14 December 2020

Critics say ANU School of Arts cuts threaten an unparalleled legacy of excellence

| Genevieve Jacobs
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ANU's School of Arts

ANU’s School of Arts is facing significant changes as the university struggles with major budget problems. Photo: File.

Confusion and concern continue to reign over the proposed cuts to the ANU’s School of Arts, and the situation hasn’t been helped by what insiders say are notably unclear communications about the University’s plans.

The ANU needs to save $103 million a year to 2023 and lose hundreds of positions as a consequence of the pandemic’s dire effects on overseas student numbers.

Proposals are included in the Managing Change Document in response to the ANU Recovery Plan. The document details an annual operating budget deficit of $2 million, which would be bigger but for a direct subsidy from the University of over $1 million a year.

READ ALSO ANU plans arts cuts, one admin for Art and Design and Music

Senior staff agree that what’s proposed for the School of Art is in no way equivalent to the devastating cuts wrought on the School of Music in 2012, from which it has taken almost a decade to recover student numbers and staff morale.

But there are fears that one of the last remaining Bauhaus workshop models of arts teaching in Australia is under threat and, with it, the reputation for excellence that’s emerged from the School of Art over many years.

Critics including Canberra arts patron Max Bourke, who was the longest-serving CEO of the Australia Council for the Arts.

Mr Bourke, who also managed the largest philanthropic support program for glass art in Australia, the Thomas Foundation, says that the glass arts are a good example of how under-appreciated major Australian artists are in their own backyard and the Art School’s important legacy.

“We celebrate the likes of Arthur Boyd and Brett Whitely as great Australian artists, but the international reputation established by people who have come out of the ANU would far surpass most of them,” he says.

“In my time at the Australia Council and the Thomas Foundation we gave and supported the glass school very handsomely, for example, because it was arguably the best art school in this discipline in the world. Travelling internationally, major figures like Dale Chihuly would ask us where we’d found all these amazing artists?

“Klaus Moje, Richard Whitely and others have huge international reputations that many Australians simply don’t comprehend. There’s been a string of wonderful women and men through the school of world significance who have gone on to major appointments internationally.”

Cuts are currently proposed for the furniture jewellery and object workshops, including 2.5 academic level staff positions. There was not a proposal to merge the glass and ceramics workshops though this initially appeared to be intended through staffing alterations.

READ ALSO 103 positions set to go at ANU School of Science

Animation and video programs may be dropped with the loss of two academic staff positions. Two technical officer professional positions are likely to be cut or restructured.

There are some changes to convenors roles for Honours and Postgraduate coursework, but these changes align with the way in which convenors are engaged in other Schools. However School of Arts staff, students and alumni say they are fighting hard to retain the School’s Art and Design Gallery, an important platform for student exhibitions, at the current staffing level.

The ANU says that all staff are being offered redeployment with a range of Level B and Level C positions to cover the disciplines that will be retained at the School of Art.

Mr Bourke says that the school’s workshop model encouraged a culture of excellence that developed across the fields as diverse as ceramics, leather and furniture-making.

“Any proposal to shut down or minimise workshops risks being the death of them. They should shut down a number of other low achieving schools at the ANU before this, and I say that as a graduate of ANU,” Mr Bourke said.

“The artwork and the research have been truly extraordinary and innovative. We can’t sit by and watch it all go down the tubes.”

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You would have thought Arts would be an area with a more solid business case to the nations capital, national university etc, they should be cutting the useless disciplines like gender this or that, the ones we all know are sheltered workshops for extremist left protected species

Every part of the ANU is taking cuts. Even the ones that usually produce money, unlike the school of arts.

HiddenDragon8:33 pm 13 Dec 20

“But there are fears that one of the last remaining Bauhaus workshop models of arts teaching in Australia is under threat…”

The reference to the Bauhaus is a striking insight – wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of our big, local property developers took inspiration from that iconic institution and formed a partnership with the School of Arts to be involved in the design, decoration and furnishing of Canberra (and, hopefully, inter-state) dwellings, offices and public buildings.

Aside from the potential benefits for a fine local institution, this would bring a very refreshing change from standard bland, could-be-anywhere-in-the-western-world, look which is all too common in our buildings and their interiors.

In the meantime, a generous squirt of cash from one of our munificent local squillionaires would be very helpful!

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