Half a century of creative excellence

Fifty years ago, ANU created Australia's first Creative Arts Fellowship for artists and designers.

Former head of the ANU School of Art DAVID WILLIAMS AM explains how the program has flourished.

One Fellowship at ANU symbolises the link between the arts and the academic community engaged in teaching and research.

And this year marks 50 years of its contribution to the University and its influence on Australian arts.

The first recipients the ANU Creative Arts Fellowship - now known as the HC Coombs Creative Arts Fellowships - arrived on campus in 1965 and set the standard for attracting the best practitioners within the arts. 

Visual artists Sidney Nolan and John Percival joined ANU in this nationally significant initiative aimed at providing opportunities for Australian artists, musicians and writers.

The ANU Creative Arts Fellowship was the first of its kind in an Australian university and HC Coombs - Deputy Chancellor and Chancellor - saw a future for ANU in this space.

It was his idea for ANU to use these Fellowships to extend the University reach from research in sciences and humanities to the creative arts.

Funded centrally, the Fellowships were offered on a longer-term residential basis for established and up-and-coming artists and a shorter term with an option of only a minimal stay in Canberra.

The first of the short term Fellows was Nolan, who returned from London in 1965.

He used the period of his Fellowship for field work, with little time actually spent in Canberra.

His contribution to the University community was two exhibitions while he was in residence as a Creative Arts Fellow.

The first of Nolan's 14 Antarctic paintings was shown in the RG Menzies Library in June 1965. The second exhibition in August and September presented his major work Riverbend, a large 1.5 x 10-metre oil painting on nine hardboard panels.

This exhibition was jointly presented by ANU and the Department of the Interior at Albert Hall.

In August that year, Riverbend was acquired by ANU assisted with various donations. Riverbend is regarded as the most famous treasure in the ANU Art Collection.

The painting is permanently on view at the Drill Hall Gallery in the Nolan Room.