Ludicrous to look for a new leader when National Art School is finally shining
I WAS alarmed to hear that the hugely talented director of the National Art School, Darlinghurst, Anita Taylor, may not be reappointed.
Given that student recruitment is strong, public programs are blossoming, the gallery schedule is sparkling, and there’s a raft of high-profile sponsorships and donors, the powers-that-be should be rejoicing to have Taylor in charge. As stellar as its history has been as Australia’s oldest school of art, the NAS had been dawdling around the turn of the century, constrained by the school-level art education priorities of the NSW Department of Education.
But since winning partial independence four years ago, the NAS has managed to revitalise its reputation as one of Sydney’s most important cultural institutions. Indeed, it has managed to maintain a healthy respect for its academic traditions while developing a visual art curriculum and learning environment that is, quite simply, world-class.
Under Taylor, the NAS doesn’t just connect with its dusty past. Her passionate supporters include artist John Olsen and his highly talented gallery-owning son Tim. Plus Wendy Whiteley, Colin Lanceley, Tim Storrier, Les Blakeborough and Catherine de Zegher.
World-leading artists show in the NAS gallery, providing exemplary leadership as artists-in-residence and teachers. Recent alumni success is also extremely encouraging with the emergence of new young art stars such as Sophie Cape, Coen Young, Giles Alexander, Todd Fuller and Juz Kitson.
The NAS continues to produce artists worthy of its lineage (its alumni include Martin Sharp, Olsen, Jeffrey Smart, James Gleeson, Ken Done and Max Dupain).
Indeed, the NAS has educated more artists over a longer period than any other tertiary institution in Australia. Moreover NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, federal Labor minister Tanya Plibersek and Liberal opposition spokesman Malcolm Turnbull are three leading politicians who are aware of the importance of this unique institution, which continues to make an extraordinary contribution to Australian cultural life.
In 2010 the NSW government added $6 million to the coffers for capital upgrade of the semi-derelict Building 11, now being refurbished to provide new postgraduate studios, workshops and a centre for the nationally significant NAS collections and archives opening next year.
The Ian Potter Foundation provided one of its largest grants of $200,000 for the fit-out of the Collection Centre to ensure that this valuable asset (which tells the story of art and art education in Australia) can be properly cared for and for the first time become available to a wider public.
Last year, the NAS gained that all-important national approval under the Higher Education Support Act, enabling the school to offer Fee-HELP (similar to HECS) to be available to students this year.
It also received its first donations of work under the Cultural Gifts Program and gained donor support for its own Residency in Drawing at the British School at Rome.
After decades in the doldrums, clinging to essentially local notions of art and art education, since Taylor’s appointment in 2009 the NAS has assembled a first-class faculty, collectively committed to an artist-led art school education. After some grumbling by former staff during the school’s transition out of the NSW Department of Education to become an independent higher education provider, the NAS’s reputation in the wider community has begun to sparkle again.
Taylor is astute, not just with curriculum guidance but with fundraising and sponsorship, securing an unusual amount of support from The Ian Potter Foundation, private donors and major support from Emporio Armani, Gadens and Penfolds. Just before Christmas, Saatchi & Saatchi jumped aboard to provide a much-needed marketing sponsorship deal. This kind of excitement and enthusiasm for visual art education is unheard of in Sydney. Museums, yes. Art schools, not really.
So it seems utterly ludicrous to hear that the NAS board is searching for a new director. It makes you wonder what channel its members have been watching for the past four years. The reality is that the NAS is alive, well and kicking. In a mere four years it has started to bring in new streams of income and support and to meet all the measures and requirements as a stand-alone entity to work well and vibrantly in the future. Under Taylor’s leadership, the NAS is not only a vital part of the cultural landscape in Australian, but has also become one of the premier art schools in the world.
Ross Fitzgerald’s wife, Lyndal Moor, and daughter, Emerald Fitzgerald, are graduates of the National Art School.
The Weekend Australian, February 2-3, 2013, Inquirer p 22