Future degrees in jewellery and glass studies will no longer be available in NSW when the University of Sydney closes Sydney College of Arts in the Kirkbride buildings in Callan Park. Ceramic studies currently available at the National. Art School at Darlinghurst will also disappear if the school is shut down by the NSW Government, as feared. With the concurrent loss of most crafts and visual arts studies at TAFE colleges through out NSW this will bring to an end a broad based tradition of tertiary craft education established over a period of 60 years. It will be almost impossible for future generations of young people to become professional jewellers, silversmiths, glass and ceramic artists unless they study interstate or overseas.
The Sydney College of the Arts was established in 1976. Prominent craftspeople such as Helge Larsen, Maureen Cahill and Bernard Sahm set up Departments in Jewellery and Silversmithing, Glass and Ceramics. During these years staff and graduate students together with practitioners throughout Australia built a major cultural tradition, making, exhibiting and selling their work across the country and throughout the world, bringing recognition and critical acclaim to Australia.
Of great significance to craft practice was the 1988 New Parliament House in Canberra designed by the architects Mitchell, Giurgola and Thorp.
Staff and students from Sydney College of the Arts contributed to the architects’ arts and crafts commissioning program, established to integrate the work with the building and reinforce aspects of Australian identity. Maureen Cahill made
the suspended glass sculptural installation outside the House Chamber. Robyn Blau, a graduate student from Jewellery and Silversmithing Department designed and fabricated the stainless steel coats of arms for both the Great Veranda entry and for the executive entry.
The Parliament House projects confirmed and extended an important tradition of collaboration between craftspeople, architects and Institutions that acted as a model for future commissions. Many craftspeople developed innovative technologies to give fresh meanings to traditional symbols.
Mark Newson a graduate from the Jewellery and Silversmithing Department is now one of the formost designers in the Western World. He has designed the interior of an aircraft, a car and furniture as well as silverware for Georg Jensen, amongst many other projects. More recently other prominent craftspeople from Sydney College of the Arts have undertaken major commissions that have rejuvenated some of the rituals of private and public life. They include Mitsue Shoji who designed and made the ceramic tableware for Wakuda Tetsuyas’ restaurant, Oliver Smith who researched, and made the silver bells for Government House in Canberra and Admiralty House in Sydney and Helge Larsen and Darani Lewers who designed and fabricated a series of liturgical pieces for Churches and Chapels. Their most recent commission was a steel and glass Baptismal Font for St. Ignatius Chapel in Sydney.
The growth of craft practice and its supporting infrastructure that developed over half a century will be almost impossible to sustain when degrees in tertiary craft studies are no longer available in NSW. This contrasts with the state support given to tertiary craft and design schools or art Schools that include craft studies, else where in the world. The significant contribution these schools make to the cultural life of the community is highly valued. The importance of craft studies
also extends to employment opportunities in a number of related fields including education, design, arts administration and health.
As a major capital city, Sydney has benefitted from different approaches to tertiary arts and craft education through the University of Sydney college of the Arts, the long established National Art School (now also under threat) and in UNSW’s College of Art and Design. The significant contribution these schools make to the cultural life of the community is highly valued. In making the decision to move Sydney College of the Arts to it’s main campus while cancelling future degree courses in ceramics, jewellery and object design and glass and cutting the professional staff by 60%, Sydney University is doing a great diservice to education and culture. It has a responsibility to support craft studies which provide a way of life for the maker and enhances the lives and the environment of the people of NSW.