Barbara Walker's Turner Prize installation at Towner Eastbourne.

Art for all

How Sussex’s trailblazing impact on art and education came to the fore in its role as Education Partner for Turner Prize 2023.

Over the past year, Sussex has defined what it means to be the Education Partner for Turner Prize 2023, one of the world’s most prestigious awards in contemporary art. In collaboration with host and curator Towner Eastbourne – the South Coast’s biggest gallery – new ways have been found to open the prize to everyone in the region. “We brought the prize to life in a way that’s never been done before,” says Professor Ben Burbridge, Head of Art History.

Ben Burbridge has played a key role in the partnership, which is underpinned by Sussex’s strong existing relationship with Towner Eastbourne, collaborating to deliver the University’s Art History Museum Curating MA and Doctoral Partnerships. “It’s amazing that we have two Turner Prize-winning alumni despite the fact we don’t have an art department,” he says.

Helen Cammock, mixed-media artist and Sussex sociology graduate, was a joint winner of Turner Prize 2019; and conceptual artist Jeremy Deller – who holds an MA in British Art History and Critical Theory – won in 2004.

When Towner Eastbourne became the Turner Prize 2023 host, it was the first time the prize had travelled to Sussex. It marked the gallery’s centenary year, and formed part of its Towner 100 programme and Eastbourne ALIVE project.

“Turner Prize 2023 brought significant attention to Towner Eastbourne, with record numbers of visitors travelling locally, nationally and internationally to engage with the work of the four artists and our ambitious arts programme, Eastbourne ALIVE,” says Joe Hill, CEO and Director of Towner Eastbourne. “Working with University of Sussex allowed us to develop an initiative for Year 9s in Eastbourne, who were allowed unique access to the gallery and the exhibition, and which proved invaluable for their arts education.”

Every Monday, Towner Eastbourne closed its doors to the public to make way for school visitors. Over 3,500 Year 9 pupils from Eastbourne were invited to attend a series of private tours led by student volunteers from the School of Media, Arts and Humanities.

“These young visitors found it easier to interact and relate with me because I’m a student too,” says volunteer Emily Pryke, who studies Art History and Museum Curating. “During the visits, I showed my group around the entire exhibition. I asked them what they liked and if there was anything they didn’t. They could be honest with me, which opened more doors for discussion.”

Year 9 pupils from Eastbourne Academy view Turner Prize winner Jesse Darling’s installation at Towner Eastbourne.

Year 9 pupils from Eastbourne Academy view Turner Prize winner Jesse Darling’s installation at Towner Eastbourne.

A separate pilot project, led by the Widening Participation team at Sussex, aimed to break down barriers associated with masculinity that can prevent some young men from engaging with education. Through a series of workshops, young men aged 13-14 from schools with low rates of progression into higher education used creative techniques to express their sense of belonging.

The workshops were designed to give them a voice and inspire confidence in their abilities, helping them to think about their future selves and to be open to the possibility of pursuing higher education. In March 2024, a film documenting the young men’s experiences was screened alongside an exhibition of their creative work. Insights from the pilot will shape plans to roll the project out to other schools.

These young visitors found it easier to interact and relate with me because I’m a student too. They could be honest with me, which opened more
doors for discussion.”

On campus, Sussex explored the history and curation of the annual Turner Prize, named after English painter J. M. W. Turner. A series of public behind-the-scenes events were hosted in collaboration with Towner Eastbourne at Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts. To further the reach and improve accessibility, each event was filmed, live-captioned and BSL-interpreted for people to experience either in-person or online. Sussex academics were joined in conversation by special guests including Helen Cammock, whose new University-commissioned text-based artwork – which features on a wall of the Sussex Student Centre – was unveiled during her visit. As the University’s first new permanent piece of public art in decades, it signals the reinvigoration of artwork on campus.

Other Turner Prize 2023 events included a private viewing thanking alumni and supporters, the award ceremony itself naming Jesse Darling as the winner, and a reflection on the prize’s impact on the local economy and communities.

“When Turner Prize arrived in Sussex, we focused on maximising opportunities to benefit our local community, as we believe that art, just like universities themselves, should be for all,” says Professor Robin Banerjee, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global and Civic Engagement. “Our work with Towner Eastbourne supports the region’s arts and education post-pandemic recovery, providing young people across Sussex with new avenues to explore art and higher education. In our role of Education Partner, everything we planned had to be sustainable, replicable or scalable, building a solid platform for the future. It doesn’t end here.”


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