Arts New England – a research centre for the whole community

Published 20 July 2009

tiffinA newly established research centre at the University of New England will foster a spirit of free and creative inquiry in the arts within the New England community.

The new centre – “Arts New England” – was initiated by Professor Jennie Shaw, Head of UNE’s School of Arts, and officially opened earlier this month by the distinguished international scholar Professor Helen Tiffin.

“The membership of Arts New England is drawn from across the University and from the wider community,” Professor Shaw said. “The Centre will support a wide range of research projects based across the University, and will especially foster research and research-teaching projects in the arts with links to the Armidale and regional communities.”

Professor Tiffin (pictured here), an Adjunct Professor at UNE whose academic career has included professorships at the University of Queensland, the University of Tasmania, and Queen’s University in Canada, emphasised “the absolute importance of keeping pure arts research – and pure science research – to the fore in universities and communities generally”.

She said centres such as Arts New England were “crucial at a time when universities are under enormous pressure” to favour “directed” research over “curiosity-based” research, and that such centres were working to preserve “imagination, interpretation and transformation” – one of the major research themes of Arts New England.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Pettigrew, said the new centre was a “watershed” for the School of Arts. He said the involvement of the wider community was particularly important, and that he was “pleased to see so many people from the New England community here today”.

Professor Margaret Sedgley, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of UNE’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said that one of the “real strengths” of the new Centre, in addition to the involvement of the community, was its mixture of established “high-flyers” in research and younger researchers at the beginning of their careers. “That kind of mentorship and support is vital,” Professor Sedgley said.

Professor Ray Cooksey, UNE’s Acting Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research), spoke about the diverse range of research available to the Centre, saying that its “unified vision” was “underpinned by a diversity of focus”. “It reflects the diversity of the environment we live in,” Professor Cooksey said.

Dr Arthur Rickards, Managing Director of the Agricultural Business Research Institute, Chairman of the New England Conservatorium of Music, and Director of the International Livestock Resources and Information Centre, spoke at the launch of Arts New England about his own experiences in establishing successful community and UNE-based centres. “The potential for UNE-based centres is limited only by our imagination,” Dr Rickards said.

On the day of the launch, Associate Professor Erica Fudge, Reader in Literary and Cultural Studies at Middlesex University in London, presented the Centre’s Inaugural Distinguished Speaker Lecture.

Both Dr Fudge and Professor Tiffin work in Animal Studies – an interdisciplinary field of research defined as “the critical study of human-animal relations in the humanities”. They were hosted at UNE by Dr Jennifer McDonell, a lecturer in the School of Arts who was on the organising committee for the major international conference Minding Animals, held last week in Newcastle, at which both Professor Tiffin and Dr Fudge presented papers. Animal Studies is one of the research themes within Arts New England, and nine UNE academics (including Dr McDonell) from four Schools presented papers at the Minding Animals conference.

Anyone interested in contacting Arts New England or in becoming a member is welcome to contact Professor Shaw at: school.arts@une.edu.au.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of Professor Helen Tiffin displayed here expands to include (from left) Dr Jennifer McDonell, Associate Professor Erica Fudge, and Professor Jennie Shaw.