By Richard Watts | Wednesday June 26 2013

Swinburne University has abruptly abandoned discussions over independence for the National Institute of Circus Arts. to the surprise of many in the circus community.

Plans for the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) to become an independent entity, separate from its founding body Swinburne University of Technology (SUT) have been in development since February 2012.

On Tuesday, however, Swinburne suddenly announced that they would no longer be pursuing this course of action, and that Swinburne would directly manage NICA from 1 July.

‘Swinburne University of Technology will continue to be the home for circus arts offered through the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA), following a decision that NICA will no longer pursue activities to become an independent performing arts training organisation,’ the University announced in a media statement.

‘NICA students, who graduate with a Swinburne qualification, will continue to receive the high quality training for which NICA is known,’ said Swinburne Vice Chancellor Professor Linda Kristjanson.

In a response released late Tuesday afternoon, NICA’s Directors said they were ‘shocked to be advised that SUT has announced that they have ceased all action regarding independence and now propose an alternative course of action to directly manage NICA’.

‘The independent Directors were not consulted, nor consented to, the proposed course of action that SUT is unilaterally seeking to impose on NICA,’ the Board’s statement continued.

‘Directors believe that SUT should resume negotiations to enable an independent NICA to be achieved.’

NICA Chairman the Honourable Rod Kemp told artsHub it was a great pity negotiations had broken down.

‘I believe that we were very close to finalising arrangements. The major outstanding issue related to costs, and I believe the additional cost impost on Swinburne would not have made an additional impact on the Swinburne budget,’ Kemp said.

He also expressed concern that the breakdown in negotiations may adversely impact on NICA’s staff and students.

‘It’s important that Swinburne detail their plans for NICA in relation to accreditation and staffing issues, to remove uncertainties that currently exist,’ Kemp said.

artsHub has been advised by sources within the circus sector that NICA staff were briefed about the situation by Kemp on Tuesday morning, and in the afternoon by Swinburne Vice Chancellor Professor Linda Kristjanson. The atmosphere in the staff’s meeting with Professor Kristjanson is said to have been ‘aggressive’.

A new Director will apparently begin work at NICA on Monday 1 July, as will a new Program Director, though the identity of these staff is not yet known.

Current NICA Director/CEO Pamela Creed’s contract expires on 30 June and has not been renewed. Creed was not available for comment when contacted by artsHub.

The situation is further complication by Swinburne’s plans to move out of its Prahran campus, where NICA is based.

The suddenness of Swinburne’s decision has sent shockwaves through the Australian circus community. The Board of the Australian Circus and Physical Theatre Association, the circus sector’s national peak body, called an urgent meeting yesterday to discuss the NICA situation, and released the following statement on Wednesday morning.

‘The ACAPTA board are currently in discussion in relation to this issue and we are seeking further clarification. Our primary concern is that NICA remains a world-class circus training institution, which continues to be responsive to the needs of the Australian circus sector.’

Founded in 1999, NICA today offers Australia’s only Bachelor of Circus Arts to more than 90 students across five year levels.

NICA graduates are employed by many major circuses both internationally and within Australia, including Cirque du Soleil, Disney, Universal Studios (Japan), No Fixed State (UK) and CRECE (Spain). Australian companies employing NICA graduates include Circus Oz, Circa, La Soiree and Global Creatures.

PHOTO CREDIT: NICA students performing in the 2012 production Made to Fit. Photo by David Wyatt.

Richard Watts | editor@artshub.com.au