TAFE rally: future looks bleak for the arts

The camaraderie at yesterday's Save Art in TAFE rally was great, but the state government's response to it was callous, Save TAFE Illawarra chairwoman Ann Clarke said.

Ms Clarke said about 40 art students from West Wollongong and Nowra TAFE art faculties travelled to Sydney for the rally outside State Parliament.

They joined more than 400 arts students in a protest over the NSW government's decision to withdraw funding from arts courses, such as sculpture, visual arts and ceramics, which will be offered only on a fee-for-service basis from next year.

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"We marched with our signs and our banners, chanting 'Save art in TAFE', from the Domain to State Parliament," Ms Clarke said.

"Some politicians came out and spoke to us, including [opposition education spokeswoman] Carmel Tebbutt, but we were blocked from going inside the building.

"[Premier] Barry O'Farrell would not accept our petition against the cuts, which had more than 16,000 signatures on it.

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"It was a callous and irresponsible response from this government, which was not prepared to engage with students and discuss the issues."

Ms Clarke said the South Coast students took heart from the support of their peers.

"It was an amazing feeling to have our concerns validated," she said.

"We all share the same concerns about the future of art in NSW, as this withdrawal of funding threatens the viability of art schools across the state."

When the NSW government announced the cuts in September, it reasoned that "while valued by the community, [the courses] are areas of low employment growth".

However, Ms Clarke said there were many career opportunities for graduates, social benefits too.

"Eighty per cent of practising artists in NSW have gone through TAFE, so we see these cuts as the death knell of art in our community," she said. "If society loses art, it loses its soul. We're not a civilised society without art."

Ms Clarke said art students had also been treated callously by TAFE Illawarra management, which had not yet advised what courses would be on offer next year, or at what cost.

A TAFE Illawarra spokeswoman said these details would be on the institute's website this month.

"Fine arts ... are a low-skill priority for NSW, when compared with the skills shortages in areas like construction and health," the spokeswoman said.

"[However], TAFE NSW remains committed to providing fine arts courses and TAFE Illawarra is currently developing a suite of course programs specific to local needs."

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