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Creativity Research, Engaging the Arts and Transforming Education

Exploring the relationship between learning, creativity and the transformative role of the arts in education, health and wellbeing. Our researchers come from Education, Performance Studies, Medicine and Health, Literature, and the Visual Arts.

We engage in three main areas: creativity research; the role of the arts in creative education, health and wellbeing; and how the arts transform all levels of education from early childhood through to higher education.

We acknowledge the central, intrinsic role creative pedagogy and the arts can and should play in the lives, learning and formal education of all people. The centre builds on previous work in both the Arts, English and Literacy Education Network and the Arts and Creative Education Research Network.

Browse the SSESW Event Calendar for to find the details for all scheduled CREATE events.

Our vision

Creativity and the arts are central to learning, and every Australian is entitled to high-quality creative pedagogy and opportunities to engage with creativity and the arts.

The CREATE Centre is a vibrant hub of innovation in research making creativity and arts education a critical part of the education of all Australians at every age and stage of education.

We foster innovative, arts-informed and creative research methods, integrated with more traditional methods across the University. We are developing multidisciplinary research that engages experts throughout the University’s faculties and schools to enable the pursuit of new pedagogical and methodological directions in research, and to build:

  • new knowledge in the arts, education and creativity
  • new possibilities for professional practice for the education sector and beyond
  • deeper partnerships with schools, arts organisations and other stakeholders
  • continued focus on collecting evidence and representing research findings through various art forms (including narrative, drama, song, artworks, film and dance) to reach a wide audience inside and beyond the academy and thus create a significant impact on the community and society more generally.

CREATE on Youtube

Explore our presentations and past webinars via our Youtube channel.

Our activities

The centre pursues creative partnerships and establish an environment in which new ways of thinking using arts processes and experiences are encouraged and developed.

Our education program is designed in consultation with the the University, the faculty, schools, professional arts organisations and community partners. It is flexible and responsive to emerging requirements and opportunities. 

We apply the creative arts to learning and doing, with participants exposed to new ideas and inspired by distinguished experts while developing key competencies and confidence in creative learning and teaching.

The centre will develop robust collaborative education programs for:

  • preservice, in-service teachers and tertiary educators – through innovative
 teacher education approaches that embed quality arts processes and experiences, including the development of professional resources for early childhood centres, schools and universities
  • the university population more generally – through the expansion of existing generalist programs 

  • tertiary educators 

  • arts organisations 

  • the broader community

University expertise in knowledge building is a natural fit with arts organisations and community groups concerned to locate their practices and needs within a strong evidence base.

We aim to lead public discourse and communicate clearly and assertively on the importance of the arts and creativities in education and through existing and new networks and media channels.

Our program applies an interdisciplinary design, drawing on expertise across dance, drama, literature, media arts, music and visual arts to create and develop knowledge, innovation and creative research.

We apply research findings rapidly to develop and refine education programs to ensure educators are using the most relevant and effective techniques in the classroom.

Our academic leadership team advocates strongly for creativity and the arts in education, lobbying key policy makers at the state and federal levels for policy improvement.

Our people

  • Professor Robyn Ewing AM
  • Professor Michael Anderson
  • Professor Margaret S. Barrett, Monash University
  • Professor Emeritus in Education, Mary Beattie, University of Toronto
  • Professor Andrew Burn, University College London
  • Professor Pam Burnard, Cambridge University
  • Professor Will Christie, Australian National University
  • Adjunct Professor Julie Dunn, Griffith University
  • Professor Dan Harris, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
  • Dr Mary Ann Hunter, The University of Tasmania
  • Patrick McIntyre, Sydney Theatre Company
  • Professor Peter O'Connor, The University of Auckland
  • Adjunct Associate Professor Madonna Stinson, Griffith University
  • Co-Chairs: Professor Michael Anderson, Professor Robyn Ewing
  • Dr. Patrick Brownlee
  • Dr. Paul Dwyer
  • Associate Professor Robyn Gibson

  • Dr Andrew Lavery
  • Ksenia Sawczak
  • Professor Liam Semler
  • Associate Professor Lee Wallace

Our projects

Critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity (the 4Cs, NEA, 2013) have been deemed the most important skills for 21st century learning. But what core skillset is required in order to flourish in a future of innovation, uncertainty and change? A current research project (Gibson and Ewing) proposes a further 4Cs are imperative to empower educators and learners to move forward: curiosity, compassion, connection and courage.

Lead academics: Associate Professor Robyn Gibson, Professor Robyn Ewing

If theatre is an interweaving of memory and liveness, and learning is constructed in negotiation and dialogue, theatre education offers a powerful place to encounter the unexpected, to extend horizons of expectations and consider where we are positioned in the world.

It is material and ephemeral, and recognizes that meaning is made not only in the symbols, metaphors and narratives of drama, but between spaces and places, in the gaps and the silences of reflection as well as in the movement of and activity of practice (Nicholson, 2011, p.)  

This research will investigate the following questions from the participant children’s point of view: Does theatre matter to children? If so, how? What happens when young children are given access to three live theatre performances and related pre- and post-performance activities over a two year period? What do they: wonder about? Imagine? Hope for? Remember?  

Academic leads: Professor Emerita Robyn Ewing AM and Professor Michael Anderson, in collaboration with Barking Gecko Theatre Company.

This is an educational research partnership between the University of Sydney and Barker College (Sydney). The project team also includes researchers based at the Australian National University (Canberra, ACT) and James Cook University (Townsville, Qld). Better Strangers brings teachers and academics together to design, test and disseminate creative new approaches to the theory and practice of Shakespeare education.

Academic leads: Linzy Brady, Will Christie, Kate Flaherty, Penny Gay, Clare Hansen, Andrew Hood, Jackie Manuel, Liam Semler, Lauren Weber

In partnership with Sydney Theatre Company, this program helps refugees, asylum seekers and migrants learn English and foster social connections. It uses imaginative stories and folktales to explore character, place and meaning.

Find out more.

A collaboration between the University of Sydney and the University of Auckland, the Creative Schools Initiative is developing a robust index measure of creative environments in schools using quantitative data. The Creative Index draws on 11 skills and capacities taken from a review of the literature of creativity in schools. An interactive ‘creative environment’ report is provided to schools and supports developing the environment for creativity in the school culture and curriculum.

Find out more

Academic leads: Michael Anderson, Peter O’Connor, Kelly Freebody, Paul Ginns, Marianne Mansour

Innovative audio walks with higher education students explore embodied learning, the centrality of place in learning and the use of state of the art technology.

Lead academic: Kate Smyth

This project utilises inclusive pedagogy that honours the languages and cultures of the students and their agency in the learning process. It promotes translanguaging and a creative pedagogy that creates space to express symbolic understandings of students’ culture and worlds.

Identity texts are any products of students’ creative work that connect to the students' culture and community and disrupt an English only transmission pedagogy whereby students are viewed as blank slates (Freire, 1975).

They offer an accessible, focused way to draw attention to “essential aspects of the link between identity affirmation, societal power relations, and literacy engagement” (Cummins et al., 2015: p. 556) and, importantly for this project, they help bring the voices and languages of multilingual students to the fore as in this example:

Oute Alofa ia oe
Was once said to me,
I grew a tiny leaf,
But it died right after I tried to pronounce it

– Year 8 student

The project commenced several years ago. We engage with primary and secondary teachers in professional dialogue and reflection and focus on identifying the literacy and wellbeing needs of their students (Timperley, 2011). We then outline strategies to help students use their home languages in English lessons and share examples of quality literature that employs translanguaging to support students to develop authentic identity texts (Cummins, 1981; Cummins 1986; Cummins, 2000; Cummins and Early, 2011).

The research data is contextualised within the socio-spatial frames of Lefebvre (1991) and Soja (1980), and the concept of Li Wei’s (2011) ‘Translanguaging Space’. These spatial theories are used to understand how the everyday practices of school and classrooms are shaped by prevailing monolingual ideologies and how ‘thirdspace’ practices can challenge deficit views, support student agency and give voice to symbolic representations of self and culture.  

Lead academics: Dr Kathy Rushton, The University of Sydney; Dr Janet Dutton, Macquarie University


A research-led practice exploring how people, particularly children, relate to the civic condition, and the ways in which ‘play’ can be integrated into the fabric of everyday life. Our projects explore ways that art in public places – and urban design more broadly – can become increasingly integrated, inclusive and interactive creative spaces. It is our goal to challenge the ways a permanent public artwork might be encountered in daily life. Developing major works of playable sculpture, we aim to expand the role of art in contributing to current definitions of ‘play’.

Pilot project: Children as architects for play

In this "playable sculpture" project, infants, toddlers and children will become the architects of their own playscape. It is our aim that the children’s encounters with their play space will reveal to us valuable insights into their perception and behaviour with environments and art objects. Through this research we will be able to deduce which physical determinants of sculptural shapes affect children’s decisions, actions, interactions, feelings and behaviours. This will be tested across key demographics, primarily age and gender categories.

Lead academics: Sanné Mestrom, artist and academic; Melissa Loughnan, curator, consultant and director of Utopian Slumps; and Anna Ciliberto, director, Ciliberto Architects

Problem Definition

Young people in Australia experience high levels of mental illhealth, particularly in late adolescence. Social isolation, known to contribute significantly to mental illhealth, is also rising among young people. And although early intervention predicts better outcomes, young people are particularly unlikely to seek help early.

There is extensive evidence that long-identified social factors, known as the ‘social determinants of health’ (Marmot and Wilkinson, 1995), strongly predict health and wellbeing. The primary social determinants of health include: autonomy and agency; quality of relationships and extent of social inclusion; and social cohension. Poorly addressed by health services, the creative arts have a primary role to play in activating these factors.

Project Description

We aim to promote youth flourishing, through creative activation that provides challenge; improves communication; offers contributions; and generates connection with community, as the basis for mental health and healing into the future. 

Our community-based participant action research approach engages young people through co-created collage, bodymapping and drama workshops, in which young people articulate observations and experiences of mental health and illhealth, defining its causes and consequences in their communities. In phase II, young people create multimedia, performance and visual artworks that imagine new futures through stories of strength, struggle and survival. These works become contributions – installations, interactive performances, and peer-led workshops – to their communities, communicating and building connections with peers and supported. We use devised and playback theatre approaches where young people can formulate ideas for support, prevention and recovery, and workshop these with health service providers (eg through open dialogue processes or improving trauma-informed care practices) and community partners.

Lead Investigator: Dr Claire Hooker, Sydney Health Ethics.

This proposal draws on piloted projects undertaken by members of the Arts Health Network NSW/ACT, including bodymapping with young people experiencing mental illness (Prof Katherine Boydell, Black Dog Institute), community co-created collage (Michelle Jersky, Sydney Children’s Hospital Network/ Ngala Nanga Mai); Art From The Heart and open dialogue (Jo River, Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney, and CAHMA); and devised and socially engaged theatre practice (James Dalton, University of Sydney; Trybal Productions).

School Drama

This is a teacher professional learning program developed by Sydney Theatre Company in partnership with the University of Sydney and Professor Robyn Ewing AM. The program aims to enable teachers to develop the confidence and expertise to use drama-rich pedagogy with literature to improve students’ English and literacy. Each teacher works with a Teaching Artist to embark on a unique co-mentoring partnership. Since 2009, more than 30,000 teachers and students have participated in the program.

Drama program reimagines how we teach English.

Find out more.

School Drama Hub

This is an action learning approach to professional development. Over five twilight workshops, teachers learn how to integrate drama across the curriculum, plan their own drama units and develop their teaching artistry. 

Find out more.

Run by Diversity Arts Australia (2019-2020), this is a contemplative workshop series for culturally and/or linguistically diverse artists and arts workers to imagine a future where cultural diversity is present at every level in the arts.

Find out more.

Led by: Remy Low, with support from Paula Abood and Lena Nalhous.

In the face of an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, education can make the difference as to whether people embrace the challenges they are confronted with or whether they are defeated by them. And in an era characterised by a new explosion of scientific knowledge and a growing array of complex societal problems, it is appropriate that curricula should continue to evolve, perhaps in radical ways.

Understand them through their way of living and the circumstances of their lives … try to penetrate the psychology of different nations … endeavour to penetrate the psychology of persons around you toward whom you feel unsympathetic … attempt to experience what they experience (Chekhov, 1953).

If we can experience something through art, then we might be able to change our future, because experience engraves lessons on our heart through suffering, whereas speculation leaves us untouched (Sarah Kane, British playwright).

Academic lead: Dr Alison Grove O’Grady

Transforming Schools began as a project in 2017 to consider the “how” of school transformation.

Emerging from the books Transforming Schools and Transforming Organizations, the project now features more than 40 schools in long-term partnerships and several PhD, master's degree and honours students researching the how of transformation.

This work undertaken in partnership with 4C Transformative Learning and not only researches transformation and the 4Cs (creativity, critical reflection, communication, collaboration) but investigates how schools throughout Australia are making it a reality. 

Our partners

  • Anzac Memorial
  • Barker College
  • Barking Gecko Theatre Company
  • Big hArt
  • Create NSW
  • Creative Agency, RMIT
  • Diversity Arts
  • International Grammar School
  • Milk Crate Theatre
  • NSW Art Galley
  • Steiner Education Australia
  • Sydney Opera House
  • Sydney Theatre Company
  • The Australia Council for the Arts
  • University of Auckland
  • WestWords


Headshot of Professor Robyn Ewing
Professor Robyn Ewing
Academic profile


Headshot of Professor Michael Anderson
Professor Michael Anderson
Academic profile

For more information

Robyn Ewing