The Creative Arts Symposium ‘Practice, Pedagogy and Research in the Creative Arts’ was held at Flinders University on 24 July 2015. Its focus was the relationship between the creative arts and the Academy in respect to new creative practices, new lines of scholarly and creative research, and new approaches to teaching and training. The keynote speaker was Professor Sarah Miller, Head of the School of the Arts, English and Media at the University of Wollongong and Professor of Performance. Eleven papers were presented across five of the seven creative arts currently represented at Flinders University and its allied institution, the Adelaide College of the Arts. These are drama, screen studies, digital media, creative writing, visual arts, fashion, and dance. These streams, which together comprise the Bachelor of Creative Arts, offer a combination of vocational arts training and humanities research education. The forty staff teaching in the area are a mix of pure researchers, pure artists, and artist-researchers.
Across Australia there are thirty eight universities, approximately half of which offer some type of creative arts training, and a number of bespoke national institutes – the National Institute for Dramatic Arts (NIDA), the National Institute for Circus Arts (NICA), the Australian National Conservatorium of Music (ANCM), and the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS). A number of universities offer specifically conservatorium-style training, including Edith Cowan University (which incorporates the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts), Griffith University (which incorporates Queensland College of Art and Griffith Film School), and the University of Melbourne (which incorporates the Victoria College of the Arts). There are also a variety of higher education colleges across the country offering graduate diplomas in creative arts and related technical subjects, of which the Adelaide College of the Arts is one of the most prominent.
The range of different teaching and research philosophies in respect of the creative arts can be sampled by examining a selection of the mission statements from the above institutions. For example, NIDA (established 1958) ‘aspires to be one of the world’s pre-eminent education and training institutions for the dramatic arts and an international creative hub of innovative collaborative practice, knowledge exchange and thought leadership’ (NIDA, nd). It is primarily focused on one art form: theatre. By contrast, the Victoria College of the Arts, with its origins in the National Gallery School (established 1867) is comprised of a linked series of schools in ‘visual arts, film and television, animation, screenwriting, dance, theatre, music theatre, production and design’ (VCA, nd). With well-established graduate as well as undergraduate courses it aims to ‘create an atmosphere of critical confidence and creative risk taking… [a] fusion of immersive training and critical investigation provides students with the capacity to present inventive collaborations and high individual achievement’. Different again is the Queensland College of Art, with its design focus. Established in 1881 its is ‘a leader in art and design, offering an extensive range of visual arts programs, including the Griffith Film School… QCA has built an enriched community based upon the finest practitioners and academics in visual art and design, shaping thousands of professional artists, designers, photographers and film-makers locally as well as internationally’ (QCA, nd).
Despite the influence of the Strand Report (1998), which paved the way for consideration of select creative arts activities as ‘non-traditional research outputs’, the status, aims, methods and values of creative arts departments in Australia today vary widely. However, there are signs of convergence, particularly in a commitment to offering degree-level training, and a growing awareness that in a modern knowledge economy, research and creative practice do not stand in opposite corners for most creative arts students. The Deans and Directors of Creative Arts (DDCA), the national peak body for the creative arts in higher education, aims ‘to build strong scholarly and research leadership of the rapidly evolving and increasingly diverse range of disciplines’ and particularly to ‘exert strong leadership in the strategic development of the creative arts as higher education disciplines, building a vibrant culture of scholarship and research through creative practice’ (DDCA, nd).
Within this fluid educational context, Flinders University creative arts area occupies a position somewhere in the middle, sharing aims and methods with creative arts courses around the country, but with its own particular history and South Australian context. As individual institutions grow, merge, then differentiate themselves again, what matters is the self-understanding that arises from operating in a dual creative arts/traditional research environment. If this can produce examples of research that are both high quality and grounded, then the relationship between the creative arts field and university curricula can continue to flourish.
NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art (nd). Available at: https://www.nida.edu.au/about-nida/who-we-are/vision (accessed 27 August 2016).
QCA (Queensland College of the Arts). Available at: http://designfutures.com.au/about/qca (accessed 27 August 2016).
Strand D (1998) Resarch in the Creative Arts. Report: Evaluations and Investigations Program report 98(6). Canberra: Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs.
VCA (Victorian College of the Arts (nd). Available at: https://www.nida.edu.au/about-nida/who-we-are/vision (accessed 27 August 2016).
DDCA (The Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts) http://www.ddca.edu.au/about/ (accessed 27 August 2016).