Combining our various arts and music schools and departments into a single multi-arts academy could mean SA would “lead the nation in creative industries education,” Douglas Gautier told a CEDA arts conference last week.
If only achieving national leadership in arts education were that simple. Would the Australian Ballet School produce better dancers if it merged with the Australian National Academy of Music?
Would Mel Gibson or Cate Blanchett have been better off at a multi-arts college than at NIDA? I doubt it: they would say that single-purpose training in Sydney’s famous dramatic arts school was the best and most focused they could have wished for.
The fact is that the specific educational needs of an aspiring dancer, a painter, a musician and an actor are utterly different. Creating a uniform pathway across the educational levels for one of them, as Flinders and TAFE propose for art in StudioSA, makes good sense. But trying to merge all the art forms in a single institution would achieve little but compromise.
And what unmet workforce needs would a large arts education institution meet? Finding regular work in the arts is tough. There are already two multi-arts academies in Australia–the VCA in Melbourne and WAAPA in Perth–and employment prospects for their graduates are always fragile. When I was Dean of the VCA, we had some hugely successful graduates, but also those who ended up selling real estate or driving taxis instead of in artistic careers. Adding an institution to Adelaide that would pour out unemployable graduates is about the last thing the State needs at the moment.
The truth is, what is really needed next in arts education from our existing SA universities and colleges is not an art schools merger, but innovation. We need to start producing young artists who can creatively combine their artistic talent with technological skill and entrepreneurial instincts to survive in the digitally-disrupted world which is ahead for them. We need sound artists who can market their music online, graphic artists who can master the new commercial realities in a digital world, performing ensembles which can create their own virtual venues where their audience is now to be found and grown.
We need educators in individual art forms to interface with their university’s non-arts fields, to create utterly new art that will find new audiences and international attention. The imaginative way young musicians are combining music with media and technology in the new Sia Furler Institute for Contemporary Music and Media at the University of Adelaide is an example of where we need to go next. These young artists are finding ways to combine music, film, new media, and sound engineering to create artistic outcomes at the cutting edge. They will find their audiences.
Arts graduates from innovative programs like this are no different from the founders of commercial startups–innovators who need an angel investor ready to help them scale up, promote their work to new audiences and export their creations to the world. It is investing in the promotion and export of the work of young arts innovators where our government needs to put its arts dollar, not in funding another educational institution.
After all, Adelaide is already the national leader in arts festivals–fabulous creative events that each year showcase to the nation fresh arts innovation from around the world. Would our festival directors fill their programs with the students of a local multi-arts academy? I doubt it. They will continue to seek front-rank originality and imagination, wherever they can find it. If more of it can be sourced from savvy, cross-disciplinary creative artists grown here, our arts educators will have succeeded.
Published April 28, 2016 on AdelaideNow.