Arts Education – what should we teach and how?

There’s a Twitter discussion happening right now hashtagged #artsed .  The hashtag acts as a search key for tweets that have anything to do with arts education, but this particular thread of the discussion is focussing on the issue of professional training for artists – more particularly theatre artists, and especially actors.  The originating posts are from the US but, such is the nature of Twitter, anyone from anywhere can jump in and contribute – it’s a democratic open house in the Twitter stream.  The current thread is tackling a matter dear to my heart and to those others who are participating.

However, there’s only so much you can say in Twitter’s 140 character delimited conversation bites and, inevitably, you long for another venue to continue the conversation at more length. I’ve turned here to my own scratch pad/blog, and perhaps others will join in the conversation.

These particular #artsed tweets are stirring the mud that has settled to the bottom of the arts education pond. I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about the problems attendant on training courses that seek a measure of respect in the professional arts landscape. The fact is the arts employment market is saturated here in Australia, and from what I gather, pretty much everywhere else in the west. There are far more credentialled (trained, talented) actors seeking work than there are positions to absorb them, and it’s been ever thus. Does this situation stop those wishing to profess themselves as artists? Not likely. Does the fact that the average annual wage for an Australian actor is $11,000 stop students entering training courses, whether university-based or commercially inclined? Again, not likely. So what are we tweeting about? Are we just going round and round in circles? If more and more graduates of reputable training courses are entering a ‘market’ that can’t absorb them – should this be addressed?  Should we even be talking about ‘marketplaces’ when referring to training for arts practice?

Well, economics of late have bitten hard, and arts schools in Australia have been closing their doors in response for some years.  When it comes to the kind of intensive training for a  professional career – the kind reflected in drama, visual arts, dance and music school curricula for example – the plain fact is that it takes a lot to deliver.  The small class, and often one-on-one student:teacher ratio is simply unsustainable given government priorities and the current funding policies of the Australian higher education ‘industry.’  The highly-regarded theatre training program at USQ (a former employer of mine) is a case in point.

USQ, an institution that once delivered excellently prepared actors and technical production/stage-management graduates has changed tack with its recently overhauled creative arts programs – and it’s not alone in this regard.  A more generalist, cross-disciplinary – elsewhere called an ‘open degree’ program of arguably more relevant, or, as some would have it more appropriately ‘academic’ courses for a university degree – is now offered here and in other universities across Australia. Economics aside, only time will tell whether or not this approach actually works, and how it will impact upon the arts practice of its graduates and the wider arts community.

With the closure of drama schools – what our US colleagues call ‘conservatories‘ – the market response has been opportunistic and swift.  Commercially-based training programs have been established, offering varying approaches.  Some are well established and have credibility, others are newer and can’t yet be judged.  So, what should arts educators be teaching men and women who wish to profess themselves as ‘artists’ ?  And we need to add who‘s doing the teaching and how?

The issue of standards inevitably raises its head, and this is where things get interesting, and where the issue of the credentialling of courses and their instructors deserves more attention by the wider arts industry.

But, to get back to some of the matters raised in the Twitter conversation … you might like to share in the discussion either here in the blog comments (below) on on the Twitter stream.

Meanwhile, here are some tweets from this morning’s discussion to give you a flavour of the conversation.


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