The rise of the arts leaves learning out in the cold

By Associate Professor Susan Davis

There is a growing sense that something is happening in the arts and creative sector.  The sector is finding its collective voice at state, national and regional level, with terms such as ‘artist-led’, ‘artist-driven’, ‘sector-driven’ being used in the development of programs and policy. This visibility and attention to the arts and contribution of such to the sector does not appear to be similarly matched in education and learning realms.

Artist-led advocacy groups have formed at state and national level and finding strength in the collective voice.  Arts Front at the national level and the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture at a state level are just two examples emerging in the past year. These groups, or the initial formations of such, emerged in response to changes in government and radical funding cuts. However they have had some success with specific campaigns such as returning some of the arts-specific funds commandeered for the ill-conceived ‘National Program for Excellence in the Arts’, or ‘Catalyst Fund’.

Recognition of the vitality and importance of the Arts is virtually absent from major policy and program initiatives for the school and university sectors. The faddish obsession with national testing, consistency, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs in schooling shows a limited view of the arts as potential hothouse for cultivating innovation and creativity.

There is also a growth in regional arts and policy activity.   The visibility of such has been demonstrated through publications such as Lindy Hume’s Platform Paper The Restless Giant: Changing cultural values in regional Australia, with activities such as the Artstate Lismore conference, Melbourne’s Arena Theatre Company moving to regional Bendigo in 2018 and the rising profile of a regional company such as JUTE Theatre from Cairns also indicate regional innovations in policy and programming.  The Sunshine Coast in Queensland is one local government that is part of this trend, by making what could be seen as a bold move for local government, with it’s current development of an ‘arts plan’ (not a cultural plan, creative industries, or community plan, but an arts plan), and the statement that this process will be artist driven.

The educational agenda is proving harder to energise. Recognition of the vitality and importance of the Arts is virtually absent from major policy and program initiatives for the school and university sectors.  The faddish obsession with national testing, consistency, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs in schooling shows a limited view of the arts as potential hothouse for cultivating innovation and creativity.  The drive for impressive citation metrics and rankings in universities also tends to work against priorities for the arts in higher education.  What is the incentive for courses that need specialist spaces, intensive staffing, smaller numbers and where it is hard to generate external grant income and high citation metrics? 

The contribution of arts education, arts students and graduates to cultivating the skills of experimentation and innovation, reflection and creativity required for productive futures seems to be undervalued by the government bodies who claim to value the importance of creativity and innovation for our future national prosperity.  A recent House of Representatives Federal Parliamentary inquiry sought to identify the skills and opportunities to promote innovation and creativity and the workforce for the new economy.

The report ironically says that "2.91: The Committee would like to see discussion around STEM versus STEAM move into mainstream discussion, particularly in government policy circles, because, as evidence showed, this is already happening in various industry sectors already." Now one might argue that the report could so easily have achieved that by changing every STEM recommendation to become STEAM!

Some of those who made submissions were heartened when the inquiry invited a range of arts organisations and educators to attend inquiry hearings to provide evidence. As a result, the report has some good summary information on the Arts and advocacy for STEAM rather than STEM. There was one recommendation which demonstrated some acknowledgement of the strong arts evidence:  “2.94 The Committee recommends that the National Innovation and Science Agenda explicitly recognise the importance of STEAM, creative digital skills, the creative industries and the arts more generally.” However when it came to any wider problematizing of the STEM agenda in further policy, programming and funding commitments, the STEM agenda still held sway.  In the recommendations, STEM is mentioned 24 times, ranging from increasing STEM teaching, a STEM reference group, STEM professional development, STEM bridging courses and increasing Math pre-requisites!

The report ironically says that "2.91: The Committee would like to see discussion around STEM versus STEAM move into mainstream discussion, particularly in government policy circles, because, as evidence showed, this is already happening in various industry sectors already." Now one might argue that the report could so easily have achieved that by changing every STEM recommendation to become STEAM!

However there is at least some acknowledgement that the National Innovation and Science agenda needs to acknowledge the arts and creative fields. This is something that previous iterations of the Innovation agenda have failed to do (Haseman & Jaaniste 2008).  So perhaps that, combined with other moves in the sector this article opened with indicate there are glimmers of hope. There are opportunities to partner with other educators, creatives and artists to advocate and agitate, and tap into the sources of energy and animation which we’ll need to ensure the arts in education and higher education are not left out in the cold.


References

Davis, S., Snepvangers, K., & Harris, A. (2017). Submission from arts educators, practitioners and researchers Australia (The Arts, Education, Practice and Research SIG of AARE) to The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training Inquiry into Innovation and Creativity: Workforce for the new economy. Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra. Accessed 20 September 2017: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House/Employment_Education_and_Training/Innovationandcreativity

Fairley, G. (2017) Regional artists think globally to grown NSW conversation. Sydney: Arts Hub. Retrieved from: http://www.artshub.com.au/festival/news-article/sponsored-content/festivals/gina-fairley/regional-artists-think-globally-to-grow-nsw-conversation-254397

Haseman, B., & Jaaniste, L. (2008). The arts and Australia's national innovation system 1994-2008 arguments, recommendations, challenges. Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training (2017). Report of the Inquiry into Innovation and Creativity: Workforce for the new economy. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra. Accessed 20 September 2017: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House/Employment_Education_and_Training/Innovationandcreativity/Report_-_Innovation_and_creativity

Hume, L. (2017). Platform Paper 50: Restless Giant: Changing cultural values in regional Australia. Sydney: Currency House.

Lewis, J. (2017)  Artist-centred leadership and the future of the arts. Arts Hub. Retrieved from http://www.artshub.com.au/news-article/opinions-and-analysis/audience-development/jamie-lewis/artist-centred-leadership-and-the-future-of-the-arts-254274

Pedler, C. (2017) Arena Theatre Company will make Bendigo its home after operating in Melbourne since 1966.  Bendigo Advertiser, 13 September 2017. Retrieved from: http://www.arenatheatre.com.au/userfiles/file/bendigo_advertiser.pdf


Susan Davis is Deputy Dean Research at CQUniversity in the School of Education and The Arts with extensive experience in drama, applied theatre and education. She has been a member and chair of a range of drama/arts education committees and reference groups. She has led international, national and community based projects exploring innovative models for utilising digital technologies and drama processes. She is a current Co-Convenor of the Arts Education Research SIG of AARE and a Board member for Drama Australia and the Creative Alliance, Sunshine Coast.