Degree that busts myths around artists’ employability

A new Bachelor of Visual Arts underpins studio-based practice with immersive professional ‘real life’ career skills.

In 2022, Federation University’s Arts Academy will roll out a new Bachelor of Visual Arts program across its regional Victorian campuses in Ballarat and Gippsland.

Dr Julie Reed Henderson, Co-Program Coordinator for the new degree, believes that the value of a visual arts course is sometimes understated or misunderstood. ‘It has much more scope than it is often given credit for,’ she told ArtsHub.

While the new degree has a foundation of studio-based practice across a range of media, it has been designed to embed the kinds of skills needed as a professional artist, such as cultural understanding, professional connections and de-siloing for career opportunity, in its students.

‘We want to bring artists’ practice into a broader arena. The basis of an “expanded practice” is an approach that de-silos the world. We are really hoping that this course offers some of those segues to being an artist today,’ Henderson said.

‘[Our program] is orientated towards employment, but employment based on self-knowledge and a confidence around what you can contribute to a world that is open and which values the role of the professional artist.’


The Arts Academy is one of the oldest continuing art schools in Australia, with a history spanning 150 years. Henderson believes that legacy adds enormously to their offering.

‘It means that you are studying in a place where there is a history of being artistic, which really adds to your ability to being accepted. You can say you are an artist and people know what that means,’ she said.

Given the experience of pandemic-altered learning and studio practice, Henderson said the Academy wanted to look into new ways of delivering a program, but to also ‘bring those new aspects into the experience, so that you can navigate to your strengths.’

‘The thought has been that a visual arts degree is an esoteric direction to take; that is purely mythology. Art has always had the vocabulary of skills to bring to any job.’

Dr Julie Reed Henderson

Key to the new degree, Henderson explained, is ‘honing a student’s creative persistence to arm them with the confidence to see through – and past – obstacles, by using those blocks to achieve a creative outcome, which is very employable.’


Henderson said that a professional visual arts practice can take many forms these days, describing many that reach to the periphery, ‘to the porous edge between disciplines to find the new; that is where an artist can take up those opportunities.’

Arts Academy’s BVA will start with a base level of six studio subjects. They are designed to formulate an idea, and then expand it through different media. It is essentially about learning the skills to carry a creative idea through, Henderson explained.

‘Then we take away the scaffold of support, to allow our students to find their own footing and take a fuller, more expansive view of a creative idea.’

These core disciplines are then built out with a suite of visual culture subjects, such as interacting with a First Nations Artist in Residence on campus to understand the need for cultural thinking around ideas, as well as a subject called ‘connections’, which arms artists with the professional skills to integrate and practice beyond the classroom.

Internships are also built into, and credited, within the program.

‘In the two regions where we are running this course – Ballarat and Gippsland – we work very closely with the galleries at hand to model all sorts of skills that an artist will need to understand professional practice.’

Studying in a regional setting also has obvious benefits in terms of wellbeing and the opportunity to focus on the important things as we navigate the ‘new normal’, Henderson continued.

‘I have seen my past students working in places I wouldn’t expect, and I think that is what a dynamic visual arts degree can do – to arm you to think outside expectations and to believe in what you have gained.’

The course is suitable for school leavers, mature-aged students and career artists wanting to refocus their practice.

Learn more about how you can apply.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina