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We challenge the expectation that the creative children of regional communities must leave to pursue art training. We want to enable artists to reach for their creative potential wherever they are.

A cultural hub from its early days, Ballarat boasted a cluster of recognised art schools by the late nineteenth century. The School of Mines and Industries, Ballarat (SMB), a predecessor institution of Federation University Australia (FedUni), was one such institution. Established in 1870, SMB began offering drawing classes in 1880. State government pressure saw SMB assume responsibility for Ballarat’s other prominent art schools in 1907: the Ballarat East Technical School of Art (No. 11, overseen by the Ballarat Public Library); and the Ballarat West Technical School of Art (No. 15, managed by the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery).

Although the amalgamation was controversial, staff and students united beneath the new Ballarat Technical Art School (BTAS) banner, and set to work making their mark. In 1915, to some fanfare, a purpose-built art centre opened in Lydiard Street South, superseding the school’s other scattered sites. It can still be admired amidst the SMB Campus’ historic landscape. The school grew to be a leading visual art education institution, offering both vocational and expressive art subjects, as well as equipping generations of art teachers.

In 1976, the Ballarat College of Advanced Education (later the University of Ballarat, now FedUni) began delivering higher education art programs from a newly minted campus at Mt Helen. Here another established passion of Ballarat residents, the performing arts, augmented the creative operations of the visual artists within the School of Arts. So successful were the programs, that the University’s Ballarat Academy of Performing Arts (BAPA) later sought more leg room at a site in Victoria Street, Ballarat.

A 1997 merger between the University of Ballarat and SMB sparked an expanded creative universe, and in 2001 the Arts Academy was born. The University’s new Camp Street Campus, in the centre of Ballarat, became the Arts Academy headquarters where visual arts, performing arts and design co-habited in a ground-breaking amalgamation of vocational and higher education programs. The Camp Street Campus locates Ballarat students and staff within a creative cluster that comprises contemporary public and private exhibition and performance spaces, historic Her Majesty’s Theatre, the Art Gallery of Ballarat, and the University’s own Post Office Gallery.

The Gippsland Centre of Art and Design (GCAD), which became part of FedUni in a 2014 amalgamation, brings its own rich history to the school; including painting, drawing, printmaking, ceramics, sculpture and design. Visual art and design students can look to the campus’ natural landscape or visit the University’s Switchback Gallery for inspiration.

Today the Arts Academy is a dynamic collective of erudite and creative minds who collaborate across multiple campuses. Through their own artistic practice, academic research and engaged teaching, FedUni staff instruct and inspire the next generation of artists, designers and performers to innovate and interact within the global creative network.

Text: Elise Whetter