Today my column will be devoted to a very specific local issue, the need to preserve the creative industry courses, specifically the theatre ones, at Charles Sturt University's Wagga Wagga campus.
The column is word for word also a letter I have just written to CSU's Acting Vice-Chancellor and its council members, and so takes the form of an 'Open Letter'.
I am referring to media stories reporting the closure of the Bachelor of Creative Industries (Acting and Performance Design) at CSU's Wagga Wagga campus, and their reported relocation to the Bathurst campus. The Daily Advertiser has been most diligent in its reporting of this issue.
In arguing so, I will acknowledge a personal concern, though it does not in any way form a conflict of interest, as I have had no involvement with CSU since my retirement 14 years ago. Prior to that, I was a Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Course Coordinator for three decades. For several years before my retirement, I was also course coordinator of the School of Visual and Performing Arts post-graduate programs.
The Wagga Wagga campus has been home to very successful theatre and creative industry courses since the establishment of its predecessor, the Riverina College of Advanced Education. Drama was initially taught as service subjects before becoming a discrete degree level course. For many years separate Bachelor of Arts courses were offered in Acting for Screen and Stage, and also in Theatre Production and Design. Honours years were subsequently added.
Wagga Wagga is ideally suited as a home for the Bachelor of Creative Industries (Acting and Performance Design) because of its more than a century old history of hosting performing arts companies, making for a hospitable, congenial and productive environment. The School of Arts was formed in 1859, and continues to provide high standard theatre today. The Civic Theatre opened in 1963. The Riverina Theatre Company, nee Riverina Trucking Company, the state's longest-running regional professional theatre company, was formed in 1976.
The CSU's (Riverina) Playhouse, recently refurbished by the university at a reported cost of $3.5 million, opened in 1986. The Playhouse's prime central city location on its own makes a compelling reason for retaining these courses at the Wagga Wagga campus.
The university's own publications note that the Playhouse is a "vital part of the Wagga Wagga creative community and a vital teaching resource for the University." It beggars belief that the university would squander such a vital resource and community connection by relocating the courses to Bathurst.
Wagga Wagga is also home to a splendid civic art gallery and a flourishing visual arts community. The Wagga campus is also the location of the Booranga Writers' Centre, established in 1994. It serves local, national and international communities through Writers-in-Residences and the publication of its annual anthology fourW. All these institutions have strong links with the Wagga campus' creative industry courses.
In short, Wagga Wagga's long history as a community that gives such prominence to the creative arts make it a much more appropriate location for the Bachelor of Creative Industries (Acting and Performance Design) than Bathurst.
Media reports have advised us that CSU's Wagga Wagga campus will henceforth be devoted to agricultural courses. This is a retrograde move that reverts it to the role of one of the two founding institutions of Riverina College of Advanced Education, namely the Wagga Wagga Agricultural College. As CSU consists of several regional campuses there is no logic behind making the Wagga Wagga one the exclusive home of agriculture.
Furthermore, as Wagga's rich cultural history demonstrates, it needs to be pointed out that 'regional' does not equate solely with agriculture.
A campus devoted solely to agriculture would be a very barren institution, with none of the myriad interests and activities that make university campuses such vibrant places to pursue a university level education.
Though I cannot agree with the federal government's claim that the purpose of universities is to 'train' job-ready graduates, it needs to be pointed out that graduates of the theatre courses at the Wagga Wagga campus of CSU have very successful careers, locally, nationally and internationally in their chosen field.
In a similar vein of thought, it almost seems that a focus on job-ready candidates falls into the same category as current federal government's anti-intellectual/arts approach, as demonstrated by its recent course funding announcement.
In conclusion, I must reiterate that the abandonment of the Bachelor of Creative Industries (Acting and Performance Design) at the Wagga Wagga campus of Charles Sturt University should not proceed. It is hardly an economically, pedagogically, or culturally appropriate step.