Nation needs to consider high schools specialising in visual arts: minister

Arts Minister Mitch Fifield was at the National Gallery of Australia on Wednesday to open the national visual art education conference.Should more Australian high schools have “visual arts” in their title? That is the question being posed by federal Arts Minister Mitch Fifield.


He took over the portfolio four months ago in the ministerial reshuffle following Malcolm Turnbull’s overthrow of Tony Abbott.

Senator Fifield was at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra on Wednesday to open the national visual art education conference.

He said some schools were established as centres of excellence, and specialised in disciplines, such as agriculture, the performing arts and rural studies.

“But I’m not aware of a secondary school – and I stand to be corrected – that specialises in the visual arts … that has visual arts in the title of the school,” he said.

“Maybe we should – that’s something I put on the table for discussion.

“I think we need to have quite broad education in schools but it’s not a bad thing to have centres of excellence in particular disciplines, so that’s something for discussion.”

Senator Fifield told the teachers the arts is “not some luxury”.

“It’s not something that’s extracurricular in an educational sense,” he said.

“The arts is something that should be core to primary and secondary school education.”

He said he was shocked and surprised to learn when he entered Parliament 12 years ago only about one in four primary school students studied music.

He said that surprised him because music was offered throughout his school years.

Subsequently he became ambassador for The Song room, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing music education opportunities for children in disadvantaged schools.

Senator Fifield made no mention of Canberra’s cash-strapped cultural institutions being hit with a 3 per cent “efficiency dividend” cut to their budgets, imposed in December’s mid-year economic and fiscal outlook.

Most of the $52 million saved will go to Hollywood studios to help them film blockbusters in Sydney.

The National Museum will now have to find an estimated $1.2 million in “efficiencies” each year to satisfy the dividend demand, while the National Library is facing even tougher times.

After recording a $10 million deficit in the last financial year, the library will have to trim $1.5 million each year, based on the $50 million in government funding it received from the Commonwealth in 2014-15.

The efficiency dividend was not mentioned by gallery director, Dr Gerard Vaughan, in his introduction for the minister.

When the efficiency dividend was unveiled, none of the institutions were able to say how many jobs were at risk because of the cuts, but ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the increased efficiency dividends would hurt Canberra by inflicting damage on the cornerstones of the city’s tourism trade.

* In Sydney, the Dulwich High School of Visual Arts and Design caters for students from years 7 to 12.