State Government funding cuts to TAFE fine arts courses was certainly worthy of a double-page spread in a recent Illawarra Mercury.
To go even further, this story should take up unprecedented amounts of discussion space until the NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli reverses this decision.
The idea that government subsidies or resources should only be available for courses likely to lead to paid employment or where there are current skill shortages in the workforce is limited thinking.
Cutting funds to fine arts education fails to recognise how learning new skills builds connections to different and complementary expertise for a very diverse fine arts student population.
People are complex, multi-skilled beings who need many forms of expression, most particularly if we are to keep pace with the changing technological environment. It makes no sense to reduce opportunities for learners to cultivate new skills and forms of expression.
Educators have long recognised the need for teaching to comprise visual, oral and participatory tools to be effective in engaging the diverse learning styles of their audience or participant group.
Making visual arts, music, dance, drama and other creative activities merely optional extras in education ignores all the incidental and interrelated learning that enriches our life, vocationally and personally. Many years ago I worked in a place where creative informal learning was the main way to engage young people who, for a variety of reasons, had slipped away from mainstream education at an early age.
From the outside the classes just looked like woodwork, cooking or art classes. In reality everyone in the group, including the facilitators, were learning how to negotiate, listen and be heard, understand the value of workplace health and safety, nutrition, budgeting and many other useful life skills. Very few participants were aware of all the types of learning that were intrinsic to these sessions because the deep engagement via the creative activity dominated the mix.
I was further reminded of the value of creative forms of communication when a publication by The Cloud Appreciation Society came my way with information on cloud types and their relationship to weather patterns.
The book’s quality drawings, photos and humourous anecdotes were captivating. Here was an informative and important book using various forms of art as well as accessible writing to enliven a subject.
I want Minister Piccoli to see how the fine arts are inextricably linked to both vocational and creative skills whether used in the paid workforce or not. Not only are creative pursuits a necessary way to “clock-off” from work and sustain the soul but workplaces value and regularly use creative skills to enhance their core industry tasks. A quick search of the internet shows how maths, finance, science and history, to name a few, rely heavily on creative skills to improve possibly dry and difficult presentations.
A school teacher today is unlikely to merely tell her young students about Cumulus clouds but rather engage the group by painting or building them while citing Mr Pretor-Pinney’s The Cloudspotter’s Guide on how, if you put them together, the water droplets in a medium sized Cumulus cloud weighs about the same as eighty elephants.
Go outside Minister Piccoli and look up. There is a rich world around us and you have the power to provide the means for creative engagement with our surroundings that benefits every one of us.
Sharon Callaghan is a Wollongong resident with a life-long interest in social change movements.