This is a daunting question to many young people aspiring to get a career foothold, whether this be in the ‘elite’ arts or in the ‘popular’ arts. Despite glamorous images to the contrary, cultural labour has a highly unequal profile, with over-representation by white middle class males, whilst ethnic minorities remain the most underrepresented social group.
How can we address this unequal profile when teaching a diverse cohort of students with varied professional experiences and cultural understandings?
In the Master of Cultural and Creative Industries (MCCI), lecturers are facing exactly this problem and are designing deep industry immersion teaching models through field trips to better prepare graduates for the reality of 21st global cultural industries.
Field trips hosted by industry partners are designed to capture insiders' stories in their real-world context.
Dr Xin Gu, lecturer in one of the units called Creative Cities, says some of the issues faced by local cultural and creative industries are hard to explain as they are sector specific and require ‘local know-how' that is not easily transferrable knowledge.
As part of the Creative Cities unit students visit ‘Collingwood Arts Precinct’ (CAP), ‘Footscray Community Arts Centre’ (FCAC) and ‘Docklands Art Collective’ (DAC) and gain insights into some of the real issues around cultural development in inner city Melbourne.
The students had the opportunity to see how cultural organizations are working with a range of stake holders, including city councils, local cultural agencies and community arts groups, to address these challenges.
These site visits are linked to professional skills which students can apply immediately after they complete the course.
Most universities now incorporate an industry engagement model in coursework masters but it is hard to get it right.
“The challenge is for these programs to develop trust with local industries and communities,” Dr Gu said.
“Cultural industries, unlike other sectors, operate on strong interpersonal connections. To engage industries in teaching is not as simple as ‘contracting out' to industry-based lecturers as a paid service.”
Dr Gu said we have to demonstrate a reciprocal cultural knowledge of these industries to build trust. This takes time and is often result of the research activities we develop with these local industries prior to the teaching engagement.
Another important feature of MCCI is the international field trips which allow students to compare different global cultural contexts during their study.
‘Shanghai City Lab‘ a flagship project for China engagement within the Arts Faculty, opens doors for our students to the some of the world's largest cultural producers and consumers in the world.
With its population of 25 million (and counting) Shanghai is China’s showcase city for the cultural creative industries.
Shanghai City Lab has been running for five years and has developed networks in a broad range of cultural and creative industries including the Chinese state broadcasting media (Bez TV part of the SMG group), digital media (Focus Media) as well as those small local cultural enterprises in emergent markets such as co-working, music festivals, Fab Labs that many of our graduates will develop as their own creative careers take-off.
Shanghai City Lab is collaborating with Shanghai Jiaotong University to prepare future leaders in the global cultural and creative industries. Over 150 students have participated in the program and it has been an eye opener for many.
“Shanghai City Lab opened up another dimension for me to engage with my home country. I never thought about working in these industries before joining the program,” one student said.
The global creative cities unit is a second international field trip program in MCCIs which will take students to Italy, looking at three very different cities.
Prato, an historical Tuscan textile town (supplying fabric to Italy’s top designers) is now trying to creatively re-invent itself. It also has the second highest Chinese population in Italy.
Bologna and Forli – the first a medieval, and the second a modern, city – provide a glimpse into how old buildings are being used by creatives and how Forli’s fascist past (it was Mussolini’s birthplace and site of his modernist constructions) has provided the basis of a new museum.
The trip to Milan, Italy’s fashion, design and food capital, will be led by local experts from the Centre for the Study of Fashion and Metropolitan Culture.
Professor Justin O'Connor, the founder of the Master of Cultural and Creative Industries, says it is essential for those who teach the program to develop strong connections with local and global cultural industries.
“We have an innovative unit on Cultural Economy and Sustainable Development which is built around expert testimony and workshops – experts from UNESCO, South African, Indigenous Australia and Amazonian Brazil,” he said.
Jennifer Tran, Designer and Community practitioner said she was not aware of this type of course content and units, saying “it’s wonderful to know that they value our knowledge and our practice.”
Morgan Brady, Development coordinator at Footscray Community Arts Centre said, “I like talking to students and answering their questions about my own industry gets me excited.”
Embedding industry engagement has only got started in universities and is a key challenge in teaching. Monash university's Better Teaching and Better Learning approach has identified ‘enterprising’ as one of several key transformational forces within the university and the field trip model categorized under it is exemplifying how we may develop sustainable, enterprising and internationalizing teaching resources better suited for training professionals of the future.