Wolf is in the art studio

June 28, 1996

The painful results of the years of high inflation have been affecting academic institutions for some time. The backlog of those years of the nation's financial imbalance has now arrived with a vengeance.

One outcome of the situation is the tragic demise of part-time teaching in colleges of art. Those with least protection took the brunt of the cuts. Long-term part-time staff, who had given their commitment to institutions, found as a result their income reduced and reduced. Some who had two or three days a week are now lucky if they have ten days' teaching a year! Next year the likelihood is that this will be down by at least 50 per cent.

There are two scores on which this is profoundly regrettable. The first and the better aired is that these practising artists used to bring students into contact with a wide range of people committed to their subject. Their contribution was both in the field of particular expertise but even more importantly they provided an opportunity for the meeting of minds that so helps the development of understanding and perspective.

The second and largely unsung factor is that their employment was a patronage of the arts of considerable importance. As a nation we are inclined to think of the arts as a nice pastime, a pleasant decoration rather than an essential dynamic which helps those, not necessarily involved in the making, find their own sense of purpose and hope.

I would hope that the endless repetitive choruses "Against the cuts" and "What about our education?" which have lamentably arisen so indiscriminately over the years would not have blinded those with power to manage and control the purse-strings to the fact that the wolf really is now in the academic precinct - not only that of art colleges of course. Something very important has already been lost. This is not so much in the standards of fact gathering where modern technology can help, but far more importantly in the quality of educational experience where participants have time to meet and share.

It is this aspect of university life that has made such important and memorable contributions to the life of the community as the participants take their place in the world of work and service.

May one pray that for future generations of students the provision is not eroded further and that someone of power and vision will reverse the trend of funding.

Richard Robbins Faculty of art, design and performing arts Middlesex University

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