Saving Sydney College of the Arts and the National Art School campaigns enter critical stage

Issue 

The campaign to stop Sydney University closing the Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) based in beautiful Callan Park has consolidated support from staff, arts institutions, political parties and community groups.

In the latest action, on July 15, Save SCA mobilised hundreds of students, staff and community supporters outside the Art Gallery of NSW to coincide with the Archibald Prize ceremony. The event consisted of red cape wearing participants holding large colour coordinated “SOS SCA” signs and clapping out an SOS morse code in time with a snare drum.

Former Archibald prizewinner and SCA alumnus Ben Quilty criticised both the university management and the state government. Barry Keldoulis, Art Fairs Australia CEO and recent candidate for the Arts Party, pledged his support for the campaign.

Labor's Anthony Albanese, who said: “Art isn't something you can put a dollar figure on”, said he sent a letter to Sydney University management imploring it to reverse its decision and keep SCA at Callan Park. SCA alumnus Lionel Bawden spoke, as did artists Tim Silver and Agatha Gothe-Snape. National Tertiary Education Union members were present at the event, along with the members of the Community and Public Sector Union.

SCA is renowned in the art world. It has produced three Archibald prize winners — Quilty, Cherry Hood and Fiona Lowry. Its alumni also include internationally celebrated artist Shaun Gladwell, designer Marc Newson and film director Jane Campion.

Sydney University management's Plan A for its Arts College is handing the courses and 700 students to University New South Wales Art and Design faculty. Last month the university announced it had signed a Heads of Agreement with UNSW and if the plan was agreed to, it would close SCA and move students to UNSW from 2017.

About 50 academic staff and 20 other staff are negotiating with management about their positions. The jobs of the general manager and three associate deans are also uncertain.

Students from the unfortunately acronymed UNSWAD say they have neither the room nor the facilities for extra students. SCA guarantees its students purpose-built studio spaces, exhibition spaces and has ample parking for ferrying materials in and out of site. UNSWAD offers no such services.

The National Art School (NAS), based in the historic Darlinghurst jail, is also facing closure with the state government trying to merge it with UNSWAD. NAS are also protesting.

Sydney Universities Plan B is to merge SCA onto the university's overstretched, main campus.

The Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) NAVA Tamara Winikoff told Green Left Weekly on July 20: “The bottom line is all negotiations should stop pending an external inquiry to examine all options and find optimal solutions, as what is being proposed is unworkable for staff and students at the three institutions.

“NAVA is proposing an inquiry and not leaping to any conclusions until a scope of the issue can lead to a judicious decision. Sydney University has not shown due diligence, which is what you'd expect from a major institution.”

The Save SCA campaign has a clear demand that all negotiations with UNSW cease and that SCA remain in Callan Park and not be moved onto the main campus. Save SCA is supported by Sydney University's Postgraduate Association, Student Representative Association, University Student Union, NTEU and CPSU branches.

An impressive list of other groups and individuals have thrown their support behind the Save SCA, and NAS campaigns. Michael Brand, Director of the Art Gallery NSW is opposing the move, and the judges awarding the Archibald Prize appeared to make a strong statement about art education. Merilyn Fairskye, a leading artist and former associate professor at the Sydney College of the Arts accused management of setting SCA up to fail.


Artist Merilyn Fairskye claims the University of Sydney deliberately made SCA financially unstable

Save SCA spokesperson Jemima Wilson told Green Left Weekly: “They said September was the month everything will be finalised. [Provost Stephen] Garton said their Plan B would be a small, boutique art school in Badham Building, and they were planning to close Callan Park campus in 2017 after consultation with staff and have something up and running in 2018. All the technical staff would not keep their jobs.”

The growing support for SCA and NAS and the preparedness of the students and staff to mobilise indicates the Sydney University administration and Baird government won't have an easy time of it.

Save SCA activists have turned their Cafe into an organising hub with placards, banners, and working bees happening every day and a large resistance mural is being painted on one of the Café's walls. On weekends they are at local markets drumming up support. They are planning stalls and actions on orientation days at UNSW and Sydney University and an action on August the 10 on main campus.

To help and find out more go to the Save SCA website and Facebook page.

[Rachel Evans is a journalist with Green Left Weekly, Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA) queer office bearer and an organiser with Socialist Alliance.]

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