Esther is head of the MA Artist Teacher programme, a lecturer on the BA Education, Culture & Society and a PhD supervisor for Education and Arts & Learning MPHIL/PhD programmes. Esther’s research interests are around arts participation; in particular, pedagogies that enable the production of knowledge locally, where equality and emancipation are foregrounded.
Esther’s professional experience began as an artist leading workshops in schools, youth clubs and galleries. She has been a gallery educator at Tate Liverpool, Tate Modern and Whitechapel Gallery; a lecturer at Loughborough and Staffordshire Universities and Special Projects Coordinator at Camden Arts Centre. She worked at Tate Modern (1999-2011) as an Artist Educator and as Curator for School and Youth Programmes. Since 2011, Esther has worked as an arts in education consultant at Southbank Centre, Camden Arts Centre, Xue Xue Institute in Taiwan, Wellcome Collection, Newlyn Art Gallery and for the North West Cambridge Public Art Development Programme.
My research is to do with Youth Programmes in art galleries and how the infrastructure of gallery youth programmes can help us to understand more about building inclusive and equal societies. I am interested in the similarities between the governance of galleries in the public sector and the structures that exist in government in a democratic society. For example: in its drive to include the public in shaping its programmes, the gallery shares the democratic will of government. That is, ‘the insertion of those outside the democracy into democracy’ (Bingham and Biesta, 2010).
My research is a critique of inclusion agendas and the way they can dictate the activity of cultural organisations where there is sometimes an over-emphasis on numbers, who is included and who is not. See, Sayers, E. (2016). From Art Appreciation to Pedagogies of Dissent: Gallery Education Rethinks the Inclusion Agenda. In Hickey-Moody, A. & Page, T. [Eds.]. Arts, Pedagogy and Cultural Resistance: New Materialisms. International: Rowman and Littlefield. November 2015.
My practice based research approaches the problem of how to engage new publics; not as the insertion of those outside of the existing order into it, but as more of a disruptive process where those will no voice acquire one.
I am interested in three key areas:
- The ways in which the already cultured position of gallery educators impacts on the teaching and learning that takes place and the way it is structured.
- How the learner is imagined and prepared for: educational activities in the gallery approach the public in a different way to the way that exhibitions do: they imagine the public differently.
- What barriers disconnect young people from modern and contemporary art and what prevents some young people from accessing culture at the gallery? Sometimes, unconsciously educators have preconceptions of the learner. To aim at including someone labels them as ‘other’, it does them a dis-service because it predetermines who and what they are.
See, Sayers, E. (2014). An ‘Equality of Intelligences’: Exploring the Barriers to Engagement with Modern and Contemporary Art in Peer-to-Peer Workshops at Tate Modern iJADE, Volume 33, Issue 3, 358-361. ISSN1476-8062.
Through my public speaking, this research has resonated with practitioners working in the field of gallery education. I have found that educators often don’t recognize their own cultural status and that the intellectual hierarchy of the gallery compounds this. Educators have to prove their cultural status within the organisations in which they work and yet that same cultured position can act as a disadvantage in their dealings with the public.
I have written before about the two knowledge paradigms that exist at the gallery and the tension that exists between them. See, Sayers, E. (2011). Investigating the impact of contrasting paradigms of knowledge on emancipatory programmes for young people, iJADE Volume 30, Issue 3, 409- 422. ISSN 1476-8062.
From Ranciere (2009) I explore the conception that inclusion and equality are in opposition and not complimentary. Well-meaning strategies can serve the institution more than the individual by increasing visitor numbers and making funding more easily obtained.
We have to consider what is in the best interest of the target audience and question who benefits from inclusion: the young person or the institution?
The key principles of my research are that working collaboratively produces negotiated understandings of knowledge. That genuine co-working is difficult and we have to accept that we are not bringing people round to our way of thinking but allowing our own ideas to be challenged and questioned. Being open to another point of view, not so that we change our own necessarily but so that dialogue can lead us to understanding. Embrace debate, seek out antagonistic questions and be prepared for the disruptive nature of an authentic search for equality. We need to consider modes of relating to one another and the ethics of that interaction and work around the instrumentalist drive through which we aim towards inclusion and instead start with equality (Ranciere, 1991).
My current research focus is a project called ArtScapers, see the projects educational resource at www.nwcambridgeart.com/artscapers. ArtScapers is a project located around the North West Cambridge Development http://www.nwcambridge.co.uk/. Commissioned by Contemporary Art Society and Insite Arts in 2013 to write a strategy for education at the development, I have been developing ArtScapers with Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination, a social enterprise collaborating with artists in creativity research, practice and community development. Together we are developing a nine-year project. In the summer of 2016 we have just completed year one. The focus is on exploring change and ways that creative practices can help children to engage with the changes happening in their area. The children, from schools adjacent to the development, are working alongside us as co-researchers. We are creatively speculating about what makes a community. This ties in with themes of democracy and cultural inclusion in my previous research and specifically the means by which communities of learners are built. In galleries this has been through investigating the ways in which peer-groups of young learners are established in collaboration with one another. Such foregrounding of co-production takes account of the learner and means they are empowered to undertake more self-directed learning in the future. These are self-determining strategies aimed at supporting young people in the arts but also in their interactions with society.
More information about CCI and the ArtScapers programme at: www.cambridgecandi.org.uk
ArtScapers web resource is a toolkit for educators interested in investigating change in their local area through co-researching alongside children. The ArtScapers programme has been devised and delivered by Esther Sayers and Cambridge, Curiosity and Imagination, a social enterprise collaborating with artists in creativity research, practice and community development. More information about CCI and the ArtScapers programme at www.cambridgecandi.org.uk .
The web resource was produced in partnership with LMNOP Studios.
Esther’s work has been included in Make magazine, The Art of Reflection: Women Artists' Self-Portraiture in the Twentieth Century (Meskimmon, 1996) and Engendering the City: Women artists and urban space (Meskimmon, 1997).
From Art Appreciation to Pedagogies of Dissent: Gallery Education Rethinks the Inclusion Agenda
Sayers, Esther. 2015. From Art Appreciation to Pedagogies of Dissent: Gallery Education Rethinks the Inclusion Agenda. In: Anna Hickey Moody and Tara Page, eds. Arts, Pedagogy and Cultural Resistance: New Materialisms. London: Rowman and Littlefield.
Subjectivities and school art education
Sayers, Esther. 2011. Subjectivities and school art education. In: Dennis Atkinson, ed. Art, Equality and Learning: Pedagogies Against the State. Sense Publishers, pp. 49-66. ISBN 978-9460914522
Diffractive Pedagogies- dancing across new materialist imaginaries
Hickey-Moody, Anna Catherine; Palmer, Helen and Sayers, Esther. 2016. Diffractive Pedagogies- dancing across new materialist imaginaries. Gender and Education, 28(2), pp. 213-229. ISSN 0954-0253
Diffractive pedagogies: dancing across new materialist imaginaries
Hickey-Moody, Anna Catherine; Palmer, Helen and Sayers, Esther. 2016. Diffractive pedagogies: dancing across new materialist imaginaries. Gender and Education, 28(2), pp. 213-229. ISSN 0954-0253
'Equality of Intelligences': Exploring the Barriers to Engagement in Modern and Contemporary Art through a Peer-to-Peer Workshop at Tate Modern
Sayers, Esther. 2014. 'Equality of Intelligences': Exploring the Barriers to Engagement in Modern and Contemporary Art through a Peer-to-Peer Workshop at Tate Modern. International Journal of Art & Design Education, 33(3), pp. 355-364. ISSN 1476-8062
Public participation as a tool for museums to take a meaningful place in the city
Sayers, Esther. 2012. Public participation as a tool for museums to take a meaningful place in the city. Display for a Display, pp. 10-11.
Investigating the Impact of Contrasting Paradigms of Knowledge on the Emancipatory Aims of Gallery Programmes for Young People
Sayers, Esther. 2011. Investigating the Impact of Contrasting Paradigms of Knowledge on the Emancipatory Aims of Gallery Programmes for Young People. International Journal Of Art & Design Education, 30(3), pp. 409-422. ISSN 1476-8062
Making ‘Culture Vultures’: an investigation into the socio-‐cultural factors that determine what and how young people learn in the art gallery
Sayers, Esther. 2014. Making ‘Culture Vultures’: an investigation into the socio-‐cultural factors that determine what and how young people learn in the art gallery. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London