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Let SCA Stay movement stages performance art protest outside Archibald Prize ceremony

Eden Faithfull reports

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Over 200 students and staff from the Sydney College of the Arts assembled on the steps of the Art Gallery of NSW to protest the proposed closure of SCA with a peaceful vigil.

At 10am yesterday, protesters gathered at the steps of the Art Gallery of NSW dressed entirely in black and wearing handmade red capes, issued by the organisers.

The vigil was designed to be a visually arresting performance piece to draw attention to the closure of SCA, and continued through the announcement of the winning Archibald portrait.

Throughout the day, protesters participated in intermittent mass sound performances, clapping out “S-O-S” in morse code with the assistance of a snare drum.

Former Archibald prizewinner and SCA alumnus Ben Quilty attended the vigil.

“I think it’s a sad state of affairs for education more broadly, [that] the University, for the sake of their public funding, can’t criticise the cuts the government forces upon them for the death of their Arts school, and that is the truth,” he said.

Danica Knezevic, a current PhD student and acclaimed Sydney artist coordinated the vigil, along with the costume, aesthetic design and sound presentations of the protesters.

“It’s such a shame that Sydney University doesn’t have the respect to continue to facilitate the arts in our community,” she said.

“A consultation and communication process is underway with SCA staff and students. The University of Sydney will continue to engage with SCA staff in accordance with its Enterprise Agreement,” a University spokesperson said in response.

The vigil went on a formal hiatus at 2pm, and reconvened at 5pm alongside the commencement of the Archibald Gala, which had approximately 1000 attendees, including Gallery donors and other prominent members of the arts community.

Lou Smart, a facilitator of the vigil, is one of the 700 students who will be affected by this decision.

“This semester I’ve been doing glass blowing, but at The University of New South Wales Art and Design (UNSWAD), I won’t have the facilities to do that,” she said.

“There are so many things that the University hasn’t considered in this closure. For example, they haven’t even begun to consider how important the parking is for so many people at SCA, especially disabled students and those with large-scale work,” she added.

Deputy leader of the opposition Anthony Albanese appeared at the protest to great media fanfare and also spoke out against the university administration’s proposal.

“As it is, the students are being left in a state of limbo with what’s happening with their courses in 2017, and the SCA provides a very specific learning environment. Part of the reason for its success is its location at Callan Park, and that’s why it should be kept there,” he said.

“This is a matter of [the university’s] priorities. I would have thought that an institution as wealthy as Sydney University could afford to keep Sydney College of the Arts there.”

Albanese has also sent a letter to Vice Chancellor Michael Spence admonishing the proposal and entreating him and the university administration to reconsider and reverse the decision.

The Let SCA Stay movement will be holding open meetings on Tuesdays at 11am at the Sydney College of the Arts auditorium to discuss further action plans.