Open Letter to the VC: The West needs Performing Arts


By Dr Mel Macarthur:

Dear Professor Glover,

A word of introduction. I am a graduate student (D.C.A.) currently in my third year at Western Sydney University in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts. I have previously taken degrees at the three long standing universities in the Sydney metropolitan area (and some others besides). My experiences of Western Sydney University are very positive and compare favourably with other universities I have attended. Having said that, I will raise a matter which I consider Western Sydney could beneficially rethink.

Western Sydney has recently undergone an exercise whereby, it seems to me, it has sought to redefine itself and ‘claim’ the social and cultural environment in which it is situated. This would suggest that the University is sensitive to its surrounding social and cultural environment. It therefore seems to me to be an anomaly that the Playhouse, a building designed to foster the performing arts (and at the main entrance to the Kingswood Campus) is underutilised for the performing arts. Perhaps this decline commenced when the University dismantled the Bachelor of Performing Arts degree, a degree which produced notable performers for stage, film and television. I have seen fine numerous fine productions at the Playhouse.

I am not privy to the reasons why the performing arts were thereby diminished at the University and a fine facility underutilised for the purposes of performing arts, especially drama. I am tempted to speculate that it may have been a striking lack of foresight, or perhaps rigidly fiscal perspectives of previous administrations. I will refrain from further speculation. What is definitively not speculative is that, since the time of the aforementioned decisions about performing arts at the University, the region of Greater Western Sydney has expanded very significantly, both in population and the diversity of its culture. The area has a wonderfully rich and diverse ethnic and cultural background and this can only increase. It is an exciting place to be. There are many talented people in the Greater Western Sydney area. The Writing and Society Research Centre exemplifies the talent in this geographical area, and of people from other areas, who have been attracted to this University to undertake their imaginative work.

In my recreational time, I lead walks for young people from Bidwill across the Overland Track in Tasmania. Part of the preparation for the Overland Track is the undertaking is a series of day walks. On these day walks I have come to know these young people and I have been very impressed by their talents and with their aspirations. Most of these young people identify as Indigenous. A considerable amount of their interest and talent is in the performing arts. The active encouragement of such young people I would see as an important undertaking and the University would benefit by an even greater engagement with them through the use of its resources, the Playhouse in particular.

I often pose questions when I walk past the Playhouse to enter the University, questions such as: ‘Could the University be doing much more to foster the performing arts in an area so rich in talent and multiple cultures as Greater Western Sydney’? Could the Playhouse once again become a hub of activity showcasing the performing arts and thereby encouraging the talent that I consider to be so evident in this area? If the University has sought to rebadge itself, could not a vigorous involvement in encouraging the performing arts be at the forefront of its activity? If, in fact, the University is redefining itself and claiming Western Sydney as its ‘turf’, what is its policy with regard to the performing arts in this rapidly growing area? What is the University policy and practice with regard to outreach and connection with the area in which it is situated, particularly with regard to the performing arts? I consider that Western Sydney University could play an even larger part in the social and cultural development of Greater Western Sydney, dare I say it, much as the University of Sydney Dramatic Society has done in its area (and far beyond).

Times have changed, and radically, since the University abdicated from its wider involvement with regard to the performing arts. I consider it time for the University to have a re-think of the way it engages with and encourages performing arts in Greater Western Sydney.

Professor Glover, I respectfully submit these matters for the consideration of the appropriate University committee/department. I am of the opinion that considerable numbers of students would be as interested in the responses to the aforesaid question as I am.

Yours Sincerely,

Dr Mel Macarthur

S/N 97079688


At the time of publication, Dr Macarthur will be on a transcontinental bicycle crossing (Bunbury, WA to Sydney) raising funds to take a group of young people from Bidwill across the Overland Track in December 2016. For further information on this Broadening Horizons project, google: bidwill uniting broadening horizons.

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