TAFE bosses ban talk by activist

West Wollongong TAFE fine arts students take their 18 Shades of Draper exhibition to the street after TAFE Illawarra Institute management banned media from attending. Picture: KIRK GILMOURIt has been nine years since Dave Burgess scrawled ‘‘No War’’ in crimson on the highest sail of the Sydney Opera House, but this week his plan to speak at the launch of an Illawarra TAFE art exhibition had institute officials seeing red.

Burgess said he had been banned from addressing those attending yesterday’s official launch of 18 Shades of Draper, a show by a group of West Wollongong TAFE students. The media, too, were banned from attending by TAFE Illawarra Institute management.

Which is why, yesterday morning, most of the 18 artists involved moved their paintings to the pavement outside the West Wollongong campus for an impromptu media conference.

Save TAFE Illawarra spokeswoman and fine arts student Kate Morris, who has previously spoken to media about the effect of TAFE budget cuts on fine arts courses, said students were upset by management’s decisions.

‘‘We were given a brief by teachers to organise an exhibition, design invitations, generate press releases and invite a well-known artist to open the event – we did all that,’’ she said.

‘‘Then only this week I was pulled aside by the head of school and told that while Dave was allowed to come, he was banned from speaking at the launch. I was told that no media were allowed at the launch and that I was not to talk about TAFE cuts at the event.

‘‘It’s very disappointing after all the effort we’ve put in. We’ve worked so hard, despite the cutbacks, which have seen our technical assistance slashed, our life-model budget halved, and many other cuts to our services and supplies.’’

In a statement yesterday, TAFE Illawarra defended the decision to stop Burgess from speaking at the event.

‘‘A small group of students have used this opportunity to develop a media event for reasons other than recognising student work,’’ the statement said.

‘‘TAFE Illawarra was informed that the opening speech was to be used as a vehicle to discuss other issues rather than focusing on the students’ artworks.

‘‘TAFE Illawarra feels that this would not be appropriate and would overshadow all of the hard work put in by students who simply would like to showcase their works to family and friends.’’

Burgess said his activist days had started long before he scaled the country’s most famous icon on the eve of the Iraq invasion in 2003.

‘‘My activism in the mid-80s began in the face of TAFE cuts – but I’m not involved in the current proposed cuts to vocational training,’’ he said.

‘‘I really just wanted to encourage the students to keep going and celebrate their work and be aware of what’s happening around them.’’

The exhibition is at the Karoona Gallery at West Wollongong TAFE, where it will be on show until August 30.

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