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A Future for Creativity in Universities

Up next at SPIN is Rod Wissler, Director of Research and Research Training at QUT - he begins by stressing again the question of innovation in addition to a focus on artistic practice; this also enables artistic practitioners to measure the impact of their work. He notes the long-term impact, for example, of a work such as James Joyce's Ulysses on the Irish economy, even though such impact would have been entirely impossible to forecast at or before the point of publication of the book. This is a problem for artists attempting to claim their relevance and significance, of course, and points to the continuing need for advocacy by bodies such as CHASS.

Rod now turns to three key areas:

  • students and staffing
  • infrastructure
  • links between teaching, research and industry

Students and staffing presents a problem as student/staff ratios are rising; however, teaching in artistic fields has been a crucial driver of innovation in these areas. The imperative of creative problem-solving, communication and teamwork has also been well-recognised here, and adds to students' employability. Because of this, creative industries disciplines also provide a great deal of service teaching into virtually all other areas. However, increasingly teaching has been delivered by a casual staff workforce due to declining funds. Other funding sources will need to be explored, and the Australian academic workforce needs to be regenerated. Ironically, student demand for courses in these areas continues to grow; there may need to be concerted efforts across the university, TAFE, and high school sectors to deal with this, and even private tuition might come to play a growing role here. In other words, high-quality university education in the creative industries fields offers an important contribution to a wide range of courses as well as its own specialist degrees.

In terms of infrastructure, Rod points to the spaces, materials, and other resources required for creative industries practices. He notes that in contrast to scientific disciplines the creative industries have so far not made enough claims for key infrastructure items, and do not currently explore well enough the potential for sharing these resources.

Rod continues by pointing out that research-led teaching must be viewed as fundamental to creative industries disciplines. The fluidity of authority in learner/teacher roles in this environment contributes to innovation in this context. Further, the involvement of industry in such practices will be crucial, both as far as staff and student opportunities and as infrastructure are concerned. New pathways towards cooperation are becoming available, also because industry is increasingly staffed by people with tertiary qualifications in their fields who have experienced university and know the contributions university staff and students can make to their work. These new cultural industry leaders may be either very important advocates or very damaging critics, however, and their voices will be heard; all going well they will also be the facilitators of a broader uptake of our artistic speculations. This is because the work of academic practice-led researchers is diffused not by conferences, publications, and other traditional academic venues, but through concentric circles of artists, exhibitions, festivals, etc. This also requires a better involvement of industry leaders at conferences and in other academic fora, then, to begin the wider diffusion process.

Any advocacy position for the cultural or creative industries which downplays or denigrates the high arts sector is confusing and counter-intuitive, Rod further notes. The high arts sector is vital to the impact of the broader field. On the other hand, the broad base of popular and amateur involvement also needs to be recognised from an academic perspective; such points of broad popular contact must not be regarded by academic researchers as irrelevant. Amateurs and hobbyists are informed consumers and active participants in the creative, knowledge economy (that's a very conservative view - in fact active their involvement is much greater even than this already, I think!). Academic disciplines will benefit from adopting a much broader, inclusive conceptualisation of their fields. This must also extend to sister disciplines in the academy in order to foster a broader and more interdisciplinary knowledge base which overcomes an overly disciplinary, siloised focus.