As Melbourne residents blinked out of one of the world’s longest lockdowns last year, their much-loved art school also came back to life.
The Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) had just moved into its impressive new buildings in the heart of the Southbank arts quarter months before the pandemic hit.
Although the institution has found ways to support its students in their creative practice during the lockdown, many of its new facilities, which include a contemporary art gallery and a multimillion-dollar visual arts education center , have been dormant for much of 2020 and 2021.
The transition to creating art in shared spaces has been easier for some than others, but the famed VCA is now crackling with energy as young artists create and work together again.
Occupying a unique position right in the heart of Melbourne’s arts district, the VCA has reclaimed its position as the engine room for new and emerging talent.
“Being in your late teens and early twenties is such an important time of development,” says VCA Director Professing Emma Redding, who arrived from Trinity Laban Conservatory of Music and Dance in London at the start of this year.
“Our students have had less time to take creative risks and be independent than they normally would have, and the lockdown has impacted them all differently. Some have developed wonderful new digital skills, for example, while others have others found the isolation extremely difficult.
“Our job is to nurture and support them – and meet them wherever they are.”
Fortunately, the VCA celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, providing a welcome opportunity for celebration and renewal – as well as the chance to reaffirm students’ place in the institution’s proud tradition of artistic excellence.
The anniversary also provides an opportunity to reconnect with the wider post-COVID Melbourne community.
“It’s mainly about involving Melbourne,” says Professor Redding.
“Both inviting people in and us out in the city to help everyone rebuild their sense of who they are and their physicality. Bringing people back into their bodies and away from the screen.
“Artists have a key role to play in helping us achieve this.”
A baby from the 70s
With a proud history intertwined with Melbourne’s thriving arts scene, the VCA is one of the institutions best placed to support the city’s cultural re-emergence.
While its roots date back to 1867 and the National Gallery of Victoria Art School, the VCA was born as the institution we recognize today in 1972. This was the same year the reformist Whitlam government came to power. and that Australia’s first multicultural festival – the All Nations Festival – was launched.
Melbourne’s inner suburbs were teeming with new sights, sounds and smells from around the world, young people were engaging politically and new forms of social activism were springing up across the city.
The VCA was a place where artists could react to the changes around them and help shape this exciting new Melbourne.
Originally established as a visual arts school, the College expanded rapidly during the 70s to include music, theater and dance, adding film and television in 1992. It brought together a group diverse group of students and teachers united in their commitment to pushing artistic boundaries.
At first glance, the heady 1970s world from which the institution first emerged seems a far cry from post-lockdown Melbourne in 2022.
But, as our city comes back to life, similar opportunities arise. Today’s artists are challenged to find new ways to shape Melbourne’s identity and its future, just as they did then.
A new opportunity for renewal
“Something like ten or twenty percent of storefronts are empty in Melbourne,” says Professor Redding. “Now is the perfect time to ask what role the arts can play in the future of the city.
She sees TCV as an integral part of this discussion.
“The VCA is a solid seat at the table when it comes to re-engaging the community in the arts. We can come up with new ideas and possibilities due to the fact that we have different art forms here.
With an impressive list of influential alumni (think artists like Patricia Piccinini and directors like Andrew Upton) and a wide range of top university programs (including Indigenous arts and art therapy), the VCA is recognized as a world leader in arts research and education. .
It offers Melbourne a unique resource as it seeks to revive its subdued CBD.
For today’s students, as they find their way back to creating and making together, they have the privilege of tapping into a rich history as well as the opportunities of a reinventing city to inspire them.
“We have this bubbling pot of art forms and young people who have just come out of the lockdown experience,” says Professor Redding.
“Put all of these things together and I think it will produce incredible results.”
Banner: The Victorian College of the Arts sign in the 1980s/By Rennie Ellis, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria