Examining Value: perspectives on the ACUADS Conference 2017

By Denise Ferris and Annika Harding

Thinking about tertiary creative arts in 2018, it is worth reflecting on the 2017 ACUADS Conference at the ANU School of Art and Design, which probed the theme ‘Value’. At a time when Australian tertiary art and design schools are facing increasing economic and political challenges, this was a vital focus, and resulted in the sharing of key research, and productive discussions. Art and design academics and researchers from around Australia attended the conference in late September.

In her keynote address, T’ai Smith drove home the point that art’s value is qualitative, in contrast to economic constructions of value.

Keynote speakers included T’ai Smith (University of British Columbia, Vancouver), Anthea Callen (Professor Emeritus ANU & Professor Emeritus University of Nottingham, UK), and Scott Brook (University of Canberra).

As the opening speaker, Anthea Callen asked ‘What does ‘value’ actually mean?’ and explored how our notions of value are influenced by power, and reflect and construct normative models of worth. This led on to sessions examining value in art education within the broader university setting, the broadly applicable value of design thinking, and the value that can be found in interdisciplinary research and teaching projects. Further sessions on the Thursday explored how value can be added in thinking about art and design education and research through the unexpected application of research tools, and the value that can be added to the broader arts ecology and other sectors by tertiary art and design schools.

Two roundtable discussions, one focused on design, and one on visual art, proved lively. Among the issues discussed were the value of interdisciplinary collaboration and research, value-adding through ethical frameworks, and the tension between what is valued by tertiary art and design schools and how we are valued within the context of overarching tertiary institutions.

In her keynote address, T’ai Smith drove home the point that art’s value is qualitative, in contrast to economic constructions of value. Smith also unpacked how time, work and value function in fashion and creative practice.

Day two of the conference began with a conversation with T’ai Smith, conducted by Ann Stephen. Stephen and Smith drew out key concerns from Smith’s 2014 book Bauhaus Weaving Theory: From Feminine Craft to Mode of Design, exploring the value of the Bauhaus weaving workshop and its practice of craft as an intellectual and interdisciplinary pursuit. The following sessions investigated accessibility and possibilities inherent in digital technologies for art and design fields; studio practice and differing values relating to time, outcomes, materiality and colour; and the value of interdisciplinary and cross-cultural design education and practice.

Scott Brook explored the value of creative work and education, and the cultural rather than economic values that motivate students and practitioners in our sector. We are willing to forego financial security and other comforts because of the many kinds of value we see in what we do, and the opportunity to create value in our lives and our world.

In the afternoon, sessions looked to the past and the future. They explored the history of tertiary art and design education in the early 20th century as well as the mid-twentieth century as its place was argued for within the university. They also reevaluated measures of value, art and design education models, and explored the creation and promotion of new values within the sector, including through future-oriented curriculum design.

In his provocative closing address, Scott Brook explored the value of creative work and education, and the cultural rather than economic values that motivate students and practitioners in our sector. We are willing to forego financial security and other comforts because of the many kinds of value we see in what we do, and the opportunity to create value in our lives and our world.

ACUADS is proud to be able to present conferences that further these important discussions, as well as provide an important platform for the presentation of new ideas in tertiary art and design education and research. Many of the peer reviewed conference papers have been published on the ACUADS website. We look forward to this year’s conference, hosted by Curtin University and Edith Cowan University, in Perth 27-28 September. All staff and researchers based at ACUADS Member institutions are eligible to attend and present. (For more information on membership and ACUADS’ Conference and initiatives, please visit the ACUADS website).

Writing this at a time when we are all doing the hard work toward ERA submission, it is timely to reiterate the question of value and what is valued in the evaluation criteria of the ERA. Quite publicly our value as individual institutions is determined in the ARC’s ERA measurement of research performance by a single number. That number stands, representing us as institutions to our universities, the funding sector and government. We need to ensure that the criteria determining that value encompass the breadth of what we value as a sector.


Professor Denise Ferris is an educator and art practitioner, who is the Head of the School of Art & Design at the Australian National University. Denise is currently Chair of the Australian Council of Art & Design Schools (ACUADS).

Ms Annika Harding is the Executive Officer for ACUADS, and a PhD Candidate at the ANU School of Art & Design, Centre for Art History and Art Theory. Annika is also a visual artist and curator.

ACUADS is the national peak body for tertiary art, craft and design, and represents over thirty Australian university and TAFE art and design faculties, schools and departments. www.acuads.com.au