In 1982 Sarah Birdsall arrived in St Louis from the University of Michigan to work for Obata Kuehner, moving to PGAV in 1983. Since 1986 Sarah has been on the faculty of Washington University in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Art. In that time she has served in various capacities, including Associate Professor, Area Coordinator—Communication Design, Assistant Dean and Associate Dean. In these roles she has worked with her colleagues to develop courses and curricular goals that build a strong foundation for professional practice and facilitate the integration of student’s academic interests, and ability to write and conduct research. Viewing the practice of graphic design as a part of the larger field of design and encouraging students to seek opportunities to address social, political and environmental concerns as a part of professional practice and personal work is central to her approach to teaching.
In 1994, Sarah, with Roseanne Weiss and in collaboration with Washington University and the Forum for Contemporary Art (now the Contemporary Art Museum) established New Art in the Neighborhood, a free outreach program for inner city students. The program exposed high-school students to art and design through making and interaction with practicing artists, poets and designers and the gallery’s exhibitions. At the conclusion of each academic year, student work was publicly exhibited, high-lighting their talents and ability to communicate. New Art in the Neighborhood is still in existence and alumnae of the program have been students in the San Fox School.
In 1999 Sarah received the Washington University Distinguished Faculty Award.
Sarah is a founding member of the AIGA St Louis Chapter and the first Vice President for Education. During her tenure she was active with the national AIGA, serving on the Education Committee, participating in the national initiative to address the lack of racial diversity in the profession.
The publication You Can Be a Graphic Designer funded by AIGA St Louis and distributed nationally was a targeted to high school students, their parents, art teachers and guidance counselors to raise awareness of graphic design as a professional practice, countering the negative perception of the value of art and design education. In St. Louis, this publication was broadly distributed to city and county high schools through partnerships and outreach programs established and led by Sarah. Working with the St Louis Public Schools, art students where transported to participate in studio tours that culminated in lunch and a formal presentation about the field of design. This program reached approximately 400 students annually and drew national attention.
Sarah, along with the help Laurie Eisenach-Bush founded the St Louis AIGA Student Portfolio Day. As it does today the the event afforded seniors the opportunity to have their portfolios professionally reviewed in preparation professional interviews and see student work from other academic programs.
In the 29 years of Sarah’s teaching career, the St Louis design community has played an essential role, with designers, too numerous to mention, generously offering their time and expertise, acting as critics, mentors and workshop participants. Active designers offered real world experience and insight, augmenting the academically based program.
Sarah is now enjoying retirement in St Louis.