Two iconic educational institutions, UNSW and the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), are reuniting in new ways to invigorate artistic collaborations, learning and research opportunities for staff and students.

UNSW’s President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs and new NIDA CEO, Ms Liz Hughes, reflected the collaborative nature of this relationship in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed until 2023.

“UNSW Sydney and NIDA’s shared history dates back to NIDA’s inception so I am delighted we will not only continue our relationship but strengthen our bonds with this new Memorandum of Understanding” said Professor Ian Jacobs. “We have already seen the fruits of collaboration between Australia’s leading performing arts school and various faculties across the university – in artistic collaborations, joint events, research and professional development.”

Founded in 1958 through an arrangement between UNSW, the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) and the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, NIDA’s first location was on the UNSW Kensington campus.

In 1988, NIDA moved to its current location on Anzac Parade. The current Chair of the NIDA Academic Board is UNSW Art & Design Dean Ross Harley and UNSW Head of the School of Arts & Media Professor Michael Balfour is a member of the Academic Board.

“There is immense potential to build on our partnership,” Professor Jacobs said. “The possibilities of our combined imagination and innovation are endless.”

NIDA CEO, Ms Liz Hughes, appointed to the role in December 2019, said she was excited about the opportunities arising out the MoU. “NIDA and UNSW have had a very longstanding relationship, the MOU confirms the solid, rich history, but also opens up the conversation for innovative collaboration between UNSW and NIDA going forward,” she said.

“Both UNSW and NIDA share a deep understanding of the performing arts and we see great possibilities in building NIDA’s collaboration with the art and design and arts and social sciences faculties through bringing our students together in communities of practice and scholarship.

“We are also keen to see how the training NIDA provides could be of value for UNSW leaders, early career and established researchers.”

Ms Hughes said that despite the disruptions caused by COVID-19 her goals for NIDA staff and students remain focused on carving out the future of the performing arts in Australia and internationally.

“NIDA is an extraordinary organisation that has been both a bedrock and collaborator with the performing arts industry. As an education institution it is important that NIDA anticipates and contributes to the evolution of the performing arts industries. Building on ancient performance craft, our focus is on inventing the future of the performing arts and reimaging the role of performing arts in shaping the future of the world,” she said.

“We are already positioned as a global organisation, but the focus is on how we can extend the value of our education more broadly, inclusively, globally and through new collaborations to make a big difference to the world.

“There are many research initiatives happening at UNSW which are awe inspiring and we don’t always hear about this incredible work. As part of the collaboration, we hope that some of NIDA’s presentation skills training could be used to enhance the telling of some of the research stories that are not widely known for different audiences to profile the fantastic work that’s happening at the University.

“Engaging emerging performing arts professionals to use the skills of storytelling in knowledge translation and communicating research outcomes is an exciting opportunity.”

More opportunities for UNSW students are available through attendance of NIDA’s weekly online In Conversation behind-the-scenes talks with leading artists including Joel Edgerton and Shannon Murphy. Ms Hughes said UNSW Centre for Ideas events and productions may also provide a chance for collaboration and networking opportunities for students once the pandemic resolves.

Also set out in the MoU is the provision of many services, including access to performance spaces, training and development programs and careers and employment services.

Although the effect of COVID-19 on the higher education industry is unprecedented and catastrophic, both Professor Jacobs and Ms Hughes remain optimistic about the future of the UNSW and NIDA partnership.  

The first of the cross-institutional collaborative workshops between UNSW and NIDA will be held on 3 July 2020. “It’s a fantastic relationship because we have a lot to gain from each other – although there are similarities, there are also a lot of differences and once we are out of COVID-19 we can think more broadly about how we can engage and what we can dream up,” Liz Hughes said.

“Higher education and the arts have been impacted enormously by COVID-19, at a time when we have been relied upon for vital research and great solace in the global effort against the virus”, Professor Jacobs said. “I am excited by the opportunities for UNSW and NIDA to help Australia recover from the pandemic”.