Friday, 10 June 2011
Challenging times we live in. Those of us who value art and design, that is.
I recently read this story about a glass studio at Monash University (in Melbourne) having to close. I hear it's an expensive course to run. And that may well be true. But hear me out as I have a few thoughts to share. If universities keep closing specialist courses like this one where will our next generation of artists, makers and designers go to learn about their chosen fields? Sure, there are ways to learn an art or design process outside of the walls of universities. I'm not suggesting that it's the only way someone can learn to paint, weave, design computer games, or blow glass, for example. What I struggle with though, is the idea that universities are on a roll with the idea that art and design courses are too specialist in nature and too expensive to run. Small, niche fine art courses are closing in many universities. The unspoken seems to be that they're not valued for what they can offer. If art and design programs are not valued in universities, what does that say about what we view as important in education? And what does it say about our society more generally? Do we value art and design? Do we want our world to be without art and design? Can we even imagine how that would look or feel or be like?
I've been thinking about these questions for weeks (you can blame the PhD) and was even more intrigued when I saw that the UK is about to open it's first ever super-private, US-style ivy league university - the New College of the Humanities. Yep, that's right, for a very big price tag (about $AUD 27 000 per year) you will be able to study with some of the finest philosophers and thinkers at this new university. Astonishingly, this has happened because public funding to the arts and humanities has deteriorated so badly in recent times that the folk behind this venture felt the need to rescue these disciplines from the deathbed of education. There are huge equity implications for such an education venture and the media has been full of articles questioning the direction this new university has chosen to go in (see the UK Guardian for more stories).
So this is where my mind is going - will university fine art and design courses be forced to go in this direction too? That is, set themselves up in private (read very expensive) universities because publicly funded universities keep cutting costs and courses in these areas? Is that even possible? It will be a sad day indeed if art and design courses are siphoned off into mega-expensive private universities only for the rich to enjoy.
What do you think? Let's hope it doesn't come to that.