Welcome to NiTRO, Your Non-Traditional Voice in the Academy! 

 Su Baker

Su Baker

By Su Baker, President, Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts.

At the DDCA annual conference in Adelaide in 2015, a group of 25 leaders in the creative arts engaged in rigorous and expansive discussion following a series of highly astute commentary and presentations by invited colleagues.  Our goal was to determine how to advance our profession amidst the volatility of the higher education sector.  

The glaringly obvious fact occurred to us that, this material, so useful to progress our profession, had been heard only by the 25 people in the room, and that was all. The discussion and debate featured only the experiences and perspectives of those of us attending. This would not do. These discussions needed to be more widely distributed, more comprehensively heard and responded to and so the idea of the new model of communication was born. And we hope that this will be the beginning of a more inclusive and more nuanced discourse; one which will deepen our internal and external reach and the breadth of this professional dialogue.  

We are keen to stop talking to just ourselves. NiTRO will be a form of ‘mutual eavesdropping’, listening and contributing to the debates we have between us and the solutions we can mutually arrive at when issues arise. NiTRO will begin to build in the next generation of leaders, a confidence and maturity that will be needed if creative arts is to have a successful future in the ever changing higher education policy and strategic environment.

'NiTRO will begin to build in the next generation of leaders, a confidence and maturity that will be needed if creative arts is to have a successful future in the ever changing higher education policy and strategic environment.'

The Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts (DDCA) was formed as an alliance of discipline groups to influence policy decisions that affect the work of our colleagues, students and the quality of advanced higher arts education. During the early years, creative arts leaders worked with the ARC through the existing arts disciplinary peak bodies at the time, providing expert advice and collectively contributing to the proposed Research Quality Framework, (RQF) then the more fully realised Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) and eventually, succeeded in achieving an improved set of measures to evaluate the quality of 'research' in the creative arts. With the new post-Watt Review environment, this is now about to change, again. 

Success in research recognition was hard fought, is still unevenly enacted and in some parts, still poorly understood, by those who administer the system and at times, indeed by ourselves. However, by working together, and with a pragmatic sense of the art of the possible, we have a seat at that table. Some still wonder, with some justification, whether is worth the compromises. Was it the right table? It is however the one we need to be at, for now. I, for one, think, we are in a good place and will be in for some very interesting times, in the Chinese and ordinary sense.

But this seat needs to be confidently and loudly defended - with the occasional incendiary response if necessary! As a collective profession we cannot meekly sit by and concur with the ‘wisdom’ of our colleagues in traditional disciplines.  We are no longer the newcomers to academia, grateful simply for being considered worthy of university inclusion but represent a significant contributor to Australia’s cultural, creative and innovative future.  We have collective ‘truths’ to tell and it is incumbent upon us all to ensure that they are heard and respected. 

The new developments and policy direction emerging from the Watt Review, particularly the area of impact and industry engagement that has such a resonance for our sector, causes us to wonder “Watt’s next”!

'We will be able to demonstrate that we are not the rag bag of competing genres that some believe we are, but a strong and vocal collective voice that demands to be heard. It is this which will define our future and contribute to the quality of education, intellectual enquiry and cultural richness for all.'

As much as we may wish for less need for special pleading, and less need for the perennial defense of our sector, alas, we still have work to do. Much of it amongst ourselves. This ‘DDCA 2.0’ is a vehicle for these deliberations and I encourage you to play your part.

And what of teaching in the creative arts? Many of us feel that this is our core business, our true mission and an area where the arts offer so much; engaged pedagogy, leading to real world experience; learning by doing - our work can be done no other way. Based on sophisticated attitudes towards inter-active learning, a student-centred approach, and interpersonal skills development, higher arts education models the best attitudes and approaches needed for the complexities of the times. Creativity is the ‘new black’ in all areas of endeavour it seems, on every corporate billboard and mission statement, and welcome as this is, remember, you heard it here first. We have always been the creativity leaders, have we not? 

The demise of the Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) will be felt across our sector.  It had been a valuable forum for reflection, analysis and improvement of teaching practices across the sector and one which equitably funded scholarship in creative arts.  Before it was abandoned, this funding had been included as Category 1 Research income. “Just when we thought it was safe to go out in the water!” [as said in the film Jaws!] We can only hope this resource will emerge elsewhere. 

So, we encourage you to join the push for better understanding and recognition of creative arts, subscribe to NiTRO, tell your friends, colleagues, research students, and write for us. We can together build a broad and diverse dialogue between us and with our broader community. We will be able to demonstrate that we are not the rag bag of competing genres that some believe we are, but a strong and vocal collective voice that demands to be heard. It is this which will define our future and contribute to the quality of education, intellectual enquiry and cultural richness for all.

We are fortunate to have a small but dedicated team to launch this new venture, Dr Jenny Wilson as Editor and Max Piantoni as our web designer and administrator. Kay Morrissey, as Executive Officer, keeps us all to budget and solvency and we thank her! This will get us going but we need your voices and your input in text and of course, images and sound, if we are to make an impression from our seat at the far end of the higher education table  

Yours in explosive enthusiasm

Su Baker

President,

Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts.