Dean of VCA confirms closure of Centre for Cultural Partnerships

On Thursday 22 September, the University of Melbourne’s Dean of VCA and MCM, Barry Conyngham announced to Faculty staff and students that the discontinuation of Centre for Cultural Partnerships (CCP) programs will be effective as of December 31, 2016.

CCP is Australia’s only dedicated graduate teaching and research centre for community arts and social practice. It offers specialised graduate programs that attract both local and international students and researchers. Through research and practice, the Centre creates a space for artists, cultural workers, policy makers and intellectuals to think out of the box in approaching the role of art in the community. CCP trains artists to make work with a social conscience.

Since 2005, CCP has graduated hundreds of exceptional postgraduate students and housed large-scale funded research in areas such as community arts and social practice, multicultural arts, disability arts and cultural policy with many partners in the sector.

An excerpt from an open letter from the Friends of CCP, dated Tuesday 27 September:

“…The Dean’s reasons to close the Centre include the usual economic rationalisations we have become used to from today’s profit-driven universities. It comes close on the heels of the threat to close the Sydney College of the Arts and is part of a general attack on the artistic integrity and credibility of Australia’s art schools.

The Dean’s reasoning to close the CCP also questioned the Centre’s alignment with the core business of the VCA, which “is in its artistic disciplines, and the training of artists”. We believe this is an extraordinarily conservative and limited view of the role of art and art making in society. The CCP’s students and researchers are artists and cultural producers. The CCP trains artists to make work with a social conscience.

The Dean has made a value proposition that disrespects and rejects CCP’s key ventures of community and socially-engaged art training; engagement and partnership activities; and interdisciplinary research, as well as their significance to the broader arts community. His value judgment does not align with the university’s own core values.”

“This goes against the University of Melbourne’s own protocols and has placed undue stress and anxiety on CCP staff and students, who are now completely unsure about their future or next steps in the closure process.”

While the Faculty must commit to teach out of all programs for the next couple of years, the full implications of the Dean’s announcement are still unclear. Against University procedure, the Dean has prematurely announced his decision to close the CCP, before the University’s Academic Board has approved the closure, and before a teach-out plan has been determined.

The Dean released a public statement on Wednesday 28 September justifying his decision:

“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.

The Faculty remains concerned that the sustainability of programs at the Centre has not been achieved in almost a decade of operations, and with very low take-up of the programs on offer.”

CCP Protest 2016

A call to action

The CCP current students and staff as well as alumni and friends stand in solidarity as they take action against the Dean’s decision, demanding a full reinstatement of the Centre, including the retention of all its programs and staff; full transparency from the University through which this decision was reached; and, a public forum with the University of Melbourne’s Vice-Chancellor, Glyn Davis, the Director of the Faculty, Su Baker, and Dean of the Faculty, Barry Conyngham, so that CCP students can debate their case.

The University of Melbourne confirmed that a brief discussion took place on Thursday 29 September:

“The University can confirm that a small number of protesters briefly took the stage at a Faculty of VCA & MCM forum today that involved the Vice-Chancellor, and left the stage at the request of security.

Both the Dean of the Faculty and the Vice-Chancellor responded to questions around the closure of the CCP from audience members as part of a planned Q&A at the end of the forum, and the Faculty will be providing further opportunities to discuss the move in the coming weeks.”

CCP currently supports 75 Masters and PhD students, 5 core staff and 10 casual staff. Every one of CCP students and staff have been adversely affected by the premature announcement.

“There has been a gross failure in duty of care for staff and students at CCP,” PhD student and sessional staff member, Amy Spiers said. “Students should not have been notified of the closure of their programs before approval by the academic board and teach-out plans and staff contracts have been resolved. Students feel devalued and mistreated. The result of this premature announcement has been high levels of stress and anxiety among students and staff and considerable disruption to classes. We’ve had close to a fortnight of uncertainty and it will likely continue for some weeks.”

At this stage, with the discontinuation not officially approved, the CCP is still taking enrollments for courses causing much confusion with prospective students.