Applied arts graduate, Tracey Willms Deane, must be one of the few people who heartily enjoyed this year’s lockdown.
It happened when she was just getting into her stride, returning to study the arts after an absence of many years. The established artist and former owner of Whangārei store, Tuatara, had recently joined the third year of the NorthTec degree programme, using her previous experiences of study and work to be accepted directly into the third year.
Tracey, an inter-disciplinary artist specialising in sculpture, installation and visual arts, first studied in the early 2000s, when she enjoyed classes at Whangārei’s Quarry Arts Centre. In 2008, she completed a two-year, Level 6 diploma with honours via distance learning through a private arts and creativity training organisation based in Wellington.
As the mother of young children at that time, she decided to concentrate on family life for a while. Then in 2012, Tracey bought the Tuatara outlet in Bank Street, which kept her busy until she closed the business in 2019.
A short stint back at the Quarry Arts Centre, where she managed the Yvonne Rust Gallery, brought her back into contact with NorthTec arts tutors. She became inspired to study again, this time with the aim of gaining a degree.
Tracey was able to join the third year due to transferring credits from her previous studies, and also using Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) through her experience running a creative store and producing her own artwork. She also needed to complete a paper from the second year of the degree.
RPL can be used, in agreement with academic staff, as a route into studying for people who have academic and life experience which directly contributes to their ability to complete a study programme to the required standard.
Tracey said: “It was a bit of a shock to be a student again! I felt confident that I would manage the academic levels but still, coming in partway through a programme, I didn’t know what the expectations were.”
For Tracey, going into lockdown barely a month after starting her studies was a “double-edged sword”. She said: “It was actually a really good time for me to be a student because I had more time available. I take my hat off to the tutors teaching the programme online – they all just jumped through hoops to help us.
“They were stellar and so supportive of the whole emotional side of life, as well as getting your work done and meeting the needs of the course. They were really professional – I cannot recommend them enough. It was challenging but of all the places to be, being in full-time study at NorthTec was the best place to be.”
Tracey said she was also impressed by the way the course was structured: “I came in not knowing what was expected of me. But if you just do all the steps and the assignments, they take you to where you need to go. At the beginning of the year we didn’t know what we would finish with, but by doing all the steps that you need to do, you just learn.
“It’s a very effective programme and I learned what I came to learn – I filled in the gaps that I knew I had in my practice. I would recommend doing what I did to anyone in a similar situation – it’s not even just about the art, it’s about the questions you ask yourself, and looking at your personal reference points in life. It’s so clear now and it’s obvious looking back, but I didn’t know how to articulate that. I love that, and my confidence in myself and my work is just at another level.
“I would encourage people of any age and stage of life to undertake the applied arts degree, because it is so well supported in terms of NorthTec student learning support. And creative thinking skills are so transferable beyond working as an artist to any field which requires design thinking and innovation.”
Tracey is now using her newfound knowledge to take her next steps in life. Next year will see her studying for an adult tertiary teaching certificate, teaching evening classes in sculpture, and preparing her artwork for three group exhibitions. She said: “I don’t think I’ve ever worked as hard as I have this year, but it was so enjoyable and there was so much support. There’s just nothing like working in the area you love!”