Issue 36 | Editor’s Note

“It’s a disturbing thing that we still have to defend the National Arts School,” Ann Thompson says in the most recent issue of ARTIST PROFILE. Ann was referring to the possible merger with a Sydney university and the relocation of the National Art School (NAS) from its historic Darlinghurst gaol site. Hopefully the future of NAS will be more assured while this issue is current. Ann, like Reg Mombassa, who features on our cover, is a former NAS student.

JVeditorsThe diversity of Australian tertiary art education, through university or TAFE, has served the community well in the development of artists. Institutions have continually pushed the boundaries and constantly improved. Some of the world’s most important artists, including Jane Campion and Marc Newson, have come from Australian tertiary art institutions, and many international students come to Australia to experience and gather knowledge within a critically diverse, yet easy-going culture.

Our current issue, highlighting Reg Mombassa’s career, profoundly illustrates the impact that a diverse and rigorous Australian tertiary art education has had on other artists we interview. Their pathways to these schools, and their journeys after studies, are all distinctive. Feature artist Ross Laurie, who needed five art schools, tells Joe Frost, “Mostly because after a year they pleaded with me to go somewhere else. London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Melbourne, Sydney, Bathurst. My curiosity was a bit of an irritant.”

Investment in high quality arts education is expensive, but no more than other areas of education. Many of the benefits of quality tertiary arts education are realised over a long period of time and it can be often difficult to find appropriate qualitative measurements. Sara Sweet writes that for feature artist Karen Mills, a school excursion to the Art Gallery of South Australia was a life-changing moment, because there she saw Jackson Pollock’s ‘Blue Poles’. “It was the moment that I fell in love with expressionist art and abstraction. I have continued to be inspired by it ever since,” says Mills.

Another featured artist, Catherine O’Donnell says, “Today if I was going to art school with the fee structure the way it is I would probably lean towards university over TAFE, as it is more cost-effective in the long run.” Catherine is referring to the latest increase of NSW Government TAFE fees, which have had an enormous impact on the VET FEE-HELP system, introduced by recent Federal governments. According to Paul Forward, AFU Federal TAFE Secretary, in the winter 2016 issue of The Australian TAFE Teacher, “Since the introduction of VET FEE-HELP student fees have skyrocketed. The amount of funding for loans has risen dramatically between 2012 and 2015 by 380 per cent at TAFE.”

The proposed ‘Heads of Agreement’ managing the merger of Sydney College for the Arts (SCA) – (The University of Sydney) with the University of NSW Art and Design, has fortunately been terminated. This followed protests from the arts community across the country. The open letter of support from the students and staff at SCA revealed several telling issues. First, how poorly conceived the ‘Heads of Agreement’ was, and second, the long-term damage this Agreement would have had on The University of Sydney’s relationship with its students.

However, according to SCA student representative Patrizia Biondi there has been immediate damage: as a result of this Agreement, SCA students are preparing a class action against the University of Sydney. Biondi says, “The SRC Solicitor is currently taking instructions from 105 enrolled students, but I believe that, as we speak, this number is increasing.” The University of Sydney’s ‘University Economic Model’ which applies a space tax for all of its faculties, including the SCA’s Kirkbride premises, is revealed to have placed an inordinate burden on small departments which need space.

This means SCA “pays” for every square metre of space, such as studios and even corridors. ARTIST PROFILE has found it difficult to get an exact costing of running SCA, but staff of SCA, speaking on the assurance of confidentiality, estimate around 65 per cent of SCA revenue is returned to the Sydney University central administration, which makes it almost impossible to produce a surplus.

This ‘University Economic Model’, like so many management-driven models, is entirely inappropriate for an institution that should have as its prime focus the advancement of skills and knowledge. The proposed relocation has quite clearly NOT been thought through Announcing the move of SCA Kirkbride students to a new and as yet unbuilt premises reinforces the misguided and impulsive nature of this administration. Creativity requires diverse options; the SCA must not come to the same fate as my art school, The Nepean College of the Arts, University of Western Sydney.


Image: Justine Varga, Accumulate, 2014-15, installation view, NSW Visual Arts, Fellowship (Emerging), Artspace, Sydney, 2015; photographer Zan Wimberley, courtesy the artist. 

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