Rum goings on within the historic walls of Sydney’s old Darlinghurst
Gaol. Currently better known as the National Art School, the handsome
sandstone pile is the juicy bone being fought over by at least two
universities (Macquarie and UNSW) and some bizarre partisans. These
include the fogey and art critic, John McDonald, who used the luxury of
his spacious spread in the Sydney Morning Herald to fulminate
on November 19 about “propaganda” and the “blissed out visions” of CoFA
(College of Fine Art – UNSW) students writing on the net in support of
the take-over.

“Macquarie University is the obvious choice,” McDonald pronounced. “It
is the only major university in Sydney not affiliated with an art schol
and it has a good record of allowing satellite institutions to maintain
their identities.”

Without sketching in any detail of this assertion he went on with his
version of bad news: “If UNSW had another art school it would be a mere
administrative convenience to turn two into one and call it a great
opportunity … Rumour has it that Macquarie’s offer is superior to
that of UNSW.”

Good old “rumour” – you can always rely on her for a leg-up when
you’re in a fix. What McDonald neglects to mention is his own vested
interest in the stoush: he is (god help them) on staff at the NAS. He
also failed to reveal, or perhaps has not worked out, what the fight is
really all about.

Some background. The “independent” NAS was one of former Premier Bob
Carr’s whims quixotically conjured into being while wearing his arts
minister bonnet. Likewise, for instance, the Sydney Theatre and the
Sydney Theatre Company’s multi-million dollar Actors’ Ensemble.

Once upon a time the NAS was part of the more mundane East Sydney Tech,
then, with a ministerial signature and a truckload of public dollars,
it metamorphosed into a fully fledged, if perilously tiny, art school.
On its own, the NAS was not unlike those miniature independent states
that have a flag, two secondhand patrol boats and an annual income
consisting of international aid.

Things went awry on the aid front last November when – if smoke
signals had been read better – it became obvious that Carr was
preparing to jump. What this meant was that any organisation relying on
his grace and favour as arts minister for $$ was going to be in trouble
before long.
Enter the state government with a plan to get a university to take over
the NAS. Submissions were called for and the two frontrunners are
Unversity of NSW and its bursting-at-the-seams College of Fine Arts –
five minutes up the road in Paddington; and Macquarie – the sprawling
mega-uni across the harbour at Lindfield.

Read the full story here.