Uni under fire over closure of VCA’s Centre for Cultural Partnerships
The University’s Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (VCA&MCM for short, and yes, it is all just one faculty) has announced that “it will cease offerings in all programs and discontinue operations managed at the Centre for Cultural Partnerships (CCP) by the end of the year.”
The impending closure has drawn harsh criticism from students associated with the centre, saying the closure will do “considerable damage to the VCA” and describing it as “part of a general attack on the artistic integrity and credibility of Australia’s art schools”.
The CCP offers a number of programs including a stream within the Master of Fine Arts, PhDs, and Graduate Diplomas.
A group called #SaveCCP has been founded to oppose the closure, calling for “reversal of the Dean’s decision and the complete reinstatement of the Centre for Cultural Partnerships, including the retention of all its programs and staff”. In an open letter, the group said they were “dismayed and distressed by the decision”, saying: “The Dean’s decision entirely disregards the burgeoning ‘social turn’ in contemporary art that has witnessed a rise in international exhibitions and theoretical discourse that recognises the artistic merit and power of transdisciplinary, community-engaged and social practice art projects.”
The group is organising a petition to present to the University, which had over 1,150 signatures as this edition of Parkville Station went to print.
The Dean of the Faculty of VCA & MCM, Professor Barry Conyngham, announced the decision in emails sent around to staff and students of the centre on Thursday, 22nd September.
The email cites three drivers for the decision: losing funding from the philanthropic Buckland Foundation (which supplied $31,556 to assist in establishing the centre); insufficient “alignment between the CCP and the core business of the VCA and Faculty”; and the CCP not achieving “sustainability” leading to a “significant risk that the Faculty would be required to subsidise the bottom line on a continuing basis”.
SaveCCP also criticised the level of consultation that had taken place, saying “No process of consultation was sought with the students or casual staff, with the decision effectively appearing out of the blue”.
In a statement released more broadly to the media, Conyngham defended the level of consultation that had taken place. “This is not a decision the Faculty takes lightly, and comes after an extensive period of consultation and discussion with stakeholders across the University and the arts industry more broadly.”
Parkville Station understands that there are about 70 students currently enrolled in degree courses in the Centre.
Normally, the discontinuation of any course at the University (and the closure of the CCP will discontinue a number of them) requires a “teach out plan” that will indicate how the discontinuation will affect students currently enrolled in a degree. Naturally, the University uses assuring words in relation to this, saying that “the Faculty/the UoM is committed to ensuring all students are able to complete their program of study”.
We believe that, as of publication, the Academic Board has not yet approved a teach out plan for students enrolled in CCP’s courses.
University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Education (Academic Affairs) Officer, Tom Crowley, said that if a closure takes place “the most important thing is that a full and adequate teachout plan is put in place for current students. I made that clear to the faculty, and in particular asked that students be consulted before a plan has been made, not after. The faculty responded positively to my initial comments, and it is my understanding that they will involve students in developing a teachout plan. This is a positive, and I will keep in contact with the faculty to ensure they follow through.”
Based at the VCA, the Centre for Cultural Partnerships is “a graduate teaching and research centre across the arts, social practice, and community development” and has a research focus on “explor[ing] the theoretical frameworks for the arts and community practice and applications in specific arts-based activities”.
The student group #SaveCCP’s website is saveccp.info.