At its purest, this is simply a decision by the University to deal a deathblow to a school which produces musicians and composers who are working all over the world because it is impossible to run a conservatorium-model facility at a profit. That is, you cannot give up-and-coming musicians the one-on-one training which they need to become expert in their art, and make the profit margin that Vice Chancellor Ian Young is interested in. The underhanded and brutal way in which the restructuring has been handled is only salt in the wound. The issue at the base of this struggle to keep the School of Music intact is a far more fundamental one.
Obviously I have a vested interest in the Canberra School of Music: I have many friends who have not yet graduated, only having graduated myself in 2011. The most important mentors of my life, who carried me through the transition from buttoned-down legal secretary to gypsy soprano (which was painful, trust me) have had their world-class expertise and personal sacrifices disrespected in an unforgiveable way. Presumably the gut-busting work I put into completing my degree will also not be recognised in the future as the currency of a degree from the dumbed-down shell the CSM seems likely to become will drop significantly. So yes, I have taken it all very personally, as have every one of my friends in the national and international alumni diaspora.
In 2010, in my final year at CSM, I was invited by the National Film and Sound Archive to participate in the inaugural intake of the Heath Ledger Young Artist Oral History Project, a project set up to document the experience of up-and-coming artists across a variety of disciplines so that in the future the country has a record of what it was like for creatives in Australia as they (hopefully) blossomed into their professional careers. We are all interviewed for the archives at 5 year intervals. (This knowledge, and the knowledge that little but a nuclear holocaust can remove the footage, scares the bejesus out of me and I’m not entirely sure why I agreed to do it, but anyway…) Simon Crean, the current Minister for the Arts, was one member on a panel at the launch which also included myself and two other young artists, whereon we discussed the nature of the pressures upon young Australian artists in front of the national press.
What message does this send to the next generation of musicians in this country about the value that we place upon building our cultural diversity and heritage? What message does it send, for that matter, to THIS generation of musicians? To myself and my peers?
I guess in many ways I am luckier than most that I have a voice which will – through a quirk of fortune – be preserved for posterity when so many others more erudite will fade. I am confident that history will speak for us all, anyway, when it comes to the negative impact on the ACT and ultimately the country as a whole to have this precedent being set in Canberra. But from my perspective at least, the archives will show generations to come just how easy it was to feel undervalued in the Arts in Australia at the beginning of this century. As someone at the beginning of their career, I can only hope that things may change.
Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. - C S Lewis