While SMH art critic John McDonald continues to rabbit on about “scandalous” attacks on East Sydney’s National Art School I have yet to hear a peep about the real scandal in Sydney’s arts education — the end of art at the University of Western Sydney.
The art school at UWS used to be one of the best in the country. In the 1990s graduates were a parade of hot talent. The work was gritty, sometimes unpredictable, and bouncing with energy. It told of a place with few resources and a population greater than South Australia. Local and state government authorities responded to this energy, and in recent years have opened arts centres at at Campbelltown, Penrith, Blacktown, Parramatta and Fairfield. Later this year an expanded Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre will reopen as a major resource for the Liverpool region and beyond.
But while local government can make the link between creativity and economic prosperity, UWS is taking a different path. In recent years arts budgets were slashed in favour of commerce. Students sniffed the wind and started to look elsewhere. Enrolments fell. The drama program that nurtured David Wenham was first to go. Last year there was no intake of first year students in visual arts. This year students have been told to go to TAFE for two years. Most of the remaining teaching staff have taken voluntary redundancy.