Current Issue #487

Creativity beyond survival

Pridham Hall

Despite the challenges creative industries have faced over past months, South Australia’s creative ecosystem is nurturing green shoots.

South Australia has long been a cultural hub of energy – fluid and shifting over time. The creative industries sector is nominated as one of the state government’s nine priority sectors, and every dollar of direct activity in the state’s creative industries cluster of screen, design, music, festivals, creative writing and publishing, visual and performing arts, and craft is matched indirectly in other industries. With cultural and creative activity contributing more than $110 billion to Australia’s economy over just two years, the sector breathes life into our economy in every sense.

Looking back at the bushfires that ravaged the country and the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, it’s difficult to imagine creativity past survival.

However, Professor Joanne Cys is confident local creatives are rising to the challenge. Cys is the executive dean of the University of South Australia’s new academic unit, UniSA Creative, which houses its film and television, design, art, architecture and creative industries degrees.

Creative industries were among the first to be hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis, so equally, they have been among the first to find innovative solutions to keep our culture thriving.

“There’s sometimes a misconception that creativity flourishes in contexts of freedom and l don’t think that’s necessarily the case. In design, when there’s a problem to address and there are constraints, there are parameters, there are challenges to work within, that’s when creativity comes to the fore and produces solutions, new ways of doing things, and new approaches,” Cys says.

Cys has long been a respected voice in the South Australian creative sphere. From her background as an interior designer, working through cross-disciplinary industries, Cys returned to university to undertake postgraduate study, which led her down the path of academia.

Although she has remained heavily involved across the creative sector both nationally and internationally, Cys’s roots are here in South Australia. She believes that all people have creative dexterity at their core.

“Even in times of duress, creativity can flourish. Creative thought is actually able to transcend the most restrictive conditions.

While the current situation is not one that we’ve sought, you will see that there are creatives finding, very quickly, new ways of performing their art and sharing things that they create in the public forum,” Cys says.

Dave Court, a multidisciplinary artist and UniSA visual arts graduate, is proof of this. Most recently responsible for the design of the 2020 Adelaide Fringe poster, and having worked across painting, installations, photography, design and murals since completing his degree in 2013, Court has had to quickly adapt to the new environment.

“One of the projects I was a part of was the Bait Fridge, and we were scheduled in to start a 10-week artist residency at The Mill the same week restrictions kicked in. We ended up creating things, leading workshops, and directing people to make things in their own homes on Zoom. We had to completely rethink how that was going to work,” Court says.

“It was different to what the workshop would normally have been. We were able to adapt and use the internet as a medium and Zoom as an avenue to create new work that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”

It’s with this dexterity and innovative thinking that UniSA has positioned its staff, students and graduates at the forefront of creativity.

One of the university’s key industry collaborators is Rising Sun Pictures. Having had a hand in major motion pictures including the internationally acclaimed Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Marvel movies, Rising Sun Pictures is a powerhouse of creative talent. Managing director Tony Clark believes the partnership with UniSA is one of the best things Rising Sun Pictures has done as a business.

“Our partnership with UniSA has allowed us to feed new talent into the system, put them in an environment where they’re learning from people who have worked at the highest levels around the world, and increase the density of that talent here in the state,” Clark says.

With the emphasis on industry connections and the sheer breadth of disciplines that fall under UniSA’s creative umbrella, the possibilities are endless.

As a young university that houses architecture, creative writing, cultural studies, performing arts, social media, screen studies, journalism, communication, contemporary art, illustration and animation, digital media, film and TV, interior architecture, product design, and music, UniSA looks for the connections between them all.

But where does creativity start and stop? The commonality that binds these disciplines together is not the industry sectors within which they sit, but their lingua franca of imagination and creative thought.

And, while we feel our way through the dark of the COVID-19-affected world, the light at the end of the tunnel is there and creatives will respond to that.

For the many students, academics, industry partners, and collaborators of UniSA, the combination of innovation with form, style, function and passion nurtures creativity .

“Pre-COVID-19, pre-bushfires, South Australia always had a creative ecosystem. While it develops, expands, and contracts with various opportunities and challenges, it is always there and it’s actually a fundamental part of our community and our identity. It’s our creative and cultural ecosystem that is one of the important foundations of the health of our society,” Cys says.

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