Explore and Create Stories #18: Sarah Jarvis

Say hello to Sarah Jarvis. She’s one passionate and talented lady who works as an Assistant Curator in the Learning Department at Tate in London. We met earlier this year when we chatted all things exciting learning, museums, arts, and creativity. We also geeked out about social media for learning in the museum world. I was so privileged to be able to spend time with Sarah, and her generous colleagues, for one of my research side projects that is looking at illuminating the voice of museum educators and learning teams as they cultivate a social media presence with their learning audiences. Sarah has a giant passion for art, and she is fascinated about the idea of ideas (ha!) and the space we create for these to flow. She’s exploring with different techniques to see how we can slow down to a pace that makes flow more possible, and how can we protect this space and give it the time and priority that it deserves (oh, hello, yes! I think we all would love some of this!).

Enjoy this latest Explore and Create Stories, it will make you think. And PS: Sarah's reading right now and clicking on right now lists are amazing! I have my next 6 months mapped out for me! See what you think...

Tell us about what you do

I’m an Assistant Curator in the Learning department at Tate. I work across the two London-based sites; Tate Britain and Tate Modern, in the Schools and Teachers team. We work with practicing artists to create a programme of events, workshops, courses and resources for school groups and their teachers, following the departmental aim of generating learning opportunities in multiple ways that act as a catalyst for change, recognising and supporting different levels of engagement.

I get to work alongside the Curators, Convenors, co-Assistant Curators and Resource Coordinators (there’s a lot of us!) to support and contribute to programming. Within this, broadly speaking the Assistant Curator’s role is to ensure the smooth running of activities, with an eye on and responsibility for all of the little behind-the-scenes logistical details. It’s a role that can take on many guises; of host, supporter, advocate, champion, problem solver, porter, runner…



What are you passionate about?

Access to art and forever learning.

Championing public spaces; galleries, museums and libraries.

Conversation, collaboration, along sidedness. 


What are you working on at the moment?

Preparing to host our next Common Projects meetup at Tate Modern; programmed by me and co-Assistant Curator Anna; it's a group of 15 teachers/artists/educators invited to join us, to form a collaborative community of shared conversations, on the understanding that, though we come from different work contexts, we all share a common interest in art and learning. We work together over the course of a year with the hope of developing, maintaining and exploring an ongoing dialogue holding multiple voices, ideas and approaches.

It’s incredibly open – we are led by the question ‘What could happen if for one year the classroom, gallery and studio talked to each other’, and I see our role as curators to host, maintain and care for a platform that can hold this exchange. Led by the group, we plan opportunities to gather together, be nourished by art and share practice, experience and often food. For the next session we’ll be working with Sarah Corbett, founder of Craftivist Collective. Led by Sarah we’ll be using crafting as a tool to slow down and exercise critical thinking, considering how we can all champion art, have our voices heard and feel the power to affect change, use craft for self-care, and the power of objects to encourage and help us focus.

I’m part of the recruitment team for a new cohort of artists-in-residence, who’ll be leading schools’ workshops in the galleries in the 2017/18 academic year. We’ll be spending two days interviewing to recruit a team of four. It’s always great to get to meet a whole group of new artists, hear about their practice, ideas and interests. I never visited an art gallery with my school and had definitely never met / had the opportunity to work alongside a real artist; so am really excited that it’s an experience we can offer to so many young people that visit Tate.

We’re distributing and celebrating the launch of a brand new book; In Site of Conversation: On Learning with Art, Audiences and Artists, which shares the practice of the Schools and Teachers programme at Tate. I spent much of 2016 supporting the editors to move the content through final stages, ready to be designed and printed, and now it’s here and think it is such a brilliant book; it’s great to have something tangible to celebrate and share what we do.

Outside of work I’m working on my backbends and headstands… slow progress with both.

What’s inspiring you at the moment?

The people and art that I get to spend so much time around.

As an introvert, I’m inspired and excited about my relatively recent discovery that not everything has to be fast and loud. There are some brilliant books, web links, articles, references that are opening out ideas around slow thinking, looking, curating, making, and quiet yet lively models for participation and engagement.

How do you approach creativity in your life?

I've learnt to think a lot more holistically and openly about creativity and what it means to be a creative person, and how that might be made manifest in the everyday. It’s about sparks of interest I think – I collect ideas across notebooks, folders of papers and postcards, tabs on my phone, relics on my desk and try not to feel too pressured to make them fit into anything or ‘work’ immediately. I like to hold on to things and use food-y words (!) to think about this: mull, percolate, stew, prove, rise, digest…

Common Projects.jpg

We talk a lot about ‘being in the moment’ or ‘being’ when creating. What does this mean for you?

This is where I think yoga has really helped – I’m trying to be better at ‘parking’ everything else to the side in order to find focus and commit entirely to what is happening in the present. I’m trying to take this off the mat and out into the world beyond.  

Pat Thomson (Professor of Education at Nottingham University) wrote a blog post about the importance of ‘making time not to think’, which I keep going back to. She refers to conversations with artists who have tactics to clear their mind, slow down, move into an almost meditative space of not thinking in order to let new ideas and insights bubble up. This is what’s interesting to me – how we can slow down to a pace that makes flow more possible, and how can we protect this space and give it the time and priority that it deserves?

What is the biggest challenge you find in approaching your creative endeavours?

Definitely it's in finding / making time, and in being strict enough to actually permit myself to slow down, unwind and find a state where creative, open thinking is more of a possibility, and this needs to fit in with a demanding and fast-paced, office-based day job. I know the right approach is to relax and be open to things, but caring for this space takes discipline and self-care – it means saying no, switching off and be ok knowing you’ll not get to do everything and see all of the social media updates (and realizing all still goes on with out this!).

How do you find your Zen?

Earlier this year I took a three-week break from work, travelled to Indonesia and joined an incredible yoga retreat in Bali before adventuring around Lombok. It was the longest I’ve ever been away from work since leaving university ten years ago, and was enough space to disconnect and reset completely. Since returning I’ve been thinking about the notion of retreat – not so much as escaping from but getting to something – and how can this state could be maintained and recalled in the everyday (and without the expense!). I’m working on this.

Otherwise, it’s in running, yoga, swimming (once I can get the mind chatter out of my head), slower tasks like pottering around the house and dreaming of the garden I’m hoping to create.

Who have been the biggest 3-5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing creative/mindful work?

Can I instead point to a few artists/artworks? ...Listed in no particular order, and with the caveat that my choices change day to day:

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker FASE: Four Movements to the Work of Steve Reich

I'm interested in notions of the event; that it is when ruptures are made in our everyday experiences that memories can be made, when thinking might divert or change and therefore, when true learning could occur. My experience of this performance in the vast subterranean Tanks of Tate Modern is one that was truly mesmerizing and has really helped me to think about the importance and value of live experience and excitement for the potentials of live art shared within the art museum.

Frédéric Bruly Bouabré
There used to be a room of his work at Tate Modern; lots of postcard sized drawings hung in blocks like tiles across the walls

I remember reading the artist worked as a clerk in government offices and would make these small postcard-sized drawings around the working day – I find the discipline and routine of this story really inspiring and really opened up the work for me, how this everyday commitment can grow and incrementally feed into something much greater over time.

Agnes Martin
I knew little about Agnes Martin's work until the retrospective at Tate Modern in 2015, but was captivated immediately and feel they are works that I could spend a lot of time with. They demand the viewer to slow down and pay attention.

Who are you clicking on at the moment?

A.W.A.R.E. (Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions) because it’s an incredible free online resource, I’m browsing in a commitment to fill in the gaps that my own Art History education left

TED talks because they are brilliant bite-size nuggets, delivered always by really interesting creative individuals with impeccable public speaking skills (I’m in awe!)

Current favourites are:

Ron Finley, A Guerilla Gardener in South Central LA

Shonda Grimes, My Year of Saying Yes to Everything

Thomas Hellum, The World’s Most Boring Television… and Why it’s Hilariously Addictive

Bill T Jones, The Dancer, The Singer, The Cellist and a Moment of Creative Magic

Creative Time Summit - Brilliant conferences that explore themes around art, activism and politics. I was lucky to go to one of their events in Venice a few years ago, but for all others, and to recap on things I missed they stream all events over the web and share all recordings for free and available to all.

Who are you listening to at the moment?

I’ve been listening to Northern Soul compilations, dreaming about the dance lessons that I’ll one day get to. Otherwise, Lianne La Havas, Frazey Ford, Laura Marling, Sleater Kinney and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band are all currently doing the job of motivating / supporting / calming me.

When it’s not music its podcasts: Desert Island Discs, Inheritance Tracks and Soul Music (all from BBC) as I love hearing stories from / about / behind music.

Who are you reading at the moment?

I’m newly into short stories and texts. My train ride to work takes about half an hour and they can take me to a whole new place in my commute; I get to the office at 9.30 and this whole thing has already happened in my head.

Recent reads:

Marina Keegan, The Opposite of Loneliness

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All be Feminists

Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me

Kim Gordon, Is It My Body?

I’m also reading a lot of twitter. I spend a lot (too much) time head-down with my phone stuck in my hand.


What’s some advice you would offer to someone who is struggling to find their creative spark? Or What advice would you give to someone who thinks they aren’t creative?

I certainly include myself in this gang. These are not words that come from accomplishments but things I try to maintain for myself:

Just begin, try things out and don’t over-think something before you have tested it out a bit.

See the importance of warming up and don’t forget to value that as part of your process – you would never think of doing a 10k run without preparing and warming up your body so commit to the same discipline with all endeavours and be kind to yourself in the need to make time for this.

Talk about it with someone else; I’ve learnt that sometimes having to articulate and move something out of your head can really help you to clarify or distill what is interesting and what you want to do with that

Think about an artist in their studio, expand on this idea of a studio and think about what that might look like and where that could be for you…

You can continue to connect with Sarah via Twitter at @sarjarv