Trouble at Sydney’s art schools


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.

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Students denounce Sydney College of the Arts merger


Sydney College of the Arts students and staff are continuing their protests against the University of Sydney administration’s attempts to transfer the highly-regarded fine arts institution onto another campus. Students spoke to WSWS reporters about the impact on their studies and their artistic work.

Cecilia, one of those occupying the SCA administration building, spoke with WSWS reporters last week. She is a sculptural ceramicist and studying for a masters’ degree in fine arts.

“I’m supposed to finish in February this year and this has caused immense stress on myself and in my work,” she said. “How can you be reading and writing your thesis paper with all of this going on? … Am I going to have a studio to finish my work, to fire my vessels, my sculptures in the kilns? Am I going to have a supervisor, to supervise my research? What am I supposed to do?

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Australia: Students occupy Sydney College of the Arts

Around a dozen students from the Sydney College of the Arts (SCA), which is connected to the University of Sydney (USYD), are occupying the top floor of the college’s administration building at Callan Park in Rozelle.


The occupation, which began on August 22, is part of a series of protests by staff and students against last month’s announcement by Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence that USYD would combine the SCA with the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the university’s overcrowded Camperdown/Darlington campus. […]
University of Sydney NTEU president Michael Thompson demagogically declared that the SCA debt could be resolved by cutting the salaries of the deputy vice-chancellor and vice-chancellor.

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Sydney Uni has set up SCA to fail, SCA is getting screwed

SCA has an alleged deficit of $5 million.The University of Sydney charges SCA ~$5 million/year for the Kirkbride campus. The NSW government charges the university ~$330,000/year. SCA is getting screwed.

The University of Sydney’s argument for the relocation of Sydney College of the Arts is that it is financially unviable, although the university itself has set up SCA to fail. According to the University’s own financial modelling shared by the Principal Solicitor at the SRC* – SCA has a total revenue in 2016 of $11.2m with an expenditure of $6.9m. This leads to a $4.3m surplus before the university’s own internal recoveries – charges to SCA from the university for shared resources (UEM charges). These include a services charge, space charge, capital charge, strategic levy and research support levy. All faculties and school pay these UEM charges.

What is unique about SCA, is that its UEM charge is more than 80% of its total income. SCA is charged $9.1m. Most faculties would have a UEM charge closer to 40-50% of their total revenue, although these numbers are not published anywhere despite a request from Professor Drynan of the USYD academic board to Spence in 2010 for a more “transparent system”* regarding the UEM.

I have submitted a FOI to the university to get a clearer outline of how the UEM is being calculated across faculties, but in the meantime I have undertaken some reverse accounting using what data I could find on the university’s website: primarily the ‘Submission to the Higher Education Base Funding Review’** from 2011. With this information I came to a (very) rough estimate of the breakdown of the UEM charge to SCA as $790k to DVC, $284k for research levy, $630k for capital charge and $1.8m for services charge – leaving a space charge of $5 million! Please keep in mind this is just ‘informed’ speculation.

A university spokesperson has said: “Those supporting no change to the SCA have argued that it is in surplus, but this is because the figures used are before any charges for energy, maintenance, student administration, marketing, finance, recruitment, ICT systems, telecommunications, research management, learning and teaching support, the learning management system for students and a whole host of other activities and services. It is when all those services are costed that the SCA falls into significant deficit. If there was no central mechanism for paying for these and the SCA had to fund all these services from its own resources, it would still be in significant deficit.”****

This is completely untrue, because if SCA funded these services with its own resources, it would only be paying $330k for renting the campus from NSW government – not the $5 million the university charges. The university will argue that the $5 million also goes towards maintenance, capital works, energy etc. But even with these costs, and the NSW government’s offer to pay for maintenance that existed in the original agreement – the ‘space costs’ would be far far far less than what Sydney university charges.





Nick Greiner letter reveals Sydney University was offered subsidy to run art school

Photo: Daniel Munoz

Photo: Daniel Munoz

In 1991, then NSW premier Nick Greiner presented the University of Sydney with an offer too good to refuse.

Not only would the state government provide a site at Callan Park in Lilyfield for the university’s art school, but Greiner also promised to gift the CBD building that housed the law school to the university to do with it as it pleased.

As a further gesture of ‘good faith’ towards the university,” Greiner wrote, “the government will agree to the university having complete title over the Law School Building in Phillip Street.” (The Philips Street Law School was recently sold by The University of Sydney for $45 million.)

“Kirkbride provided the school with sufficient space – critically assessed – to be able to cater for a full range of art and craft practises at an affordable cost,” he said. “The university was to provide institutional stability and gain Australia’s then most influential art school. 1472628238940-2

The 1991 letter from Nick Greiner to Sydney University offering the Kirkbride complex.  1472628238940-1

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‘I am incredulous’: Former NSW arts minister says parliament should review SCA decision



In a pointed rebuke of the University of Sydney, former NSW arts minister Peter Collins has slammed the decision to move SCA away from its Rozelle campus, as Tom Joyner reports.

‘I am incredulous’: Former NSW arts minister says parliament should review SCA decision

In a pointed rebuke of the University of Sydney, a former NSW arts minister has described his disappointment and incredulity with the announcement to move SCA from its Rozelle campus, calling for the decision to be reviewed by NSW parliament.

Former NSW Liberal opposition leader and arts minister Peter Collins AM QC, who oversaw the handover of the colonial-era Kirkbride complex to the art school in 1996, said he was “incredulous” of the University’s decision to “walk away” from its commitment to the visual arts.

“It disappoints me enormously dumping SCA, walking away from it and walking away from the vision enunciated now the best part of three decades ago,” he told Honi Soit. “Vice-chancellors get it wrong. Right as they are, they are capable of making mistakes. I think this is a mistake.”

The University announced the art school would be absorbed by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences on the Camperdown campus after plans to create a joint ‘centre for excellence’ with UNSW collapsed in July, following a public outcry and sustained community campaign.

The University is a statutory body in NSW and comes under the purview of the parliament’s public accounts committee, which plays an important role in accountability within the state’s public sector.

“[University administrators] are really looking at the bottom line. How valid their figures are in reaching their bottom line I think is open to examination. I would like to see the public accounts committee of the NSW parliament put it to the test,” Collins said.

Collins said the lack of consultative process and transparency around the decision was “retrograde” and demonstrated a lack of foresight on the part of the University.

“This was a decision announced unilaterally, basically as a done deal. There wasn’t any sort of consultative process. I think it was a decision taken by the University executive and I think it’s a very regrettable decision,” he said.

Collins, who is personally on good terms with both the Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence and Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson, said the two most powerful members of the University administration should be judged on their record, not their rhetoric.

“While I like [Spence and Hutchinson] as individuals, I think you judge people by what they do, and the University’s actions indicate it is stepping away from an earlier commitment, a strong and very visible commitment to the visual arts.”

He said the Vice-Chancellor had gone back on the legacy of then vice-chancellor, John Manning Ward, who he said understood the value of a dedicated visual arts campus in Rozelle.

The University is yet to finalise plans for the school’s move to the Camperdown campus.

Save Sydney College of the Arts Occupation


“We’re staying until our demands are met.”

Interview and video footage from the Save Sydney College of the Arts Occupation happening now!!

Support the occupation:

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SCA — here to stay, say occupying students

First Nations activists support arts students’ occupation

Students occupy to save arts college


Zebedee Parkes

After months of protests, mass meetings and failed talks with the University of Sydney administration, about a dozen Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) students started an occupation of the Dean’s office at its Callan Park campus in Rozelle on August 22.

SCA students dropped a banner reading “Under new management” from an office window and barricaded the doors as staff left the building. Since then, supporters have been protesting twice daily outside the occupied building, sending food and supplies to the occupation via a basket pulled up by a rope.

The Let SCA Stay campaign is demanding that: the arts college stay at Callan Park; there be no staff cuts; the reinstatement of the Bachelor of Visual Arts (BVA) degree; and an independent review of the SCA’s financial situation.

“We’re in a crisis and we’ve had to take extreme action to get what we want,” Suzy Faiz, a fine arts masters student told Green Left Weekly on August 22.

To date, there has being minimal security presence and no police. The administration has turned off the student accessible WiFi, but no other moves have been made to remove or dissuade occupying students.

While earlier protests had pressured management to back down from its initial proposal to merge SCA with the University of NSW’s Arts and Design School, it is refusing to reinstate the BVA or budge on its decision to move SCA to the main Camperdown campus.

Faiz said the occupation will continue, “until we get a proper response [from the university] and they meet some of our demands.”

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First Nations activists support arts students’ occupation



First Nations activists Raymond Weatherall and Ken Canning have sent solidarity messages to the students occupying the Sydney Arts School (SCA) in protest at the University of Sydney’s corporatisation plans.

* * *

I am Ngarr Birriwa Galimaay, I am Gamilaraay, Goonal Goonal clan. Through my uncles I have started my cultural journey and have begun to learn how important art is for expression, story telling and empowering ourselves and future generations.

In being forcibly assimilated so much of cultural arts and forms of expression have been lost through the generations.

Our youth are modernising culture through various forms of art, not only to express themselves but also to form their own cultural understanding and connection within themselves.

This also enables others to share in our culture through better understanding so that it can be enjoyed by those who are not Indigenous to this country, without using our sacred dances and songs.

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