Connecting communities through art: The Research Creation Showcase
Join us as we gain valuable insights into the intersection of academia, the arts, and community engagement in this week’s episode with Dr. Rachel Morley, Associate Dean of Engagement in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at Western Sydney University.
In this episode, we explore the impact of curatorial engagements, the value of arts and humanities education in a changing world, and the exciting future plans for the Research Creation Showcase, an innovative event that provides a platform for artists, scholars, and creatives to share their work and ideas with the wider public.
In this article, we summarise part of that conversation, but you can listen to the full interview in our podcast:
Rachel, just to start us off, I would love to hear more about your role at Western Sydney University and what it entails.
Yes, I’m Associate Dean of Engagement in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at Western Sydney University. My role is mostly about helping to develop strong and strategic partnerships between our school, our staff, our students, and the broader public, including industry and particularly the community of creative arts organizations in our region.
I do a lot of work to develop teaching and learning partnerships, working with industry and the community, and to help develop pathways to research as well. It’s an exciting role where I get to broker relationships, work closely with diverse stakeholders and then bring those opportunities back into the school.
I love the job and it’s incredibly nourishing and exciting as well.
For those unfamiliar, can you please explain what is the Research Creation Showcase at WSU and how did that come about?
It first started in 2014, and it was initiated by a very good friend and colleague of mine, Professor Hart Cohen. Hart is a Film and Communication Scholar and a documentary filmmaker as well. Back in 2014, Hart recognised that there was a lack of understanding about the power and impact and value of non-traditional research outcomes (NTROs), particularly in the fields of creative practice.
He recognised they weren’t necessarily always seen as real research, certainly not acknowledged in academic communities, and being counted as well, particularly in publications. Key to what he wanted to do was to develop a public forum that would enable our scholars and our artists within the school to be able to come together, exhibit their work, and talk about the power of their practice and how creative work is able to generate new ideas and knowledges.
It’s moving from just talking within the academy to really extending that research and extending those exchanges to the wider public as well. Since its first iteration, the Research Creation has been about bringing artists, students, scholars, and the wider public – particularly arts and artists from outside the community – to talk about their work.
And we do that through exhibitions, guest talks, panel discussions, performances, and short lightning talks.
It’s great to see that kind of platform being given to community arts and artistic scholarship. That kind of symposia, that connection of events is so common, even in STEM, and yet that academic partnership is often so much rarer to find for the arts.
We also often hear about business incubation, deep tech incubation, but it certainly is rare to hear about universities taking on the responsibility of artistic incubation and curatorial engagement. How do you see those kind of activities play a role in the university’s overall strategy? Where does that fit in terms of WSU’s mission and goals?
The showcase is an example of what we are doing in terms of artistic incubation. Part of our goal with research creation is to provide a platform for artists and creative practitioners to be able to showcase and share their work and network with other creative people, policy makers in the arts, creative spaces, other artists and institutions, etc.
The showcase provides that space and, in a way, it becomes a politically hot area because the funding and the recognition of the role and value of the arts is political in so many ways.
More broadly, Western Sydney University is what we call an anchor institution in the region. By that I mean that, yes, it is the sole tertiary provider for Western Sydney but, more importantly, it is deeply embedded in the community. It has 13 different campuses and key to that is the university has genuinely made a comprehensive, detailed and importantly, funded commitment to the arts and to creative practices.
Part of that is this idea of being an incubator: Fostering, supporting, cultivating and helping to be an agent of change. There are a bunch of ways that the university is doing that, but one of the keys is that, in 2019, the university released the Arts and Culture Decadal Strategy, which is a 10-year strategy that was born out of deep engagement and consultation with the multiple sectors across the arts and practices across Western Sydney.
Then, it established a centre called the Western Sydney Creative, which is run by an incredibly experienced team whose job it is to spend the next 10 years investing and consulting deeply and widely and doing the research to work out what are the key issues in Western Sydney when it comes to arts and creative practices and culture.
The university is committed to doing the research and ensuring through learning and teaching that it’s helping to create the right environment, opening access, reducing the barriers to students getting an education in these spaces and then building strong communities.
It has been the tendency in recent years to really steer both funding but also students towards a route away from arts and humanities. In your role, you really have to show the value of this kind of path, how lucrative and fulfilling it can be and how important it is to communities. How do you show that value to your own students?
The way that we show value is by taking our partnerships back to the students when they are in the classroom. We have put a big emphasis on what we call “work integrated learning”: Bringing in our partners as guest speakers with real world briefs, getting students to go on site and visit different creatives, and for them to be able to understand the way that jobs and career pathways are increasingly diversifying. They also begin to learn the languages and those important transferable skills that are germane to an arts humanities program like collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity entrepreneurship. These are critical skills that students can take into whatever career path they go, but it’s all about being able to adapt and be flexible.
A humanities arts program is always going to have a role to play. AI and other kinds of technologies are changing the landscape, but they are not going to make human beings redundant anytime soon”.
What are the aspirations and future plans of the Research Creation Showcase?
We are in the process of planning for the 2023 Research Creation Showcase. This time, we have moved the showcase to the Blue Mountains, which is historically a very dynamic and engaged community of artists and artists scholars.
We have partnered with the local Blue Mountains Council for the showcase this year and are working closely with school communities too, to deliver a smaller scale event, but we hope a large audience again, to come this year.
And we are seeing the ways in which the showcase can now be a mobile event that is able to work with different communities, while ensuring that we are keeping those strong relationships and partnerships with those that we have previously worked with.
And the winning the Regional Engagement Award at the UIIN Conference this year was a wonderful endorsement of the showcase event. Thinking deeply about how, with our very limited budget and our shoestring staffing of three people, we ensure that we document impact, evaluate the event in such a way that it has stories to tell beyond the day itself and that we can really keep building on that work.
Interested in more insights like this?
You can learn more about the characteristics and skills researchers need to be able to successfully create impact from their work in our podcast episode Research Valorisation | Skills for valorisation and commercialisation, or you can watch our video on three simple actions to help academics in the valorisation process.
Stay tuned for the next episode on this series and don’t forget to follow us on your preferred podcast platform!