(Private Member's Statement, 2 August 2016, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
The National Art School provides a unique form of arts education that has produced generations of successful Sydney artists and is essential to a thriving Sydney arts scene. Tonight I speak in support of protecting the future of this vital arts institution, which is again under threat.
The National Art School teaches under the atelier model of arts education which is based on dedicated studio space, high contact hours with teachers and small class sizes. The intensive studio education helps students develop discipline, technique and individual style.
Many students thrive under this model and I’ve heard from a number of past and present scholars who tell me they enrolled at the National Art School over other art schools across the country because of its unique teaching style.
National Art School students have shown a high level of support for their education with recent surveys showing 89 per cent satisfaction rate for teaching, which is higher than other schools. Students have come out strong in support of keeping the school independent in response to past threats and have joined the recent campaign.
The National Art School has nurtured many famous Australian artists with Alumni names including Martin Sharp, Tim Storrier, Kevin Connor and Elisabeth Cummins. The Museum of Contemporary Art collection includes works from more recent National Art School graduates IIdiko Kovacs, Joan Ross and Craig Waddell and its current ‘Telling Tales’ exhibition includes graduate Jumaadi. Upcoming artists attracting international recognition and winning awards include graduates Juz Kitson and Mason Kimber. Graduate Fiona Hall featured in the recent Venice Biennale and two of the 2016 Archibald finalists come from the National Art School.
Not only does the school provide a purpose that compliments the heritage values of the site, the site provides the perfect facilities needed for the school’s teaching model including small light-filled studios and gallery spaces with architecture and gardens that motivate and inspire creativity. Occupation of the site is fundamental to the National Art School’s success.
I was very concerned about the proposal to close the Sydney College of the Arts and send students to the University of New South Wales Art and Design school. While this proposal is not proceeding at this stage, I understand talks are happening on future National Art School funding with proposals to bring it under the university system again – a model I strongly oppose.
Opportunities to study under different approaches, styles and practices are essential to fostering the diverse artistic and creative talents needed in the emerging innovation and entrepreneurship based economy. A diverse range of artistic talents will give us an edge over our international competitors. and an independent National Art School is essential to that.
The National Art School accepts students based on interview and portfolio as opposed to university based schools which use the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank. This different approach allows the school to train students with significant artistic talent who may not meet university entry criteria.
Alarmingly there are indications that a merger would be followed by sale of the site – potentially to a developer.
The National Art School has been located within the old Darlinghurst Gaol site since 1921 and as its sole occupant since becoming independent in 1996.
The inner city needs to provide more than just residential apartments and the government’s disturbing trend to flog off inner city assets including social housing and the Powerhouse shows disregard for inner city community and liveability.
As a school, the public is able to access the site including the grounds and galleries. It is used for public events that complement the school such as Art Month nights.
The National Art School should be modelled on the National Institute of Dramatic Art or the Australian Film Television and Radio School in recognition of its unique place in Australian arts education. These institutions have independent legal status, secure funding and strong links to industry, arts writers, training bodies and professional practitioners. The model would require federal funding – state funding would need to continue until this is achieved. The state government should pursue this option to raise Sydney’s status as a destination for arts education and protect this vital art school in the long term.
Art that captures and creates contemporary beauty and can challenge thoughts and societal structures inspires and engages people so that they are better citizens. It also adds to a city’s liveability helping to attract and retain an intelligent workforce. We need to nurture and help establish local artists who can tell the stories that matter to us. Without an independent National Art School, Sydney's cultural wellbeing would suffer.
In closing, I call on the state government to maintain the National Art School's independence, funding and occupation of the Old Darlinghurst Gaol site, and work to achieve national funding with government colleagues in Canberra.