Dr Esther Sayers

Staff details

Position Senior Lecturer in Education
Department Educational Studies
Email esther.sayers (@gold.ac.uk)
Phone +44 (0)20 7919 7343
Dr Esther Sayers

Esther is head of the MA Arts and Learning programme. She also teaches on the BA Education, Culture & Society and is a PhD supervisor for the Education and the Practice Based Art & Learning MPHIL/PhD programmes. Esther’s research interests are around arts participation and in particular pedagogies that enable the production of knowledge locally, where equality and emancipation are foregrounded. Currently this is pursued within the cultural context of the skatepark where immersive, reciprocal pedagogies are played out.

Professional projects

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 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. She is currently a professional mentor within the Practice Research (Learning) programme at Tate.

Research projects

Dr Esther Sayers is a creative practitioner, artist educator, curator, consultant and academic. Current research includes ArtScapers where creative practice and pedagogy impacts on a whole school community, and City Mill Skate, a research project using shared design processes to construct skateable architecture within the new UCL East campus in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Film: City Mill Skate Cots and Lockdown’ pays attention to coronavirus related restrictions introduced in March 2020 and the profound effect that social distancing, skatepark closures and other measures had upon young people, London’s skateboard community, and a result, the City Mill Skate project too. City Mill Skate Dots and Lockdown.

Article: A conversation with Henry Kingsford to talk about the project and its origins, the context of the Olympic Park, how Sam Griffin and Esther Sayers managed to save City Mill Skate from failing due to lockdown by adapting to the pandemic.

What are Skate Dots? – Skateboarding and London’s Olympic Park.

UCL Lunch Hour Lecture: Dr Esther Sayers, Professor Iain Borden, and Sam Griffin talk about how UCL's City Mill Skate project is working with East London artists and Skateboarders to form part of the UCL East campus, and explore the relevance of City Mill Skate to skateboarding, public space, and urban design worldwide. Watch the talk here.

UCL East Summer School:

Skateboarding lessons, skate dot making and media workshops with City Mill Skate (Age: 12-14). During this week-long course young people will learn how to skateboard, how to design skate parks, and how to shoot action photos and film!

ArtScapers:

Drawing on her expertise in arts education that spans creative practice, artist educator, curator, consultant and academic, the Contemporary Art Society and Insite Arts commissioned Dr Esther Sayers to write, ‘The Arts and Education Strategy for the North West Cambridge Public Art’ (2015) outlining a programme that would engage children, the community and artists. Using this strategy as a starting point, Sayers worked with the Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination (CCI) to develop a new educational approach, ArtScapers, that built on the value of co-creation and learning for children, their families, teachers and schools. This art practice programme aimed to empower young people to act as cultural ambassadors and teachers in their place-worlds and speaks to Page’s pedagogical praxis by enabling young people the opportunity to understand who they are in relation to where they are (Page 2019, 2020).

Positioning children, parents and teachers as co-researchers-learners-teachers or ‘ArtScapers’ enables communities to use arts practice and pedagogy to challenge power relations and realise social change. Understood through a practice research methodology, this act of placemaking, offers new ways of exploring the cultural politics of making, objects and events and new creative pedagogies (Sayers, 2018). By exploring how creative activity can help young people become confident citizens, ArtScapers addresses the marginalisation of creative subjects and creative teaching and learning by collaboratively constructing alternatives which can deeply and systematically effect change in school communities.

ArtScapers publications:

Ayliffe, P., Sapsed, R., Sayers, E. and Whitley, D. (2020) Artscapers published by Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination with funding from the Art Fund. This publication challenges educational thinking and practice to demonstrate what happens for a school when they invite children and artists to implement creative pedagogy across the whole curriculum. http://www.cambridgecandi.org.uk/projects/reimagine/events#artscapers-–-being-and-becoming-creative

Celebrating Education | Creative Activism: learning everywhere with children and young people (Forum Volume 62 - Number 1 2020). Penny Hay, Ruth Sapsed & Esther Sayers with foreword by Melissa Benn and Afterword Sue Rigby. Creative Activism: learning everywhere with children and young people.

Impact case study:

ArtScapers was selected as an impact case study for the Department of Educational Studies for REF 2021 - ‘ArtScapers: children, art and creative placemaking’.

Children are Place-Makers online discussion in 2021 was chaired by Dr Esther Sayers with opening remarks from Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge. It explored how arts education, creativity and imagination can have a transformative effect on children, teachers and school curriculum models through contributions from Paula Ayliffe, Co-Headteacher, Mayfield Primary School Discussing the Artscapers project in Cambridge, Dr Penny Hay, Reader and Research Fellow, Bath Spa University talking about Forest of the Imagination in Bath and Andrew Amondson, Artist and Film Maker talking about working with children and nature alongside his work with Studio Olafur Eliasson in Berlin.

The talk launched the Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination publication Artscapers: Being and Becoming Creative. You can watch it via this link: Children are Placemakers

Tate Practice Research: Esther Sayers has been delivering practice research training and mentoring for Conservation Managers and Education Curators at Tate during 2018 and 2020.

Spaces or Liberated Learning is a current research collaboration between Esther Sayers, Penny Hay, Bath Spa University and Forest of Imagination, Ruth Sapsed Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination, Emily Dowdswell and Gabby Arenge, PhD students at University of Cambridge. Our work aims to explore: where does creative learning flourish? We are celebrating how creative learning with children can happen everywhere in our cities - from grand museums to the cracks between pavements, from city parks to scruffy hedgerows, from recycling centres to cramped classrooms. Together we want to map all the spaces in our lives for what we are calling ’spaces for liberated learning’ and share these with policy makers to continue to campaign for children’s and communities' creative rights. 

Research Interests

Esther’s underpinning 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. She is 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).

This 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.

An ongoing engagement with practice based research means that Esther 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.

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.

The key principles of Esther’s 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).

Recent research has focused on ArtScapers, see the project's educational resource. ArtScapers is a project located around the North West Cambridge Development. Commissioned by Contemporary Art Society and Insite Arts in 2013 to write a strategy for education at the development, Esther has been developing ArtScapers, a nine-year project, with Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination, a social enterprise collaborating with artists in creativity research, practice and community development. The focus is on exploring change and ways that creative practices can help children to engage with the urban renewal happening in their area. Schools adjacent to the development, are working alongside as co-researchers to creatively speculate about what makes a community. This ties in with themes of democracy and cultural inclusion from Esther’s previous research and specifically the means by which communities of learners are built.

More information about CCI and the ArtScapers programme.

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. The web resource was produced in partnership with LMNOP Studios.

Current research

Building on my research into processes of learning in art galleries I am interested in what motivates people to engage, explore and in turn to learn. The exhilaration of engaging with an artwork requires a kind of concentration, focus and reward that is seen in sports activities. Such immersion, I argue, mimics the process of engaging with the arts. To pursue an action sport a person has to find a balance between risk, skill and the sub conscious. Pushing limits is an important part of creativity and learning to take risks builds resilience. I am currently exploring the various pedagogies that operate within the skatepark with a particular focus on older women as a means to explore the navigation of risky behaviours, age and motherhood.

Publications

Book

Ayliffe, Paula; Sapsed, Ruth; Sayers, Esther and Whitley, David. 2020. ArtScapers: being and becoming creative. Cambridge: Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination. ISBN 9780992625962

Book Section

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.

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

Article

Sayers, Esther and Sutton, Josh. 2020. Senior Skateboarding. Slam City Skates blog,

Sayers, Esther and Kingsford, Henry. 2020. The Bumps - a grassroots community project. Grey Skateboard Magazine, 5(6),

Sayers, Esther and Griffin, Sam. 2020. City Mill Skate: Skateboarding Architecture and Community. Urban Pamphleteer(8), pp. 6-8. ISSN 2052-8647

Hay, Penny; Sapsed, Ruth; Sayers, Esther ; Benn, Melissa and Rigby, Sue. 2020. Creative Activism – learning everywhere with children and young people. FORUM: for promoting 3-19 comprehensive education, 62(1), pp. 91-106. ISSN 0963-8253

Sayers, Esther . 2019. The Artist Teacher. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education,

Sayers, Esther . 2018. Enabling the 'Other' community through creative pedagogies for urban renewal. Journal of Cultural Research in Art Education, 35,

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

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

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

Sayers, Esther . 2012. Gifted by Nature for Seeing Through. Tate online,

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.

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

Digital

Sayers, Esther . 2019. The Materiality of Skateboarding: Motion as Material.

Sayers, Esther and Griffin, Sam. 2019. City Mill Skate (@citymillskate) Instagram photos and videos.

Sayers, Esther ; Sapsed, Ruth; Jasilek, Susanne and Arenge, Gabby. 2016. ArtScapers online resource.

Sayers, Esther . 2015. www.nwcambridgeart.com/artscapers.

Thesis

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

Other

Sayers, Esther . 2019. Skateboarding, Pedagogy and Motherhood. Free Skateboard Magazine, London.