By Associate Professor Cat Hope
In the current funding environment where support for independent artists is reducing, and many venues are less accessible or appropriate for evolving contemporary practices, visual and performing arts schools in universities have an important role to play.
Whilst art and music schools themselves are struggling with funding cuts and ‘one size fits all' economic models, universities still have one thing that independent artists do not – infrastructure. Buildings, equipment, staff, insurance, accountants, travel agencies, offices, technical support and many other things that are incredibly valuable for freelance artists. Not all university facilities are used every day of the year, but access is carefully monitored to only allow staff and students entry, increasingly so after hours and over university breaks.
But I wonder if many creative arts academics are truly in touch with what their independent counterparts need, or appreciate the effect funding cuts had on them. Many arts academics have come from an independent arts background, but others have always been academic – from undergraduate, into honours then PhD, then for lucky few, into an academic position. Without that experience as an independent artist, living from one grant to another, the current long term career academic is unlikely to understand how vital this infrastructure can be for independent artists. The sharing of these facilities would be a major contribution to the independent arts sector.
Collaborations between academic and independent artists can educate both parties in the strengths, challenges and possibilities for each, providing insights to contemporary practices in and beyond the academy. The work created and analysed through collaborations will disseminate across the broader arts scene, and given the burgeoning research impact measures to be introduced by the Turnbull government, provide significant benefit for the academic artists.
These collaborations can also provide an important framework for university research funding, where external category 2 and 3 funds are an important source of income for creative arts schools. Rather than compete with artists outside the academy for the highly competitive and meagre amounts of funds available, it is important that universities leverage their infrastructure when partnering on arts grants to support those outside their walls. Arts grants can engage the equity of the university through administrative, cash and staff time contributions as well as providing access to equipment and facilities to artists. Partnerships can also be established without external arts funding, using the extant frames of the research fellow or visiting professor to bring more artists in to the academy, just as other disciplines have always done. It's time to acknowledge the arts as a true and valuable industry, and universities can lead this recognition through their research partnerships.
Artists inside the university are expected to articulate their art practice as research, in terms dictated by the university. They are zealously measured by it, and paid for it. Artists outside the academy do not need to articulate research as an essential aspect of their practice, except in some funding applications, where they are also measured and paid significantly less in most cases. Whilst collaborations between academics and artists are not new, the collaboration of artists in the academy with those outside have had less examination. As more practice led graduate students re-enter the arts industry, the problematic and competitive relationship of research versus arts funding may begin to alleviate, creating new partnership opportunities. It is timely for universities to make an essential contribution to a strong, unique and innovative culture of art in Australia, unlocking the critical and creative facilities of our staff and graduates alongside other artists in the community.
A/Prof Cat Hope has an active profile as a researcher, composer, sound artist, musician and artistic director. She is the co- author of ‘Digital Arts - An introduction to New Media' (Bloomsbury, 2014) and the director of the Decibel new music ensemble. She is the lead CI on the ARC Linkage project 'The Western Australian Music Archive', based at the State Library of WA and currently the Associate Dean (research) at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Edith Cowan University.