Learning in the Public Art Museum Experiences of knowledge exchange and co-creation

October 2015 – October 2015

This research explores how knowledge about artworks is valued, exchanged and co-created by different constituent groups in the public art museum. It engages with current participatory agendas, the move towards increased collaboration with audiences and the implications for curatorial and learning practice and visitor experience.

Gallery workshop with participants

Gallery workshop with participants 2014
Deborah Riding

Contemporary gallery education aims to engage and empower the learner through pedagogic models that acknowledge multiple viewpoints and encourage and support a process of meaning making through constructivist methods. However the knowledge generated rarely involves collaboration with the institution and often remains invisible to those outside of the event. Through my research I have sought to set up an amplified situation of knowledge exchange and co-creation across professional positions and between the institution and its audience to further explore this gap. Participants’ experiences will be analysed and presented as a phenomenography and discussed in the context of relevant pedagogic models and theories.

In recent years museums and galleries have developed more participatory approaches with audiences through institutional policy and programming, inviting the visitor to collaborate and co-create. Re-positioning these invitations beyond the domain of the learning department with its established pedagogies has provided exciting opportunities for more visible engagement but also exposed tensions within and between professional positions and epistemologies. To gain an understanding of the experience of knowledge exchange and co-creation against this is the purpose of this study. The research will explore how constituent groups implicated in the co-creation/production of new knowledges about art in the public art museum experience the process of knowledge exchange. Recent research in this field has explored the role of the artist educator and the pedagogies that have developed in gallery education over the past 25 years. The tensions and hierarchies that exist around the exchange of knowledge between the institution and the audience within this sector have been explored as have the different and often conflicting paradigms of knowledge within which the different professional positions within the institution operate. However the latter is less well developed within the literature and with a current desire across the sector to develop more integrated approaches to curatorial and learning programming this is an area that is in urgent need of research.

This qualitative research will examine the epistemological positions of different groups operating within one particular public art museum where the researcher is based. The groups involved are, exhibition curators, learning curators, peer led youth group members and gallery assistants.

Research Questions

  • What are the different ways that knowledge is perceived and experienced in the public art museum by those implicated in its exchange and co-creation?
  • How can a gallery work with its audience to construct and make visible new knowledges and understandings of art?
  • How can gallery professionals work together to invite and facilitate the development of co-created knowledge?


Much gallery discourse, whether curatorial or pedagogical, in recent years has prioritised working with audiences through democratic and equitable approaches. The influence of Paulo Freire and Jacques Rancière in particular, have influenced the theoretical and practical developments of practice in both fields. With this in mind I have sought a research methodology and design that embeds these ideas. Freire and Ranciere share a philosophy of democratic pedagogy that assumes the equity of both teacher and learner. Caroline Pelletier proposes this as a methodological approach which I have adopted in my research design. Given the context I have described I was keen to involve participants from a range of positions implicated in knowledge exchange and co-creation in the gallery. In the gallery where I am based, as in many other museums and galleries, these positions are curator, educator, visitor experience (gallery) assistant and visitor.

A methodology was sought that would allow for the generation of qualitative data with these key actors. A phenomenographic approach has been chosen to enable research into the experience of the phenomenon (knowledge exchange and co-creation) from participants’ own perspectives. This approach is ideally suited to educational research that involves examining different experiences of the phenomenon in question. It adopts a democratic approach that presents data collectively and acknowledges the perceptions of the researcher. In the case of this study my own practice is embedded in the field and such an approach that develops data through dialogue with participants which can be analysed hermeneutically, allows for this position to be acknowledged and explored.

Phenomenographic analysis was undertaken of transcripts of semi structured interviews in order to discover the qualitatively different ways in which the phenomenon is experienced. In the case of this research it was important to me to employ an approach in the empirical stage of the study that could potentially disregard the participants’ positions within the institution, (as perceived by themselves, each other and me), and draw out the descriptions of knowledge exchange across their experiences. Categories of variation will be developed through an iterative and inductive process arriving at a range that reflects the understandings described in the data.

Project Information

Project type
Learning project
Lead department
Tate Learning
Project leader
Deborah Riding (PhD student, University of Chester)
Project team
Supervisor: Prof Jeff Adams, Dr Jane McKay and Maxine Bristow, University of Chester
Honorary supervisor: Dr Shirley Brice Heath, Stanford University