Fast Forward: a vision for Sydney College of the Arts, co-hosted by Friends of SCA (FOSCA) and Artspace Sydney, was held at Artspace on 31 May 2017. It brought together 20 individuals from across the visual arts and allied areas for an open and wide ranging discussion about the future of Sydney College of the Arts.

You can listen to a complete audio recording of the event here

You can view video excerpts of the event here

The event occurred two days after the University of Sydney released its Final Change Plan (FCP) for Sydney College of the Arts, confirming that the College will relocate in 2019 to the Old Teachers College Building on the Camperdown campus. Organisationally SCA will move from being an independent faculty to a department within the School of Literature, Art and Media (SLAM) in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS).

Fast Forward was conceived by FOSCA, prompted by observing that until now the University’s thinking about SCA has been more concerned with controlling its finances than ensuring its long-term vitality. The event was conceived as an opportunity to think expansively beyond the current situation, in ways that can contribute to a revitalized future for SCA.

The participants came from varied backgrounds and put forward a range of views. However there was complete agreement on these key points: that there is a significant role for a renewed SCA to play in the University and the broader community, and that SCA staff must be the ones to shape its future direction.

The opening session featured six speakers, Lucas Ilhein, Lily Hibberd, Alexie Glass-Kantor, Barry Keldoulis, Grace Cochrane and Helen Grace, who each spoke briefly in response to an allocated question. The level of goodwill towards SCA throughout the room was consistently high:

“This is actually, potentially (if we choose it to be) a really exciting moment, whether it is idea-driven, studio based, conceptual – it depends on the community that is now a part of the new Sydney College of the Arts as it moves into its new home.”

Lucas Ilhein—artist and academic

This did not however prevent people from posing hard questions:

“I think Sydney College of the Arts needs a Strategic Plan. People need to sit in a room for five days with a range of 10-12 stakeholders drawn from teachers and students, from leadership, new executive team, from the University itself and I think they have to ask the question ‘why does Sydney College of the Arts exist? Should it exist? If it does, what does it look like?’”

Alexie Glass-Kantor—Executive Director, Artspace Sydney

 

Lily Hibberd, speaker, with moderator Anne Flanagan
Image credit: Merilyn Fairskye

Ideas explored over the afternoon were:

 

Vision:

SCA is about to move to a new location and renew its curriculum, a situation not unlike where it was 40 years ago, as an institution just starting out, a small community, inspired by shared values.  The move is forcing SCA to confront its future, and not just for the next five years. The opportunity exists to forge a sustainable long-term vision for SCA, yet the one articulated by the University to date is weak and fails to inspire. The staff of SCA urgently need time and resources to develop and articulate their vision for SCA. A strategic plan for the new SCA, established by the staff and clearly articulated to the community, will attract students, and support from institutions outside the University will follow. This should be an immediate task. SCA’s future image and identity depend on this process; they can’t be tacked on.

 

Space:

Space limitations at the Old Teachers College needn’t cripple SCA. They can prompt SCA to spread out into other interesting spaces, unoccupied spaces on and off campus for example. Benefits include curriculum innovations, and new contacts across the University and into the wider community. However well designed core spaces and specialised technical facilities are vital for maintaining skills and for fostering collegiality for staff and students (the latter issue has not been addressed in the FCP). The in-school gallery model shouldn’t be adopted automatically. Its main benefit to students is in learning the practices and protocols of exhibiting professionally.

 

Interdisciplinary and disciplinary approaches:

An interdisciplinary approach is exciting but has inherent dangers that should not be minimised, including the decline of interest among sections of students and diminishment of the disciplines that underpin the interdisciplinarity. University programs in jewellery, glass and ceramics across the country are closing, while the desire to learn gets taken up elsewhere, in informal networks. However dedicated, rigorous programs are needed to drive practice-based research in these areas and to train the teachers of future generations. The importance of retaining these courses and specialist facilities was repeatedly affirmed by a number of participants.

 

Organisation:

The incipient loss of autonomy for SCA as a department was identified as a serious concern. How do SLAM and FASS learn to value SCA’s practice-based approach to learning and research? Strong and informed advocacy for SCA’s program and values will be essential. High quality leadership able to articulate these across discipline boundaries is vital for SCA’s future.

 

International, local:

SCA must have something unique to offer international collaborations. This means finding its place here first. Relationships can only be built over the long-term, starting from contacts that already exist. Drawing from other cultures, particularly those of our region and most especially indigenous culture, can be a vital component of new curricula.

 

SCA gains:

SCA stands to gain new opportunities for its students, new research collaborations, targeted benefaction. Informal, nascent research relations already exist and can be built on. Specific funding possibilities within the University should be identified and brought to SCA’s attention.

 

University of Sydney gains:

The University can learn much from SCA’s ways of thinking and modes of approach.  For example SCA has much to offer the University in the practical realisation of its core goals; social responsibility goals were mentioned specifically.

SCA staff and students have contributed significantly to the texture of cultural life in our community; they have the capacity to do the same for the University.

Participants. Image credit: Merilyn Fairskye