Q-Art is an art education research, publishing, and events organisation. We work in partnership with art schools, museums, galleries and arts organisations across the UK and aim to break down some of the structural barriers to further and higher level art education and contemporary art and develop participant agency.
Q-Art was founded by Sarah Rowles in 2008 whilst she was an art student at Goldsmiths, in response to the obstacles she faced entering and then progressing through art education. The Q-Art team has been formed organically since this time from enthusiastic Q-Art participants who each share the ethos and ambitions of the organisation.
The ‘Q’ in Q-Art stands for ‘Question’ and asking and questions is at the centre of what we do as an organisation:
For our publications and videos we interview art art staff and industry professionals throughout the UK with questions that aim to share practice and bring to light the often implicit or unspoken aspects and value systems of fine art pedagogy and the field as a whole.
The interviews form the basis of our symposia where we launch our books and invite participants from the books to discuss key topics alongside a cross-sector audience.
The insight we gain from our books also inform an ongoing series of crits, workshops, talks, and specialist projects & commissions that we run for various art colleges, museums and galleries throughout the UK.
Explore our website to find out more about our activities and how you can get involved.
The value of art education:
We believe that art education can impact positively on people’s lives and advocate that it should be accessible to all. From our research and experience we see that aspects of art education can enable people to challenge assumptions, reflect critically and problem solve. It can build in people qualities for resilience, independent working and a capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. It can give people the time, space and freedom to explore ideas, imagine new possibilities, and discover and pursue their interests. It can develop communication skills and give people the opportunity to learn from and acknowledge the interpretation and perspective of others.
Barriers to accessing art education:
Despite the fact that many of these qualities are known in the sector and those that have been through art education (particularly at FE and HE level), outside of this sector the discipline is largely misrepresented and misunderstood. Because of this, many people who might benefit from an art education are not afforded the opportunity and many people who do enter may at first struggle to navigate their education because they hadn’t been aware sooner of what to expect – both in terms of how they would be taught and why.
- To provide prospective FE and HE art students of all backgrounds with information about what is offered by a fine art education (across institutions) so that they know what to expect and can be better prepared for entry into art school.
- To provide current HE art students with academic support around areas of the curriculum that they may find difficult to negotiate – for instance the crit or assessment – so that they can take greater ownership of their learning experience.
- To deconstruct art-world authority systems and empower in students and others a sense of agency that they might remake these systems for themselves.
- To provide HE students with a range of examples of what arts graduates have gone on to do so that they may be empowered to progress from art school as they choose.
- To support school and HE staff with facilitating student transition into, through and beyond art school by sharing practice across institutions.
- To illuminate the nature and value of art education and engagement with art to the wider community in order to enable wider access to the subject and the learning opportunities it provides.
- Art education and engagement with culture available to all.
- We are an independent and impartial organisation that partners with art colleges, arts organisations, museums, and galleries to deliver our research and activity and reach the widest audience possible.
- We are interested in the pedagogy and sociology of art education. As well as researching the various histories and approaches to teaching art, we ask questions that allow us to explore topics that impact student learning and experience in art at further and higher education level including: access to art education and widening participation; staff biographies and career paths; fine art pedagogy; value judgements in art school and industry; and professional practice.
- The work we do and the questions we ask also sit within the wider Higher Education narratives of ‘retention & success’ (staying and succeeding on a course) and transitions into, through, and beyond art school.
- We share knowledge and facilitate dialogue across arts communities: FE and HE teaching staff and students; industry; and art institutions.
- We value and actively promote equality and diversity within the visual arts by encouraging people from all backgrounds, ages and perspectives to engage with art.
As told by Sarah Rowles, Founding Director of Q-Art London
Q-Art ‘Questioning Art’ began in 2008 as a voluntary student-run organisation. I set up Q-Art whilst I was a BA Fine Art student at Goldsmiths in order to demystify art education and the art world for other students as well as those thinking of applying to art school.
I hadn’t grown up around contemporary art and as a result faced a lot of barriers getting into art school and then going through it. The Goldsmiths degree show and open day was the first time I’d seen contemporary art and rather than encourage me to apply the visit actually put me off. I had no idea how people made work like that, if I wanted to make work like that, and if I did how I’d be able to make a living afterwards. I enrolled onto another course instead, but ended up pulling out and starting a Foundation course in art and design at Camberwell College of Arts. Like many people who have gone through a foundation course I often tell people how it was the most transformative educational experience I’ve had. It encouraged me to ask questions, broadened my concept of creativity and how you set about making an artwork, and allowed for a period of self-reflection and discovery. By the end of the course I had gained a huge appreciation for art education and an awareness of why the art I’d seen looked like it did. Two years after the initial open day I applied to that same Goldsmiths fine art course that had put me off and I got in. I wanted to do something that opened up and demystified this world for future students – and so I set up Q-Art.”
Q-Art’s programme began with a programme of open crits, which occurred monthly in a different art school each time. The crits invited students from across the London art schools to come together to present and discuss their artwork (something not formally done before) and provided a supportive environment for those who had recently graduated, to continue discussing their work. These crits were also open to prospective students, self-trained artists, and anyone else with an interest in art. The aim of allowing open access to the crits was to let more people see inside different art schools, to encourage them to find out more about how the colleges differed from one another (a real insight that went beyond the myth and rumours), and to give people an idea of how art is talked about – and its meaning created – in an art school environment. Slots to present in crits were offered on an all-inclusive first come first served basis in order to put the emphasis on peer review rather than the typical taste-based selection process that usually occurs in the art world. For the first 6 years we also offered those who’d put themselves forward to present in a crit, a chance to exhibit in our annual exhibition held at the APT Gallery in Deptford, London. The aim of this was to offer artists of any background a democratic route to exhibiting their work – again avoiding any form of selection criteria.
At the same time that we launched our crit programme we also published our first book ‘12 Gallerists: 20 Questions’.
In the year leading up to our first crit I was working as an intern at Zoo Art Fair in order to try and find out more about how the art market worked and how art is valued in this arena. I decided to interview galleries with a set of probing questions about how they found their artists, how they decided what was ‘good art’, how they priced work, who they sold to, and how an artist’s work went from art school, through the gallery system, to places like Tate. The interviews initially took the form of an installation and audio piece. However I soon realised that my peers were interested in what the gallerists had to say and so when we set up the crits it made sense that we publish the interviews to raise money for the crits and also for a website.
Two years after publishing our first book we published our second book ‘11 Course Leaders: 20 Questions’. In the third year of my BA I took a set of questions to the London BA Fine art course leaders.
I asked them the kind of questions I wish I’d known when entering art school. Questions like, ‘What’s your approach to teaching art?’ ‘Do you teach people practical or making skills and why or why not?’ ‘Do you teach art history?’ ‘How do you decide what art is ‘good’ or not?’ My experience of being a student was feeling like there was quite a lot of knowledge already assumed of us. So the process here was about asking the obvious questions not just for me but also for others.
Q-Art’s first book was launched at a panel discussion on ‘Who Decides the Value of Contemporary Art?’, chaired by Julian Stallabrass. The second was launched at a panel discussion ‘Where in art education does the learning take place?’ featuring all the course leaders. Both events hit full capacity booking in less than a week, each attracting more than 200 staff and students.
2011 – 2013:
In 2011 we put a team together to run Q-Art and formulate some of its aims and values. In 2012 we received funding from the Higher Education Academy to produce two new books and one video – a book and video on crits called ‘Art Crits: 20 Questions’ and a book on Foundation courses called ‘15 Methods: 20 Questions’. In 2013 we launched both of these at the Victoria and Albert Museum London, again to full capacity of staff and students. These books featured interviews with staff from across the UK. At the end of this period we were able to expand our focus beyond London and transitioned from a London based organisation to a UK one. We built a new website and went from q-artlondon.com to q-art.org.uk.
2014 – 2015:
During the period of 2014 – 2015 we expanded our open crit programme and invited institutions throughout the UK to host crits. In London we partnered with Shape Arts to make our crits fully accessible and we drew on support from Arts Council England, our partners, and our community of crit participants to help make our crit programme financially sustainable.
We developed a programme of workshops – some for BA students to support their learning in tricky areas of the curriculum such as the crit or assessment – and others targeted at 14-16, 16-18, and adult age groups, focussed on introducing the crit model and strategies for reading and talking about art.
This year we held our fifth symposium (at Swansea College of Art) – drawing contributors from the school, FE, HE, and art world communities. And we also took on a number of commissions to develop learning resources for prospective students, current students, and graduates.
Building on the theme of our symposium at Swansea, between 2015 and 2017 we produced Q-Art’s fifth book ‘Professional Practice: 20 Questions’ where we interviewed teaching staff from across the UK about their approaches to preparing students for life after art school. We were successful in raising partnership funding for the book from Kingston University, The Glasgow School of Art, Swansea College of Art and a-n. We held a symposium on the topic at The Glasgow School of Art in June 2016 and launched the book in November 2016 in partnership with Kingston University at Hauser & Wirth Gallery, London.
In addition to this we worked in partnership with Plymouth College of Art and mentored two of their students as they set up their own Q-Art inspired Crit Club, facilitated workshops, interviewed graduates about the challenges and opportunities of setting up art spaces across the UK, and set up their own organisation ‘Inside Edge’.
In 2015 we decided that we would no longer run our annual exhibition but instead put this time and energy into delivering more workshops for 14-16 and 16-18 year olds in order to introduce more young people to the crit process and strategies for interpreting art. We ran 10 of these in this period. We also continued to give talks and run our crit programme in partnership with Shape Arts.
Since we began we have held 69 crits which have seen over 500 artists present and over 2000 unique participants attend. We have sold over 5000 copies of our books throughout the world and we are beginning to gather case-studies on how our books are being used by teaching staff, students, and graduates across the globe. We have held 7 popular book launches and symposia attended by over 1000 people we have delivered more than 50 talks and workshops in many UK art schools.
In November 2018 we’ll hit our 10-year anniversary. As we approach this we will be reflecting on our achievements to date and deciding how to best lead the organisation forward and working hard to achieve financial stability for the organisation.
In time we’d like to expand our research of art education pedagogy beyond the UK so that we can learn about and share approaches and ideas across an international community of art educators.
We hope that you continue to support us on this journey!
Our team is made up of individuals who share the aims and ethos of the organisation. As well as working with Q-Art, we are all practitioners working in a diverse range of fields.
I set up Q-Art in 2008 whilst a BA fine art student at Goldsmiths in order to break down the barriers to art education and contemporary art. I was motivated to set up the organisation in response to the barriers – tangible and intangible – that I faced as a first generation student entering and then progressing through undergraduate level fine art education. In addition to running Q-Art I am an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper. I am on the steering group of NAFAE (National Association of Fine Art Education) and a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design Education. I have worked as a Research Assistant at The Glasgow School of Art, and as a freelance researcher for CHEAD (The Council for Higher Education in Art & Design) and a-n. I am due to begin an Ed D at the Institute of Education in September 2017.
I graduated from Goldsmiths in 2010 and have been involved with Q-Art ever since. I share our goal of breaking down barriers to art education and the contemporary art world. I am particularly concerned about the arts being undervalued and squeezed out of compulsory education, and the impact this has on access to art education at FE and HE level.
I love being involved in Q-Art’s Talking about art workshops, where we encourage young people to engage with work in galleries and museums on their own terms. Seeing them gain the confidence to bring their own references to their interpretations with enthusiasm is always inspiring. As well as working with Q-Art I run children’s art clubs at my local community centre. I also devise and run curriculum-linked art projects in schools and work with Accessart – providers of inspirational resources for teachers of art. You can see my directory page here. I hold a City and Guilds Level 3 Qualification in Teaching and Training, and an enhanced DBS check.
Crit Manager and Facilitator
I graduated from The Cass in 2013 at the age of 43. As a mature student I embraced my art education, living out my art school fantasy to its fullest potential. I now consider myself an outsider who has experienced education! My involvement with Q-Art has helped answer and raise questions within my own practice and has given me the confidence to speak out during critiques and engage with all art mediums. Through Q-Art I hope to encourage others to not be afraid to say what they are really thinking when they look at and experience contemporary art.
I’m an artist, curator and trainee foundation tutor. I believe that art education is valuable as a means to engage with the world in a particularly meaningful way. I am interested in how and where it achieves this and how to replicate and share it, particularly in a climate where the arts and art education are under threat. I have worked as part of the Q-Art team since 2012 facilitating crits and workshops, and enjoy it enormously.
In 2015 I graduated from CSM with a degree in Fine Art. I first became involved with Q-Art as a volunteer university representative, supporting the Q-Art crit programme. I was attracted to the organisation because of its goal to widen understanding and participation in the arts and arts education. I am also the founder of a curatorial project named G George, and launched its first project, an online listening gallery, in Autumn 2015.
Video and Copy Editor
I started coming to Q-Art Crits first as an observer, and then began presenting in 2012. I enjoy the variety of practices and people that join the crits and the interesting tangents discussions can take. I am a practicing artist and create sculptures, installations and performances focusing on our daily patterns, specifically our methods of communicating. I graduated from Chelsea College of Arts in 2012, and also hold a BA/MA in English Literature from Queen Mary University. Finding Q-Art an invaluable source of critique and debate since finishing University, I now edit web copy, books, and videos for the organisation.
I have extensive experience in education and teaching having been a Teacher of Modern Languages, Head of Year and a Deputy Head Teacher. I was a founding tutor on the Teach First programme, and have experience in urban education and regeneration. I was Director of Foundation for Raising Achievement, a cross-borough regeneration project with Tower Hamlets, Newham, Bexley, Greenwhich and Lewisham. I hold a BA in Fine Art from the Cass School of Art, an MSc in Psychological Assessment in Organisations, an MIL in French, a postgraduate Diploma in Linguistics and have Qualified Teacher Status.
I presented in Q-Art’s second ever crit at Central Saint Martins and was the curator of Q-Art’s annual exhibition from 2010-2014. I have been a practicing artist and independent curator since 2009, having previously taught Spanish and English. I have worked as a translator, being fluent in Spanish and French and can read Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese and German. I hold a BA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths, a BA in Linguistics from Universidad Complutense and a Postgraduate Diploma from the University of Westminster.
With thanks also to: previous contributors to the Q-Art team – Emily Wallis, Craig Edwards, Charlie Wainwright, Peng Zuqiang, Jeff Ko; our designer Jens Dan Johansen; our website team Amy Downes, Jonas Skafte, Krishen Kanadia, and to workshop facilitator Jheni Arboine (profile coming soon).