Why community matters to a visual arts student

What makes the student experience great? Overwhelmingly, it’s a sense of community.

In 2019, Griffith University exceeded the national average in all student experience indicators. Across the board – student support, skills development, learner engagement – the university stood out as one of the top universities in Australia, raising the bar for overall student experience.

But the first thing that comes to mind for Professor Elisabeth Findlay, Director of Queensland College of Art (QCA) at Griffith University, is the sense of community.

‘We regard ourselves as a very strong community. In particular, I think the staff are very dedicated to the students and in ensuring they have a supportive and connected learning experience,’ she said.

Community becomes particularly important in the context of tertiary education. Afterall, it’s where lifelong friendships and colleagues are made. It is also a place that offers the support necessary for emerging artists and designers as they progress in their careers. Paramount to this is a feeling of security. ‘We provide an environment where students can feel safe to experiment and explore new ideas,’ Professor Findlay added.

This exploration includes forays into other areas of study, supporting experimentation across disciplines so students can follow varied creative pursuits – which in turn encourages innovation within the creative arts. Professor Findlay explains that the degrees are deliberately flexible so students can choose electives from different disciplines. ‘It’s interdisciplinary but it’s also about collaboration,’ she said.

Creative growth in Queensland

In a state like Queensland, which in recent years documented a 9% increase in the number of Queenslanders who worked in the cultural sector, the creative industries and cultural economy has demonstrated growth. To some, Brisbane has evolved as a younger culture than Sydney or Melbourne, with a greater willingness to take risks in a developing arts scene. It’s a culture Professor Findlay says improves student learning through collaborations with local arts organisations and festivals.

‘Brisbane’s a good size for that, I think. There are lots of opportunities for students to further their learnings through those avenues. And also, it allows our staff to contribute to that visual arts community in Brisbane as well,’ said Professor Findlay.

Students regularly gain exposure to and work in collaboration with local cultural organisations and festivals like Bleach, Brisbane Festival, and QGOMA.

‘Brisbane is a thriving arts community, particularly at South Bank for the fine arts, we’re in that cultural corridor and that makes a very big difference,’ Professor Findlay added.

Students learn with industry professionals in studio spaces. Image supplied.

This feeling of community isn’t only for students. It also extends to academic staff. Tutors and lecturers at QCA are active in the local arts scene with established arts careers in their own right. Just recently, Bill Platz – a QCA lecturer to second year fine art students – became a COVID sensation through his popular series of online art classes with Queensland Art Gallery.

‘We’ve got some really world-class international artists teaching at QCA,’ said Professor Findlay. ‘And so, I think students are very fortunate to be exposed to those people in such a close environment and in such a supportive environment. That is a hallmark of what we do.’

Visit the Queensland College of Arts website to find out more about studying fine arts at Griffith University.

Brooke Boland
About the Author
Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW. She has a PhD in literature from the University of NSW. You can find her on Instagram @southcoastwriter.