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Mastering the art of creativity - Ara

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

They say great leaders are made not born - and eight Ara graduates are proof of this, trailblazing the way as the first graduates of Ara Institute of Canterbury’s Master of Creative Practice, a postgraduate qualification that builds fully-formed creative artists across a range of disciplines including music, fine arts and performing arts.

Dr Bruce Russell, Ara’s Creative Industries Postgraduate and Research Leader, says Ara knew there was demand for a Master’s qualification in creative practice when it launched the programme last year.

"We discovered that there were individuals in Canterbury - particularly visual artists - who knew they needed to refresh, develop and deepen their creative thinking toolbox," he says. "Developing our Master’s gave us the opportunity to create a qualification that was totally fit for purpose, and NZQA gave us a big tick for that."

Dr Russell says the Master’s teaches established creative practitioners high-level, critical thinking processes, enabling them to make a ‘creative artefact’ that embodies their practice-based research. "The point of the Master’s is to demonstrate that you can operate at a self-directed, self-sustaining level."

He adds that unlike some Master of Fine Arts programmes, Ara’s Master of Creative Practice, and its Postgraduate Diploma in Creative Practice, are taught by a Creative Industries faculty "bristling with doctorally-qualified" staff. "And we have brand new, purpose-designed qualifications and a highly qualified, highly motivated staff. We’re tooled-up."

Harriet Collins and Folina Vili, who both have undergraduate degrees from Ara, are among the first graduates of the Master’s programme.

While Collins wanted to gain more theoretical knowledge and research experience, Vili says she had unfinished business with the body of work she’d started in the final year of her undergraduate degree. Her Master’s thesis focused on embodying her Sāmoan-Pākehā identity and the Sāmoan concept of vā (inter-relational space), resulting in a series of prints and mixed media works on paper reflecting on the different facets of her mixed ethnicity.

"I knew Ara had the facilities I needed to continue working on this body of work, and an environment I enjoyed and prospered in," Vili says. "I found the self-directed nature of the practical project and written component of the course very challenging. However, I enjoyed pushing myself and then seeing my ideas come to fruition. It was rewarding to learn about new ideas and to discover new things about myself and how I learn and work."

Collins’ thesis explored ritual practice for non-religious persons through art and sought to understand why she, as an atheist, was attracted to aspects of religious or spiritual practice. She discovered that non-religious people such as herself can gain a sense of fulfillment, inner peace and self-regulation through these practices.

Despite the challenges of the Master’s, Collins says the rewards were substantial. "My thinking concerning my creative process has completely evolved. I became more self-aware of my creative strengths and weaknesses, which the longer project timeframe allowed me to do."

"My biggest lesson was in creating a meaningful creative process, rather than being solely concerned with the end result," she says. "In realising this, I feel that I now have a much healthier relationship with my artistic practice."

Vili says she too gained confidence and a deeper understanding of herself and her abilities. "I’m able to trust my creative decisions a lot more than I used to. I also have a deeper understanding of and respect for Polynesian concepts, customs and artistic practices."

Both Vili and Collins encourage other creative practitioners to undertake the Master of Creative Practice.

"It’s a great opportunity to have the time, space and support to fully delve into your creative practice," Collins says. "It significantly helped me to build confidence as a creative, establish a meaningful creative process, focus my long-term creative ambitions and contextualise my artistic practice. It will inspire me for years to come."

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