Broni Sargeson is one of the few students studying glassblowing in Australia – a craft honed through years of hard work and taught by a few art schools across the country.
But she is worried about her work, and the expertise on which the Australian National University School of Art (ANU) has built a reputation is under threat.
Last month, ANU released its “Managing Change” proposal, announcing that cuts to funding for the School of Art would be needed.
These proposed funding cuts would see furniture, jewelry, and artifact making classes cut.
For Ms. Sargeson, the news was difficult to take.
“Every part of this school is important to me and to the community,” said Ms. Sargeson.
“Sacrificing any element or any personnel or whatever puts that in jeopardy.”
School faces an “unsustainable” deficit of $ 3.5 million
In a statement, ANU said it remained committed to the studio art practice for which it had become famous, but said the model used by the School of Art was no longer financially viable.
“Since 2014, the school has operated with an annual operating budget deficit of $ 2 million, after including a direct university grant of over $ 1 million per year,” the statement said.
“This grant recognizes the important contribution of the cultural sector to society and the costs of studio teaching.”
Without this grant, the School of Art’s recurring operating deficit was between $ 3 million and $ 3.5 million.
The director of the School of Art and Design, Professor Denise Ferris, said the school was in deficit largely due to the small size of its classes.
“The crux of the cuts comes down to the burden of students versus income,” she said.
She said the school had done well to be protected from major cuts so far, but could not continue unscathed given the impact of the pandemic.
“We bravely clung,” she said.
“It is repeating itself in all institutions across Australia at this point. It is not a good story for the arts or design across Australia or the world.
“We get absolutely amazing teaching grades because of the quality of our teaching, but it’s very difficult to increase the scale. “
But some think that the School of Art and Design is being asked to carry too much burden on the ANU.
“To me the financial situation seems to be targeting the art school – for me this is representative of the fact that the arts are often the first to be cut or the first to be affected in times of crisis,” Ms. Sargeson.
“There are so many working artists and artisans coming out of this school and have so much to offer the community.
Alumni concerned about the future of art in Canberra
Former student Elliot Bastianon agrees with Ms Sargeson’s sentiment.
He moved to Canberra specifically to study furniture at the School of Art, from which he graduated in 2011.
Mount Bastianon now runs its own furniture making business for cafes and restaurants, and exhibits sculptures at the National Gallery of Victoria.
“Cutting the arts is such a short sighted thing,” he said.
He said there were companies and organizations that relied on the art school as a source of emerging talent.
“ANU is one of the only universities in Australia that offers workshop specific courses… I think it would be a real tragedy to cut that off,” he said.
“The system is not good enough”: professor
Ms Sargeson said students were the last to be informed of potential changes and had not been consulted.
She said they were still waiting to hear more information on what the cuts might mean for their degrees and had received mixed messages.
For example, the Managing Change document describing the cuts included a now disproved claim that the ceramic and glass workshop could be merged into a single unit.
While the ANU has said it will do everything possible to ensure people in the middle of their degrees can complete, Ms Sargeson said students remain uncomfortable.
Professor Denise Ferris agreed that the university had not handled communication with students well.
But she said she did not see the document until it was made public to relevant staff, ten minutes before it was released.
“The system is not good enough,” she said.
“This proposal is only a proposal. We will see what happens.”
The ANU School of Art’s change management consultation process wrapped up last week.