09 March 2022

The Sainsbury Centre and ecologies of creative practice


    By Dr Kate Dunton – Head of Learning, Sainsbury Centre

    When we think of an art gallery, we might imagine a tranquil space that invites us to wander among the artworks in a mood of peaceful contemplation. Less visible are the many dynamic relationships that link a cultural institution into the wider creative ecology. This is certainly true of the Sainsbury Centre, the museum and gallery based on the UEA's campus.

    In the past year, we have worked with, among others, regional artists; academic colleagues and students; schools and colleges; community groups; third-sector organisations; as well as international artists, lenders, museums and galleries.

    Importantly, for the Sainsbury Centre, these creative relationships not only allow us to share our assets responsibly, they bring new knowledge and insights into the gallery. This was the case when First Nation contemporary artist Sonny Assu (Ligwilda’xw/ Kwakwaka’wakw), curated a display of our North West Coast collection in the East End Gallery. This was shown alongside a new work of his own, created during his residency at UEA as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project, ‘Beyond the Spectacle’. This provided a unique opportunity to revisit familiar objects from the collection, deepening our appreciation of their cultural context and opening up critical discussion of the routes by which many pieces from unnamed artists have found their way into collections such as ours. As a result of the residency, the Centre secured funding to acquire the new work by Assu, and this now provides a lasting focal point for important conversations with a range of audiences.

    Sonny Assu's display in the East End Gallery of the Sainsbury Centre Courtesy of the Sainsbury Centre
    Sonny Assu's display in the East End Gallery of the Sainsbury Centre. (Image courtesy of the Sainsbury Centre)


    Similarly, thanks to support from the Ranworth Trust, we were able to work with local artist, Genevieve Rudd, and students from East Coast College. They used the Art Deco exhibition as a point of inspiration to explore the threatened architectural heritage of their locality in Great Yarmouth. The display of their own work alongside the main exhibition raised awareness of the campaign to save the Iron Duke, a wonderful Art Deco pub in Great Yarmouth, directly leading to protected status for the building. 

    Art Deco Iron Duke Travel Poster
    A poster designed as part of a campaign to save the Iron Duke pub in Great Yarmouth, produced during a workshop by artist Genevieve Rudd and inspired by the Sainsbury Centre exhibition Art Deco by the Sea. (Image courtesy of Genevieve Rudd)


    Creative collaboration in a spirit of mutual support has become more urgent than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. During these challenging times, the Centre has worked with care homes, health centres, food banks, community centres, special needs schools, mental health charities, and local services; producing creative packs and online resources to support wellbeing for those most impacted by COVID-19. Input from UEA colleagues working in areas such as dementia care and midwifery has been particularly valued. 

    Creative relationships allow us to share our assets responsibly, and bring new knowledge and insights

    Going forward, we are developing a range of new initiatives designed to provide a collaborative space for shared inquiry and social innovation. Our New Perspectives podcast programme, for example, invites UEA researchers to illuminate key works in our collection from their distinctive disciplinary perspective. Our Virtual Study Centre for Art and Environment will draw together curators, researchers, conservation groups, artists, students, and local communities to provide an immersive learning experience based around our sculpture park. We will continue to explore collaborative exhibition ideas relating to shared research interests with academic colleagues. 

    Finally, we’ll be looking to develop ‘triple helix’ creative collaborations between the Centre, UEA researchers, and community partners around our key themes of environment, health and wellbeing, and crossing boundaries. 

    By their nature, these relationships will at times be challenging and disruptive. What makes them constructively so, is the shared aim to make a difference for the better.

    ENSF Sculpture Lens
    Students from East Norfolk Sixth Form College take part in the Sculpture Lens Landscape Photography Project at the Sainsbury Centre, supported by the Ranworth Trust. (Image by Erin Patel)


    This blog post was written by Dr Kate Dunton – Head of Learning, Sainsbury Centre. It was originally published as part of Visions of a Creative Future, a collection of essays and reflections by UEA researchers and our partners across the region.

    About the author

    At the Sainsbury Centre, Dr Dunton leads programmes for all ages from toddlers to care-home residents. She aims to engage diverse audiences with the exhibitions, collections, building and sculpture park in mutually enriching and empowering ways.

    Along with her team, Dr Dunton develops collaborative creative projects with schools, artists, writers, students, researchers, community groups and third-sector partners. Her current academic focus is on the role of galleries in developing emancipatory pedagogies and co-developing capabilities with a range of community partners.

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