider the value, and growing influence, of non-traditional research outputs.

In June 2016, we launched the first issue of NiTRO and it is hard to believe that that was over seven years ago. It feels both a short time and a very long time with the last two to three years, stretching time in uncanny ways.

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