Elizabeth Ann Macgregor is director of the Museum of Contemporary ArtAustralia.
Last week a group of students occupied the administration building in the hope of forcing the university into making a commitment to the Callan Park campus or to finding an independent alternative. The one existing independent art school, the NAS, is still in discussions about its future, with little indication that the Federal Government is inclined to take over its funding except in the context of a university merger. Supporters have, however, gathered 13,000 signatures in a petition that calls for the school to remain independent and to be given a long-term lease.
Which brings us to what some argue is the crux of the matter: the Dawkins report into higher education in 1989 which caused the merging of art schools with universities and, some would argue, into a new way of assessing funding that is increasingly inimical to art school practice with its emphasis on studios and one-to-one teaching. Some art schools have succeeded in working within bigger departments but their success is dependent on key people within the university hierarchies being supportive of fine art as a discipline. Others have been less successful, or appear under increasing threat.
What is certainly true and worrying for the sector is that the focus away from studio practice, which the NAS and SCA excel in, will have a serious long-term effect on Australia’s visual arts, especially given the recent cuts to the small-scale sector by the Australia Council for the Arts – a response to the redistribution of funding from the Australia Council to the Federal Ministry for the Arts. […]
We are all hoping that sanity will prevail and that the powers that be will recognise that cutting off access to creative visual arts tertiary education is a sure-fire way to reduce Sydney to what some cynics have always suspected it to be: crass and commercial rather than sophisticated and cultured. That would indeed be a great pity when, in artistic terms, the past few years have seen a greater international interest in contemporary Australian art. The MCA/Tate joint acquisition programme supported by Qantas is a good example of the ways in which Australian art is being celebrated overseas. We need to continue to campaign for local support for creative practice to safeguard the artistic future of the country.