From Joanna Mendelssohn
For about the last 14 years UNSW Art & Design – the Faculty Formerly Known As COFA – has been a quiet leader in the achievements of both its Aboriginal students and those from minority backgrounds. This hasn’t been because it has put major funding towards supporting equity outcomes, but because of the efforts of one staff member, Tess Allas. She was originally employed at the University as the research assistant for Vivien Johnson’s Storylines ARC project. As a result she wrote hundreds of biographies of Aboriginal artists who lived and worked below [>] the Rowley Line. These are now freely available on [>] Design and Art of Australia Online.
While she was working on Storylines both research and coursework students found Tess to be a source of information, ideas and encouragement on Aboriginal art. Indigenous students and those from unconventional backgrounds discovered that there was a person willing to listen to them and to nurture their careers. She began to teach courses on Aboriginal art which transformed the lives of many students, and changed career paths. When the research project was over she was appointed Associate Lecturer. She did far more than teach. Her contacts and her generosity opened many doors. Major Aboriginal artists began to appear on campus, befriending students. Donors gave scholarships. CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) students found that Tess was their best confidant and advocate.
With the change of Dean and a new regime, it decided that only those with PhDs could be given even junior academic positions. Tess has a masters in curatorship, has been responsible for many exhibitions including the groundbreaking With Secrecy and Despatch at Campbelltown Arts Centre as well as many articles in [>] Australian art magazines. She was appointed Director of Indigenous Programs, a non-academic position, but continued to teach.
Last week, without warning, Tess Allas was told her position will be terminated at the end of this year. Other than the loss of someone so crucial to the well-being of students and staff alike, this decision further entrenches the white-bread homogeneous composition of an art & design faculty that was once reaching towards diversity.
The student response was instantaneous. Within hours a petition was launched [>] Please sign here