Shannon Sandford steps her Foot in the Door at The St Paul’s Creative Centre

Postgraduate and Early Career Researchers represent a rich pool of critical and creative thinkers possessing the knowledge, intellect, and technical capabilities to solve industry-defined problems and contribute to innovation across sectors in Australian culture, economy, and policy. Recognising our unique abilities as researchers and communicators is an important step in identifying the potential impact of our work on community, organisations, and society.

This understanding of Higher Degree Research (HDR) underpins industry engagement at Flinders University and prompted a recent collaboration between Flinders and the State Government Department for Innovation and Skills (DIS) Creative Industries Team. The St Paul’s Creative Centre ‘Foot in the Door’ is a new professional development opportunity for the next generation of the creative workforce: Flinders University HDRs undertaking research related to the creative industries. Researchers are highly trained in specific fields of study – we are expert learners whose work is designed to demonstrate deep, concentrated thinking on urgent problems or questions. With the thesis our main research output, however, we sometimes struggle to think abstractly about the broader purposes of our research, and how the necessary and specific skills of HDR operate beyond academia in industry and community.

My involvement in this program began in June, at the CHASS Virtual Postgraduate Conference. An industry roundtable of prominent voices from academia, government, and creative entrepreneurism discussed Academic-Industry collaboration, and the potential for Early Career Researchers to contribute innovative skills to creative industries. This discussion prompted me to think proactively about ways to apply my own research knowledge and capabilities to industry, specifically, ways to develop relational connections between my work and industry problems. I contacted Megan Prideaux, OGR Partner Engagement and Pathways Officer, who, in collaboration with Elizabeth Reid in the Creative Industries Team, CHASS Dean (Research), Professor Penny Edmonds, and CHASS Business and Development Manager, Dan Thorsland, implemented a pilot of the St Paul’s Creative Centre ‘Foot in the Door’ program for Flinders’ postgraduate researchers.

Located in Adelaide’s CBD, St Paul’s Creative Centre is a vibrant coworking facility housed in a repurposed 1864 church. This rich cultural history is imbedded in the centre’s artful aesthetic, creating an informal and inviting atmosphere one-step removed from the city metropolis. St Paul’s became a State Government initiative through the Minister for Innovation and Skills in 2018 and is a conduit for cross-sector connection, supporting over 40 members working in videography, music, events, design, gaming, and writing.

The centre provides a unique opportunity for creative businesses to work together from a centralised hub, and to harness the energy that comes from being part of an innovative community.

‘Foot in the Door’ invites HDRs to become Student Members of St Paul’s for up to three months, with access to hot desk and meeting spaces at the centre and opportunities to attend professional development and networking events with its community of creative start-ups, businesses and not-for-profits. After an initial networking event held at the centre in September, four successful applicants were selected as the first Student Members: Elise Silson, Rachel Spencer, Phillip Kavanagh, and myself (Shannon Sandford).

As members of the centre, Elise, Rachel, Phillip and I are granted rare access to recent trends in the creative industries, in particular, new initiatives the South Australian Government is progressing across creative industries. These insights, alongside opportunities to practice informal networking, will become key to exploring how our research translates into the creative sector, and to identifying areas for impact, connection, and collaboration. As a researcher in Life Narrative, for example, my concentrated skills in reading for identity, voice and perspective has significant overlap with creatives in screen, gaming, and writing, who shape and communicate authentic stories through these mediations.

Student Membership commenced on October 13, and whilst we are still in the initial phases of membership, already subtle differences have emerged between this new creative environment and our university context. Relocating to the CBD, working in vast, open-plan spaces, and navigating relationships with both hot desk users and more permanent offices at the centre, have all proved exciting challenges. Learning to develop professional networking habits; specifically, engaging with the creative work emerging out of the centre has been a highlight thus far. In future, opportunities to communicate our research to the non-academic audience of St Paul’s and further explore its potential for industry impact with the DIS Creative Industries Team will be a focus.

Our thanks and gratitude to Megan Prideaux, Dan Thorsland, Elizabeth Reid, Penny Edmonds, as well as the Creative Industries Team for promoting Student Membership at St Paul’s Creative Centre – we eagerly anticipate further opportunities to share our experiences and learning as the membership develops.

Shannon Sandford is a PhD candidate and casual tutor in the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at Flinders University, South Australia. Her research background is in Life Narrative, with particular interests in graphic narrative, ‘autographics’ and comics studies. She is a member of the Flinders Life Narrative Research Group. She can be found on Twitter: @shan_sandford and on LinkedIn:

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