Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) is described as the leading tertiary art school in the Southern Hemisphere in USyd brochures. Though the facilities are world-class and tutors are extremely knowledgeable, they fail to mention that students will have to fork out money to pay for materials throughout the course of their degrees.
Following the relocation of the SCA in 2020, the specialised and picturesque facilities at Callan Park were moved to a newly renovated facility in Old Teachers College. The Sydney College of the Arts was absorbed into the University of Sydney in 1990, but remained at its facilities in Callan Park for 30 more years. The relocation came following the abandoned merger with UNSW Art and Design campus in Paddington, which was controversial at the time.
One of the key challenges facing students at the College is the cost.
One of the key challenges facing students at the College is the cost. Degrees in Fine Arts are exorbitantly expensive in a post-Job-Ready-Graduates-world, but the cost extends from price of tuition to the price of materials for art students. The facilities may be state-of-the-art, but the truth is that students are significantly limited in what they can achieve as they require materials such as photo paper, canvases, paints and other costly art supplies.
The University of Sydney website lists costs specific to the Sydney College of the Arts, stating that all students must pay approximately $200 in “set costs for materials kit”. They are then required to pay between $20-$100 for elective units of study, according to the website, alongside a $200 “contribution to graduate art show”.
The facilities may be state-of-the-art, but the truth is that students are significantly limited in what they can achieve.
In an interview with a student at the College, they pointed out that students are often encouraged to “go big” in their practice, but the onus is ultimately on them to fund their projects. As few as three prints costs $200, and students need to pay extra should misprints occur.
My interviewee noted that this cost barrier has contributed greatly to their choice of practice. They moved from a photography-based practice — which had more facilities but required buying photo paper and paying for prints — to a more niche but ultimately less expensive practice. Now, they are lacking facilities and mentorship due to the specificity of their practice, in order to reduce the overall cost of their artistic endeavours.
This is not including the costs associated with exhibiting work. At the end of their degrees, art students are expected to put on a graduate exhibit showcasing a body of work. This involves printing and displaying art in a large-scale fashion, and comes with a host of additional costs. Students at SCA were offered the opportunity to have their work professionally photographed for $200. These photographs can be used in a portfolio, and make up the archival catalogue of the exhibition. Without the photographs, representations of a student’s work are not included in the catalogue.
At a time when they should be thinking big, proudly displaying their most developed work, students are hit with yet another cost that they must pay, lest they be excluded from archival records.
The fact is that other students do not have such steep costs associated with finishing assignments. As my interviewee said, “Media students don’t have to pay to write an essay,” often building up their own portfolios, but this does not have a cost attached to it.
“Media students don’t have to pay to write an essay.”
Five scholarships are available to SCA students, with a combined value of up to $49,000. Some are reserved for mid-career artists, however there is one that specifies use for the graduate art show that students are required to participate in.
Honi approached the University of Sydney for comment. “At Sydney College of the Arts materials are supplied to support technical demonstrations […] SCA students provide their own materials for producing their artworks for University of Sydney projects, which vary depending on the nature of their individual projects.”
Art is now consumed on a global scale, and ethical challenges are emerging with the rise of generative AI. Despite the widespread appreciation for art, in the form of galleries, theatre, decor or even Netflix TV shows, students at the very beginning of their career are left carrying the brunt of the expense. As universities become increasingly neoliberal, seeking only to award degrees and create workers, it’s important to fight against this for the good of future creatives.