Sculpture by the Sea 2019

Photographer Lisa Hakkinen

Photographer Lisa Hakkinen

Sculpture by the Sea (SXS) is now in its 15th year and is an annual, internationally acclaimed outdoor sculpture exhibition staged locally here on Cottesloe Beach in Western Australia, as well as nationally in Sydney on infamous Bondi Beach. For at least 8 years, I have been taking groups of students of various year levels for different purposes to the exhibition to take advantage of this acclaimed annual event; featuring local, national and international artists.


The exhibition is unique in that it caters for absolute diversity within the community at every level; cultural, ability, economic, age, gender and location. This exhibition provides a rich experience for all. It also inadvertently provides the opportunity to develop respect, tolerance, pride, curiosity, aesthetic awareness, knowledge, skill, personal expression, collaboration and communication.


Originally, I wanted students to appreciate such large-scale professional artworks in an environment outside of the classroom, but it has grown to cater for so much more within an education setting.


Being a staff member at an International Baccalaureate school, whose curriculum is outcomes driven but inquiry and concept based, it has been the perfect learning platform to tap into units of inquiry exploring, for example, ‘How effective teamwork requires people with different skills.’ SXS is tangible evidence of teams of people relying on each other to work collaboratively to organise and showcase this outstanding exhibition including site crew, curatorial panel, marketing personnel, designers, educators, philanthropists, security staff, sponsors, council members, community shop owners, pilots and transportation staff, waste managers, media, disabled carers etc. It is a truly eclectic mix of people working collaboratively to bring this arts event to Perth and Sydney, so over 250,000 members of the public can view artwork, over 24 hours a day in a 3-week period.

boys at sculptures by the sea.jpg
“I didn’t think that artwork was real from the photographs, but it is. Unbelievable!”
— Year 5 Student

This annual exhibition has inspired me to bring my own teaching staff down on location to lead a Professional Development session about ‘Learning to think by looking at Art which was very successful and made an impact on the way teachers viewed using art as a stimulus for teaching concepts in the classroom. Within the session, we spent 10 minutes at one artwork, where we looked for a minute then wrote for a minute, repeating this process five times. By the end of the period, some teachers did not want to move on and were fully engaged in exploring the artwork at a deeper level and from different angles / perspectives. Some teachers have since used this strategy in the classroom as a way of creating focus and allowing enough time to purposefully engage. Responses can offer a very clear and authentic indicator of a student’s level of thinking, as some move from the literal to inferential observations quicker than others.

On a personal note, many of my friends request that I lead them through the exhibition each year due to my expertise with taking and leading education tours. I know that my input assists those close to me by helping them understand the exhibition on a deeper level. My passion and background knowledge expand their understanding, rather than if they simply viewing the works for themselves. I am certain, with this simple sharing of knowledge that they, in turn pass on their insights to other friends and family, like a game of Chinese whispers.


Sculptures by the Sea is a wonderful platform for considering STEAM and cross-curricula activities. It highlights in a meaningful way the direct and subtle links between maths, science, art and technology. The 2019 exhibition created much discussion with the artists’ written statements and verbal discussions. It is apparent how much technology is becoming an integral and important part of the design process, with many artists using 3D printers and scanners to draft up proposals that need to be submitted a year in advance. This has also become vital in the actual design and fabrication stage of developing a sculpture.


Teachers can freely guide their own group of students through the exhibition and tailor make activities to engage in whilst at the exhibition. The SXS website offers information on the art form and the sculptures in this annual exhibition. Through the website you can also book focus tours, sculpture workshops or artist talks for yourself as an educator, or for your group of students. I have been a part of the Education Team for over 3 years and enjoy sharing my knowledge, arts awareness & appreciation and pass on stories from the artists themselves.  I have researched, designed and led Focus Tours, assisted with Artist Spotlight tours, engaged in public feedback activities, assisted on various tours for a range of ability groups and supervised and mentored in Artists Workshops.  Involvement with this breadth of experience has been a positive benefit to me as an educator as it has helped inspire me to acquire greater knowledge, engage me in meaningful discussions, opened my horizon to diversity, stimulated curiosity and interest in others and the Arts.


This exhibition has allowed me the privilege of acquiring professional exhibiting artists to visit my workplace to share their experience and expertise, and even run workshop sessions with classes back in the classroom after viewing the exhibition. These experiences create authentic links within the Curriculum and across all areas of learning, especially inquiry-based learning.

Photographer Lisa Hakkinen

Photographer Lisa Hakkinen

Top Tips for Using Sculptures by the Sea Experiences in your School


With the current demands and stresses of education today and the roadblocks that occur in taking groups of students on excursions, (public liability, paperwork for risk management, booking transportation, making timetable adjustments, sourcing parent helpers, and so forth); try to find a way to engage with events such as this as the overall benefits and the scope it provides for growth and engagement, is well worth it. Even if what you do as an educator is to provoke attention, for example:


·       Set up a photograph exhibition at school and invite students and parents to visit the exhibition in their own time, at different times of the day, to capture a dramatic or beautiful image.


·       Encourage your parent body group to organise a picnic at SXS as an opportunity for students and their families to get together.


·       Attend the Teachers’ Preview and get some background information.


·       Go online! Visit  and make use of the fabulous education resources made available to educators. 


·       Book a tour or workshop for your students.


·       Take photographs for powerful images on posters. (e.g. Arts Terminology for principles like repetition, emphasis, unity, scale, balance etc.)  Visuals can engage and embed learning. 


·       Throw a random group of photos on the table and see what they mean to the students; see where this inspiration could go directed by the student’s interest and awareness. Listen to the authentic conversations!


·       Invite a guest sculptor to come to your school and talk or engage with staff and students.


·       Attend any of the associated events with the exhibition such as Indigenous performance, public welcome, artist spotlight tours etc.


·       Follow the website and news about the exhibition.


·       Use an artists’ statement to inspire your own exhibition or simple activity back at school, even if just for a lunchtime activity and invite parents to join. (e.g. Environmental issues such as microplastics and the hazardous impact on the environment through our use of them in products. Use this artist’s message as a springboard for a research topic, inquiry or debate.)


·       Learn one skill and then teach it yourself. (e.g. Attend a teacher’s workshop, learn the techniques of joining cable ties or shaping metal and then do it yourself back at school.)


Photographer Lisa Hakkinen

Photographer Lisa Hakkinen

About the Author


Karen Sabitay is an amazing Visual Arts Specialist and a General class teacher, teaching Pre-primary to Year 7 students for over 30 years. She has been in many roles throughout her life including Head of Junior Primary and Deputy Principal. Karen has worked all over Western Australia in Public and Private schools, remote, rural and metropolitan. On top of her other roles, Karen has worked with the Education Team of Sculptures by the Sea for the past 3 years. Her knowledge of sculptural practices, the artists and engaging students is priceless.