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ANU School of Art to introduce new design courses

Siobhan Ryan and Gillian Kayrooz report on shifting sands in arts education.

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The Australian National University announced on 28 July that it will increase the focus on design at its School of Art, with new undergraduate and postgraduate courses to be introduced from 2017.

Industry leaders in digital and web design, as well as media arts, will head the program, which has been described by the Head of the School of Art, Associate Professor Denise Ferris, as “a reinvention of the school”, but which “sticks to the intrinsic core of what this school is”.

According to third year Bachelor of Visual Arts student Eva Krepsova, students at the School of Art have had access to a number of information sessions over the past two weeks about the change, and many are excited about the program.

“I think more of a focus on web and digital design today is hugely important and is a fairly new medium for artists to be working in,” Krepsova said.

The announcement comes amidst attacks on art schools that have proposed reducing focus on hands-on, traditional art practice in favour of design courses.

In NSW, a proposal to create a “Centre for Excellence” would have seen the closure of both the Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) and National Art School (NAS), and UNSW’s Art and Design School forced to take on the abandoned students. The proposal was scrapped after significant protest.

The University has since released a draft proposal for the SCA that would see the art school moved to main campus, with reduced studio-based education, and significant cuts to staff and programs such as jewellery, ceramics and glasswork.

SCA students held a strike and rally on Wednesday, which attracted speakers such as acclaimed artist and SCA alumnus Bronwyn Bancroft, and Greens member for Balmain Jamie Parker.

Ferris took aim at USyd’s proposals in a statement, saying, “While other art schools are being closed and reduced, the ANU has demonstrated strong support for the School of Art and the future of tertiary art and design in Canberra and the region.”

Ferris has also said the new degrees will be flexible, catering to students who want to focus entirely on design, as well as those who want to combine learning design skills with hands-on art-making.