ACUADS Chair’s Conference Report – Thinking the Future: Art, Design and Creativity

Posted on 30 Sep 2006

Su Baker, Head, School of Art, Victorian College of the Arts

The 2006 Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools Conference Thinking the Future: Art, Design and Creativity celebrated 25 years of successful advocacy for the tertiary art and design sector. It was a new opportunity to do what artist and designers do best, to observe the environment, evaluate the scale and dimensions of the problem and set about dealing with the challenges; to think creatively and to imagine the future.

The Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools (ACUADS) was established in 1981 (initially as the National Conference of Heads of Arts and Design Schools – NCHADS) as an association of heads of departments, schools and colleges of art and design. NCHADS served as an informal link between executive officers providing support and direction to the development of art and design education in Australia for more than ten years. The change of name in 1994 to ACUADS was intended to reflect the location of art and design schools in the National Unified System of Australian Universities. In 2003, membership was extended to include other major TAFE institutions offering degree courses.

ACUADS has taken a leading role in advocacy. It has grown with the sector, helped to consolidate the place of tertiary art and design education and research in the Higher Education sector and contributed to managing the changes that have been visited on the Schools and their staff and students over the last 25 years.

On this 25th Anniversary year the effort of ACUADS is again being called upon to help shape the new intellectual and artistic environment for tertiary art and design education. We face the challenges of the shrinking budgets and growing costs, of an increasingly competitive public/private mix of education providers; the increasing pressures of students who struggle to juggle part-time work and full-time study and of course the demands from government that weigh heavily on the Universities with which we are now, in most part, an integrated part. The nature of contemporary art and design itself has gone through considerable change as would be expected over these culturally dynamic 25 years. Not only are the disciplines themselves evolving, but how artists work and how their work is received, consumed, engaged with, is now greatly developed and diversified.

Through the introductory session Setting the Scene on Day One of the conference, at the VCA, University of Melbourne, we heard from Denise Chalmers, Director, Carrick Awards and Fellowships Schemes, The Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education on ‘What can the Carrick Institute do to help you achieve your vision of learning and teaching in Art and Design’. The Carrick Institute has much to offer the sector and they are keen to assist the creative arts to establish greater strengths in the delivery of the learning experience to students.

We also heard a report back from UNESCO, held this year in Lisbon, from Professor Elizabeth Grierson, Head, School of Art, RMIT University and Professor Bernard Hoffert, Associate Dean External Affairs and Associate Dean Graduate Studies, Faculty of Art & Design, Monash University, chaired by Associate Professor Robyn Stewart, Executive Member ACUADS and Head of Visual Arts, University of Southern Queensland.

The ongoing expansion opportunities and challenges for our sector in the increased engagement with Research and Research Training was a theme of many discussions at the conference. ACUADS has been contributing to this debate for the past 15 years and continues to drive the increasing acceptance and recognition of the value and research capacity of the creative arts. There was much discussion about potential projects to evaluate the standards of the creative arts PhD and there was a will to seek support to undertake such an exercise. Associate Professor Anne Marsh and Associate Professor Su Baker discussed their recent involvement with DEST working parties on the metrics for quality and impact in research in the creative arts.

Professor Ted Snell, Professor of Contemporary Art and Dean of Art, John Curtin Centre, Curtin University of Technology, presented on the increasingly important issue of public engagement or knowledge transfer as expressed through the universities’ art galleries and museums and the critical role that exhibition and critical writing on contemporary arts play in the building of new knowledge and understanding with a broader public focus.

Reporting on the pre-conference CHASS-sponsored workshop on the Creative Arts and the Research Quality Framework (RQF), Emeritus Professor David Williams reinforced the important revival of the coalition of interests with our peak body colleagues in the creative arts fields. Colleagues from Music, Film, Theatre, Dance and Creative Writing peak bodies came together to discuss a unified approach to the engagement with the RQF process. Following these discussions an article by Huib Schippers, published in the Australian newspaper on 4 October 2006, elegantly outlined the key matters for our sector.

The four thematic roundtables of Wednesday afternoon offered opportunities to focus on the structural and management imperatives and pressure on Schools in the sector; an examination of the cross sector relationships between University and TAFE providers; the shifting imperatives of learning, teaching and research in the conceptually and technically volatile area of Photomedia and the particular role and character of art history and theory teaching in art and design schools.

The first Keynote address, hosted by the Faculty of Art & Design at Monash University on Day Two of the Conference, was presented by The Hon. Mr Peter Garrett AM MP, Labor Member for Kingsford Smith and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Reconciliation and the Arts. His topic was ‘Today’s Philistine’. His passionate and well-articulated position was widely publicised in the press the following day. Peter Garrett’s contribution to the conference mood was greatly appreciated.

The second Keynote shifted to a more reflective tone with Gregory Burgess with his lecture ‘The Multiplicity of the Whole’, which focussed the attention on professional practice and public engagement.

The Conference Dinner was an occasion to present awards and to honour the achievements of outstanding colleagues and in this case also to acknowledge the retirement of Emeritus Professor David Williams, recently retired as Director of the Canberra School of Art, after 20 years, and now a Distinguished Visiting Fellow, The Australian National University, Research School of Humanities and Chair, ANU Visual Arts Foundation Fellowship Awards Presentation. David presented to the group a personal reflection on the history of ACUADS over its 25 year life. This was of great interest and caused amusement to many, some who had travelled the course and others to whom this history is new. David’s significant contribution to this history was acknowledged by his receiving ACUADS’ highest honour, the ACUADS Fellowship Award.

Day Three of the Conference came and we were introduced to the remarkable work of Lebanese artist and film maker, Jalal Toufic, which provided us with a timely reminder that we are all in the service of art and design work, and conferences such as these should not lose sight of the importance of showcasing the work itself.

The parallel sessions over Days Two/Three were an important opportunity for us to hear of the richness of research being undertaken in our Schools and Colleges. It was an opportunity for established and emerging researchers to present their work to peers and for the breadth of perspectives to be seen and heard. These papers will be refereed and published on the ACUADS web site before the end of 2006.

ACUADS thanks all participants and the organising committee for another successful conference.

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