Opening the doors to a practice informed by Country

Charles Darwin University’s new Academy of the Arts will pave the way towards a creative journey that is embedded in the Northern Territory’s rich landscape and First Nations practices.
Academy of the Arts

In March this year, Charles Darwin University (CDU) announced plans for the new Academy of the Arts to lead the Northern Territory’s creative landscape. 

At the helm of the new academy is Dr Amanda Morris, who brings with her 17 years of experience at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) among a plethora of roles in arts and education.  

Morris tells ArtsHub: ‘There’s been a shift in focus, both culturally and nationally, to the Northern Territory in recent years. When the Prime Minister visited the Garma Festival of Traditional Culture earlier this year in north-east Arnhem Land, all Australians were watching and listening. We’re seeing a focus being given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practices, but also to the landscape of the Northern Territory and the rich culture that’s available here.’

This commitment towards supporting local creative infrastructure, as well as talent retention in the state, is one that will continue over the next 10 years. Construction will soon begin on the brand new Northern Territory Art Gallery and programs such as the NXT Gen ARTS grants are in place to foster emerging arts workers. 

For CDU, these initiatives present the opportunity to centre young Australians with a focus on First Nations practices, diversity and inclusion. Morris says: ‘Having all these elements come together, I think there’s a real opportunity that we have to develop something unique in the Australian education landscape – an arts academy that really is focused on practiced-based learning for the next generation. 

‘We’ll be focusing on giving voice to contemporary Australian artists across the disciplines of visual arts, screen arts and performing arts, and in particular being informed by and celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practitioners.’

The Northern Territory is also unique in its diverse landscape, which has inspired creativity for tens of thousands of years. It’s a discovery that Morris has made herself while settling in to her new role since moving from Sydney. She says: ‘From the desert to the wetlands, mangroves, creeks and coastlines, it’s such a rich and varied landscape – it’s a landscape that tells stories from each area. To be able to engage with the First Nations artists from different areas is a strength that our Academy of the Arts offers.’

Artist Ian Hance, 2016, courtesy Charles Darwin University. Image: Supplied.

CDU also offers many different modes of engagement, leading to maximum flexibility. Students can study online, at the Darwin or Alice Springs campuses, or do a short study tour to complement their existing courses. 

Covering the full spectrum of Vocational Education and Training (VET) to Higher Education, CDU’s dual-sector approach means that it is geared towards nurturing industry-ready students with placement opportunities at organisations such as Darwin Festival, and the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. The university’s own Art Gallery houses a significant collection that is accessible to students, alongside its dedicated theatre venue. 

Morris continues: ‘I think the most important aspect of an arts practice right now comes back to being able to reflect on who you are and how you are responding to the issues within your community … CDU is about providing people with the hands-on tools, whatever their medium may be, to communicate those ideas. 

‘If you’re looking for a learning experience that is different, and that’s an adventure, this would be perfect,’ concludes Morris. 

Choose from an array of majors from CDU’s Arts degree including Creative and Digital Arts, Music Making, Production and Performance. Learn more.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram: @lleizy_