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Alumni speak out against SCA closure

Mary Ward reports on the ongoing backlash to the decision to close the Sydney College of the Arts

Famous SCA alumni speak out against the changes. Famous SCA alumni speak out against the changes.

Sydney College of the Arts alumni have spoken out against the University’s proposed closure of the campus.

As reported in this week’s print edition, on stands today, a number of SCA’s decorated alumni have criticised the University’s decision to enter a Heads of Agreement with UNSW.

The University has plans to hand over the administration of the college to UNSW from 2017 in preparation for the creation of an arts “Centre for Excellence”, which would take in faculties from SCA, UNSW Art & Design and the National Art School.

2011 Archibald Prize winner Ben Quilty told Honi SCA was the place he “found [himself]”.

“Against everyone’s wishes I had enrolled in art school and aimed as high as I could go – to the illustrious art school at the University of Sydney,” he said, adding that he “met the people who have gone on to become the cultural leaders of [the arts] community there”.

Quilty, who graduated from the college’s Bachelor of Visual Arts program in 1994, is one of the many alumni who have been vocal in their support of the Let SCA Stay campaign. He attended a performance art protest outside the 2016 Archibald Prize ceremony at the Art Gallery of NSW, which was organised by the movement earlier this month.

Sculptor and photographer Tim Silver, who also spoke at the protest and whose work is currently being exhibited at the Art Gallery of NSW, said he was concerned by art schools in Sydney being centralised.

“Anyone who suggests that a homogenous experience of the arts is a step towards excellence clearly has no insight into the multi faceted ways the visual arts are informed,” the Bachelor of Visual Arts graduate said. “A diversity of voices excites, it stimulates a confluence of opinions – a conversation.”

Photomedia artist Anne Zahalka, who graduated with a Postgraduate Diploma from the institution in 1989 and is best known for her photograph Sunbathers #2 released in the same year, similarly expressed concerns about homogeneity in graduates, praising the college’s theoretical approach to the arts, and questioning whether that same environment could be provided in the centralised art school proposed.

“Without an institution like SCA that provides academic leadership in research and art education, Australian art will be greatly diminished,” she said.

Many of the alumni reflected fondly on the style of education they received during their years at SCA.

Founding member of the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative Bronwyn Bancroft told Honi the future of SCA is demonstrative of Sydney’s misguided priorities more broadly.

“I cannot fathom any international city not acknowledging and maintaining its arts institutions,” the Master of Visual Arts graduate said. “We cannot move art schools and amalgamate them because of real estate prices.”

Sydney Morning Herald cartoonist Cathy Wilcox said when she completed her Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communication in 1984, her cohort was told they were “special”.

“And we were keen to live up to it,” she added, stressing that the college at the time was viewed as distinct from “a tech, which would teach you the skills but not design thinking”.

For installation and video artist Lauren Brincat, who has completed both a Bachelor and Master of Visual Arts at SCA, the impact the amalgamation will have on the arts community is simple.

“Diversity breeds creativity,” she said. “If we all went to the same art school, we’d be painting the same picture.”

The Week 1, Semester 2 edition of Honi Soit will be on stands on Camperdown-Darlington campus from Tuesday, and at the satellites on Wednesday.