save art in TAFE

Address by Ann Stephen, President, AAANZ

19 November 2012

There is widespread concern at the closure of TAFE art training across all sectors of the arts. The Art Association of Australia & NZ (AAANZ) calls on the government to restore public funding for TAFE arts courses across Australia. Last weekend the Arts Section of the Australian Academy of Humanities also expressed concern at the proposed closure in the TAFE sector.  Since all education is a continuum that leads potentially into tertiary studies every sector needs to support potential. Both AAANZ and the Academy are particularly concerned at how the closure will impact on disadvantaged communities, such as indigenous students. Think of how many of our current generation of Indigenous artists like Clinton Nain, Euphemia Bostock and Harry Wedge have come to art through TAFE art courses, like Eora. There are many parallel case studies across Australia, for instance Indigenous printmaking in the NT. It is important to remind government how much of what we value in our culture has its roots in technical art training.

I want to briefly mention two figures across 2 centuries of TAFE whose art careers were formatively shaped by technical art education and who in turn went on to shape the cultural landscape of Sydney.

The first is the French/Australian artist Lucien Henry, who In the 1880s convinced the NSW state that technical art education was of real benefit to the community as a whole and not ‘just a pleasant past time.’ In 1884 Henry became the first instructor in the Department of Art at Sydney Technical College, then based at the School of Art in Pitt Street. Not only did Henry train a generation of artists, art teachers, and tradesmen, many of whom would design and carve Sydney’s finest sandstone buildings. Henry’s own designs in the Sydney Town Hall including the grand stained glass windows and wrought iron decorations, are permanent monuments to his vision of technical skills married to a grand civic public art.

The second artist is the Sydney modernist Bob Woodward, whose fountains are iconic Sydney landmarks.  In the late 1930s Woodward studied manual arts at Sydney Technical High School and took lessons at East Sydney Tech while doing an apprenticeship in metallurgy. Later he applied his trade skills to the technical requirements of fountain design. All his fountains bring visual, tactile and aural pleasures to Sydney’s CBD, like his Dandelion design for the El Alamaein fountain at Kings Cross which fuses engineering with an organic modernism. His other fountains include the sunken Wall of Water beside Sydney Town hall, the water spiral at Darling Harbour and The Fountain in the central lobby of NSW Parliament House.

Our politicians, if they want to foster a rich and inclusive civic culture across Australia must support visual art training in the TAFE sector.

Spread the word. Share this post!