Editorial: Art and Politics: an inescapable bond

By Jenny Wilson

“It is important that artists are not outside the equation, we don’t stand on the sidelines. Artists are part of the story of a response, we cannot stand aside and let others make the response.”
— Anish Kapoor, in: “Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor lead London walk of compassion for refugees“, Mark Brown, The Guardian Sep 17, 2015

So said Anish Kapoor during a ‘walk of compassion’ in London with fellow artist Ai Weiwei to draw attention to the plight of refugees. Closer to home, and more recently, Leo Schofield challenged the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s original (now reversed) decision not to take a position on the current Australian same sex marriage debate on the basis that ‘they don't want to politicise music’.  Schofield retorts ‘Utter drivel. Music, even in the pursuit of change, has always been political."[1]

In this edition of NiTRO our contributors consider the contemporary relationship between tertiary art and politics from the perspective of the role of art to engage with the political message, but also to explore how the political message, and political decisions that affect arts and education, are influencing tertiary arts.

Designer and Honorary staff member at the University of Tasmania Tony Fry explains how his “Studio at the Edge of the World’ is seeking to address the role of design in creating an ethical and sustainable future;  Joseph Toltz (University of Sydney) reminds us of the political persecution of artists past, brought to life for new audiences through his Out of the Shadows  production.

In an extended interview with Gary Foley, one of Australia’s most recognised indigenous activists, colleague Edwina Howell (Victoria University) explores how his connection with dramatic performance has contributed to his role as an activist and academic.

A number of our contributors have focused on how politics, and political decisions are shaping tertiary arts; Julian Meyrick (Flinders University) in a hard hitting piece on the current Education Minister’s approach to higher education, considers what sort of culture Australia could end up with. Susan Davis (CQU) reminds us that while arts policy, and particularly arts collective action is shifting, the educational policy in relation to arts, despite parliamentary consideration, remains moribund. Domenic Redfern (RMIT) takes a broader context considering the impact of the underlying direction of economic policy upon education.

Australian higher education has historically been strongly influenced by UK education policy. We hear from two UK colleagues, artist Rob Gawthrop and Abigail Gilmore (University of Manchester), on the changes that have occurred in the UK and the influence that this has had upon tertiary arts in the UK.