It seems Callan Park Hospital for the Insane is living up to its name yet again. Lunacy prevails. The site is the current home for the Sydney College of the Arts (SCA), the fine arts campus of the University of Sydney. It houses facilities for painting, ceramics, sculpture, glass working and jewellery.

For now.

Earlier this year Michael Spence, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney and UNSW Vice-Chancellor Ian Jacobs announced a planned merger of the SCA with the University of NSW Art and Design school. However, this merger, possibly due to a vastly different approach to teaching the fine arts, failed to go through.

What followed was the announcement that the SCA will move to the University of Sydney’s main Camperdown campus in 2017, with a massive reduction of spending and the removal of the ceramic, glassmaking and jewellery programs, due to their high costs. This move would see more than half of the academic staff from the college lose their jobs. This move was part of the university’s strategic plan, which saw the consolidation of some 123 degrees into just six. The Sydney College of the Arts has seen a 20% reduction in enrollments since 2011 and is currently running at a deficit of 5.1 million a year.

Currently enrolled students are outraged. They have commenced a $4.1 million lawsuit for damages against the university. Which may be a drop in the ocean for the university, as this represents less than a year’s running costs for the campus. No new research degrees will be offered in 2017, as well as no new Master of Fine Arts or Master of Contemporary Arts places. The Master of the Moving Image will move to the Camperdown campus and be integrated into the existing arts department. What isn’t clear is the future intended use for the Callan Park site, which is owned by the NSW Government. The site can only be used for education of health purposes in accordance with its charter.

This has led to the argument that the state of the arts in New South Wales is such that art is valued, but artists are not. The arts, it seems has withered on the funding vine, with constant and persistent cutbacks not only in arts education, but also in funding bodies such as Screen Australia (goodbye Metro TV), the Arts Council and subsequently 65 arts organisations that have had their funding cut since the Federal Liberal Government came to power in 2013.

It has been argued that artists do not pay much heed to the dirty details of funding, value for money and are somewhat dismissive of the filthy lucre, however, what is true is that Australians are firm supporters of the arts.  The arts returns millions upon millions of dollars on investment. The arts contributes to the richness of Australian society. It has been shown to help in the healing of the sick, is excellent for mental health, enriches our lives. According to journalist Ben Eltham, more people engage in the arts than engage in politics.

It calls to mind an episode during WWII when Winston Churchill was asked to slash the funding of the arts in order to better fund the war effort. He replied “then what are we fighting for?” Jobs and growth?

 

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