Education-research / Our approaches

Our approaches


The Sainsbury Centre takes an inclusive and wide ranging approach to education 

The Sainsbury Centre has six key aims for its education policy

1.To enhance understanding of the gallery environment.

To provide professional staff and resources in order to widen access and enhance understanding and enjoyment of the art gallery, its exhibits and its cultural and physical environment, for all visitors.

2.To demonstrate equal respect for the artistic skills and achievements of all.

To respect times, peoples and cultures throughout the world, especially respecting cultural, intellectual, racial, sexual, physical, religious diversity.

3.To encourage discussion and debate.

To encourage visual and intellectual awareness, activate discussion and debate, to challenge assumptions and prejudices.

4.To disseminate and share knowledge.

To disseminate and share knowledge and expertise and to respect and encourage scholarship and theoretical understanding.

5.To stimulate curiosity.

To encourage open-ness and wide-ranging questioning; to show that answers are not always clear or possible.

6.To promote experiment and research.

To promote innovation and experimental approaches to education, research  and evaluation in order to improve practice and deepen understanding of relationships between peoples, arts, cultures, contexts, makers, resources.

From audiences to participants

The word ‘education’ has at its root the idea of ‘leading out’. Education is not a process of indoctrination but of dialogue. It builds on the foundation of each person’s own experience and inclination. Widening access and public engagement is part of our remit. We do work a lot with teachers, children and schools, but with all kinds of other people as well, both specialist and non-specialist. There are regular events aimed at a general adult audience. We run informal programmes for families and children, creative projects for students, and for specialist artists and crafts people. We regularly run special courses for refugees and asylum seekers, for people who need help through difficult periods in their lives, or who have impairments or disabilities. Our aim is to encourage everyone to feel they are part of a community which values learning and creativity.


We organise a seasonal programme alongside collections and exhibitions, involving thoughtful engagement between people and things: talks, discussions, training and professional development, practical idea and skill-based workshops in gallery and studio, performances and readings, film programmes, young people’s events. We also host academic conferences, subject-focussed study days, colloquia.


We have a group of professional staff who cover a wide spectrum of work, from adult and youth programming, school and college bookings and visits, research and writing, activities for families and young children, seasonal creative events and workshops. We work closely in collaboration with curators especially in areas of interpretation, research, public speaking.


We could not deliver such a rich and high quality education service without the invaluable contribution made by our large and dedicated group of volunteer guides.  Recruited annually, guides work with us to deliver talks and tours. They train for a year but often come to us with tremendously wide and varied  experience and travel. We encourage each guide to take up a special area of expertise and knowledge in the collections.


We are one of the pioneering galleries to have developed creative work with artist educators, which we have been doing since the mid 1980s. This developed considerably when we opened an education studio at the heart of the building, and we now have an expanded group of trained freelance artists. Now any group can book an artist-led practical creative session to follow on from their visit.

Outreach and learning research

The core work centres in the galleries, however we have engaged in large outreach programmes with schools and communities, over many years (see project pages). As part of our on-going commitment to learning research, and depending on availability of staff and funding, we can offer smaller one or two day outreach programmes to explore particular research questions or to investigate aspects of creative object-based learning. We prefer to collaborate closely with teachers or group leaders in the course of planning and delivery so that there is a shared investment in these rewarding and intensive projects.

Contexts and Principles 

Responses and Creativity

Viewing art is never a passive experience. What people think about and do after they have been influenced by art is fascinating to think about and to study. Our programmes encourage people to turn their responses to art into creative acts and products.

Knowledge and Scholarship

We are part of the University and are always looking for ways to provide access to the knowledge and scholarship at the heart of the institution, aiming to increase its relevance to people in different contexts throughout the local region and beyond.

Questions and discussion

Art is often challenging. A new work of art opens a new idea to the world. It often raises more questions than it answers. But it gives us a new way of talking.

We encourage the free exchange of ideas and discussion inspired by art.

Subject matter and approaches

World Art

As well as contemporary art and works of art by well-known names, the galleries are full of artefacts made with extreme care and skill, often anonymously. Many have their origins in daily life and ritual, some of them long ago, and while they were not intended as art per se, they nevertheless held a special status for the peoples who created and used them. That sets us a challenge to widen our frames of reference in order to understand them better and approach them with sensitivity. Guides are trained to give general approaches and tours. We have also developed study through generic subjects which cross-cultures. Our workshop programmes cover thematic aspects of the collections and volunteer guides, staff and students may on request tackle some of the more challenging and political areas they open up, such as stereotyping, post-colonialism, primitivism, gender and body politics, beliefs and rituals, death, magic and supernatural power.


Art is a specialist subject, but one which touches many others. Many people from different disciplines come to our galleries to speak about their subjects in a new context, to join in with events, to run workshops or discussions, readings, study days or conferences.

  • We have run courses on Art and the body for the medical faculty.
  • Art and Biodiversity is a regular part of our programmes.
  • Creative and critical writing, history writing, poetry, are all regularly practised within the galleries.
  • Children can travel the world and through time here and make imaginative contact with different countries, peoples, customs and cultures through the traces left by their artefacts.