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SCA students unsupported in move to main campus

Students lost exhibition and studio space in the art school’s relocation.

Students at the Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) have lost a substantial amount of exhibition and studio space since the school’s controversial relocation to main campus.

Once located in the sandstone heritage buildings of Callan Park in Rozelle, SCA moved in 2020 to the Old Teachers’ College at the University of Sydney’s Camperdown Campus.

Students are reporting feeling displaced and unsupported at their new home, which is smaller than the Rozelle campus but has been redesigned to house SCA’s studios, upgraded with new facilities.

“There has been no tour of USyd’s Camperdown campus, leaving many students feeling lost, isolated and overwhelmed,” Keesha Fields, treasurer of the Sydney College of the Arts Students’ Society (SCASS), told Honi.

At the former Rozelle premises, SCASS owned two student-run gallery spaces called DedSpace and ShortSpace, which had the capacity to hold three-dimensional works as well as the traditional wall display.

However, on main campus students have been granted only the walls of a corridor that they say is “otherwise scarcely used, eliminating exposure opportunities that a proper student gallery would provide.”

Located on the third floor of the Old Teachers’ College on the Manning Rd side, the new ‘LongSpace’ is subject to strict Occupational Health and Safety rules that prevent students from displaying works that could block the pathway.

This means that students who create installations, sculptures, performance, screen arts, and other experimental works cannot exhibit their works in the SCASS gallery space.

“How ironic, considering that the University markets SCA as a ‘conceptual’ and ‘interdisciplinary’ art school. It is a complete insult to us as students and the work that we put so much effort into creating,” second year painting student Veronica Bull said.

Honi understands that the office provided to SCASS has a black mould problem which hasn’t been dealt with after one and a half years, meaning they cannot access it or their belongings.

Furthermore, graduating students expected that the new SCA Gallery at Old Teachers’ College (as distinct from LongSpace) would be used to host the annual Grad Show, but have since been told it is booked for an exhibition of professional artists.

The artworks of graduating students will instead be exhibited in the corridors and studio spaces of the art school while the show New Contemporaries, which includes a curated Post Graduate Exhibition, is featured in the main gallery.

A University spokesperson said “We’re very excited about this combination of multiple years of Graduating students across SCA, which is in the tradition of previous Graduating exhibitions where work was displayed across all areas of the building spaces.”

However, students worry that showing their works in walkways rather than the main gallery may distract visitors, defeating the purpose of a Grad Show to expose emerging artists to scouts and potential award nominations.

Fields said that the University may potentially be in breach of consumer law, as “the degree was outlined in a way that informed students that their works will feature at the end of the third year in a formal gallery setting, and that the entire year’s study will be dedicated to the creation of a gallery-worthy work.”

In 2016, more than 130 SCA students alleged that the University was in breach of consumer law by misleading already enrolled Visual Arts students in its cost-saving proposal to close SCA and merge the school with UNSW Art & Design.

The ‘Let SCA Stay’ campaign sprung up in backlash to the proposal, culminating in multiple student strikes and a 65-day occupation — the longest of an administration building in any Australian university’s history — that ended only when it was forcibly shut down by police.

In 2017, SCA became a department within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and plans commenced for its move to main campus. This was considered a compromise to a complete closure, though staff feared the school would lose autonomy and space.

SCA’s curriculum was revised with the introduction of a Bachelor of Visual Arts/Advanced Studies and a Visual Arts major and minor as well as electives offered to all USyd students, marketed as fostering more interdisciplinary collaboration.

Honi understands that there have been murmurings that the Visual Arts degree will eventually be replaced by an Arts degree majoring in Visual Arts. However, a University spokesperson assured that “there are no plans to change these offerings.”

As a result of the federal government’s Job-Ready Graduates Bill, first year visual arts students have been hit by skyrocketing fees, which Bull said was “putting our students out of pocket and excluding prospective students who can’t afford these exorbitant prices.” 

“The SCA is at the mercy of USyd’s greed and bootlicking of governmental attempts to crush the arts … We are looking at it now with the changes to SLAM and FASS,” Fields said.

Editors’ note: Updated 30 July 4:47 pm