Griffith QCA Students rally against Proposed Studio Closures

Image from Anonymous artist.

Students at Griffith University undertaking courses at the Queensland College of Art have launched action against the university, who have proposed changes to the college’s structure, resulting in the withdrawal of five courses from the college’s offering. On the 2nd of November 2020, Griffith University released the Proposal for Workplace Change Roadmap to Sustainability (R2S). This proposal included the withdrawal of the five following courses:

  • Jewellery and Small Objects
  • Print(making)
  • Advertising Photography
  • Documentary Photography
  • Creative and Interactive Media (Reduced from course to major)

A petition launched by Grey Hand Press towards the University writes that “If these proposals are progressed, The Queensland College of Art will lose 44% of their teaching staff across Fine Art and Photography and 16.7% in Design. This is in addition to the many sessional and technical staff whose contributions are invaluable to the education and development of students, and the maintenance of the studios. ”

At the time of writing, the petition has 8,715 signatures. Entitled ‘Save Our Studios’, students and alumni alike are calling out for the courses not to be removed.

The Queensland College of Art is one of the largest colleges of it’s kind in Australia. It has been a part of Griffith University since 1991 but was founded in 1881. The college houses courses that are the only one of it’s kind in Queensland. Notable alumni include Michael Zavros, who studied printmaking, as well as thousands of locally and nationally recognised artists. The QCA is undoubtedly a hub of creativity in the Brisbane academic and artistic community.

The aforementioned courses and studios are pivotal for artists to access a practical learning experience; without this, there will be a downturn in skill development and overall creative community will suffer. 

“These studios are exemplars of contemporary thought in creative pedagogy—not only because of the equipment and materials used, but because they embody physical, task-based learning, peer-to-peer communication, and community-building,” the petition description states.

Students of the college are understandably critical of this move from Griffith University and have made their protest known through emails to Chancellor Henry Smerdon, Vice-Chancellor Prof Carolyn Evans and Pro-Vice-Chancellor Scott Harrison. They have also organised a large protest that was held last week alongside the NTEU, and an unknown artist has created an exhibition in the hallways of QCA, dubbed a corridor of power. A quote by artist Barbara Kruger is printed and framed several times along the walls. The quote in question is,

“In times of raw brutality and lawless greed, PRINTED MATTER matters. In times when narcissism smashes into voyeurism, PRINTED MATTER matters. In times of rampant corruption, obsessive flaunting, and lack of empathy, PRINTED MATTER matters. In times of public shame and shamelessness, of white grievance and ecological disaster, PRINTED MATTER matters. In times of scarily short attention spans (including my own), and of lives lived on or through screens, PRINTED MATTER matters.”

Anonymously provided photograph of the installation in QCA.

National bodies like NAVA (National Association for Visual Arts) have “strongly opposed” the proposed changes from Griffith University. 

“NAVA implores Griffith University not to proceed with the proposed staff cuts and studio closures at QCA, and to consider the adverse consequences for art education and the Queensland visual art sector,” says Penelope Benton, acting CEO of NAVA.

Christopher Ashton, a graduate of the Griffith Film School and a commercial and creative filmmaker, commented on the sentiment these changes suggest for the future of the QCA, its staff and students.

“I think that what it reflects is the attitude towards these specific studies, particularly those relating to printmaking subjects. To close the studios which house subjects like Jewellery & Small Objects, or others involving physical media, is to imply that these subjects are no longer relevant to the changing art landscape, or viable as potential career paths for incoming and current students at Griffith.”

Photographic artist and graduate of QCA, Cara Coombe, has also implored the university to reconsider the changes.

My name is Cara Coombe and I graduated from the Queensland College of Art in 2019. In 2015 I enrolled in the Bachelor’s of Photography degree, majoring in Photographic Art Practice, and then completed my honours directly after. During my undergraduate degree my cohort was the last to go through with a Bachelors of Photography, Griffith eventually combined the degree with Fine Arts. The university originally sold this concept to students as a ‘Bauhaus’ integrated style of learning however with the new proposal introduced for 2021, they are cutting two of the three streams in photography. With only one major in the photographic medium, photographic art practice, a significant number of staff from creative advertising and documentary will be let go, as well as completely dismissing the importance of these streams for current and future students. Many of the talented students I went through my degree with majored in documentary and creative advertising, and without this variety offered I believe the future outcomes for students and the university will be far less diverse and inclusive.

Matthew Newkirk, a Brisbane Artist and PhD Candidate at QCA, has been a vocal member of the ‘Save Our Studios’ Campaign. He has described his communications with Griffith University regarding these proposed changes as challenging, saying he finds it difficult to blame a revenue loss from COVID-19 for the closure of the studio, when Griffith University is planning multi-million dollar property investments, such as a new campus at Roma St Station. He also was unimpressed with aspects of the process, such as the announcement of the closures being announced late on a Friday afternoon during the peak of State Election news coverage. Matthew Newkirk also referenced a disproportionate loss of staff in Fine Arts and Photography and Design, in comparison to other faculties across Griffith Campus.

“It is not just about lack of facilities for researchers, staff and Emerging Artists, it is about taking a fundamental part out of Queensland’s most prestigious art school”, Newkirk said in a statement to Glass. “If you look across art colleges globally, all of them house a flourishing print department, it is an integral part of the canon of a top art college. Without these essential offerings in an arts degree, there is nothing for emerging artists to sink their teeth into; it also deeply impacts career artists who have made a home at QCA. What kind of art school removes these core courses? We will also inevitably lose talented emerging artists to other states, because the support of creative arts in Queensland is simply not there, reflected in these cuts. This proposed closure makes a statement to the rest of Australia, about the value Queensland Universities place on arts.”

Newkirk also commented that changes like this set a dangerous precedent for arts courses nationally. At QUT, the recent closure of the Dance Performance degree, one of the only Queensland professional dance courses, begs the question of how arts will be protected at a tertiary level.

The petition closes on Friday, and is nearing 10,000 signatures, and will be reviewed by Griffith University, with a response expected as early as the end of next week. You can sign the petition here. 

Em Readman
Em Readman

Em Readman is a writer from Meanjin who lives in Boorloo. She has been published in Aniko Press, the Suburban Review, Bowen St Press, Baby Teeth Arts, and others. They were an editor of Glass Magazine in 2020 and 2021, and won the 2022 Blue Knot Foundation Award with the Hunter Writer's Centre.

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