I’m a video artist, participatory & community arts worker, evaluator and artist-researcher. Currently I’m working with key West Midlands organisations on the evaluation of the impact of participatory arts – which was also the subject of my doctoral research. As a film maker I want to challenge the way we watch media and to question our relationship to the film’s subject and the role of the artist. As a community arts project manager and worker, I bring decades of reliability, experience and reflective practice towards developing creativity through rich, empowering, effective and fun processes. My practice also offers integrated and creative evaluation.
My short film ‘Reading Agatha Christie’ was submitted to the Max Mara Prize for Women Artists 2008 by British artist Cornelia Parker and made it to the penultimate round! It was made with a group of Iraqi Kurds in Birmingham and records a struggle to control their readings of Christie’s ‘They Came to Baghdad’ in Arabic. The film won the Ikon Gallery Student Prize and has been shown in the US and Cairo; I was awarded the Birmingham City University ‘Overall Best Student’ in the Arts in 2008 & my MA Fine Arts in 2010.
Current activities …
Care without borders I, 2019
July t0 October 2019, three small oil paintings about disasters, provoked by the Grenfell Fire, the Syrian conflict and migrant drownings, were selected out of many entries for The Art of Caring group exhibition at The Conference Centre Gallery, St Pancras Hospital, London, (oil on aluminium, ‘Care Without Borders’ I (left),II and III)
Preceeded by (April – June 2019) The Art of Caring group postcard exhibition St Georges Hospital London (three paintings, oil on aluminium, ‘Care Without Borders I,II and III)
I’ve worked as a Creative Enabler for three years now for Chester Uni BA Fine Art student Grace Currie who had her first solo show Feb 19th-23rd 2019 at Participate Artspace Gallery Shrewsbury – Grace’s talent and determination have led to an exciting body of work about her struggle with short term memory loss and making her own privacy in a life with 24/7 care – see her work at GraceCurrieArt.blogspot.com
My evaluation report published (Spring 2019) for An Undertaking, an ambitious multimedia group show in Shrewsbury’s St Chad’s church – funded by Arts Council England and Mentored by Oriel Davis Curator Alex Boyd-Jones… with artists Julie Edwards, Jaqui Dodd, jill Impey and Keith Ashford. Click here to see the report An Undertaking Evaluation Report By Sue Challis final
Currently consultant researcher into the impact of rural theatre tours for the Arts Council England with the National Rural Touring Forum http://www.ruraltouring.org/ and Coventry University – a heady mix of GIS and mapping quantitative and qualitative methodology (with Mark Webster ex- Stafford Uni’s MA in Community Arts, Dr Phil Dunham and team from Coventry) – it’s a two year major ACE R&D project reporting to the ACE and NRTF on July 2nd 2019
Feb 2017 Just completed evaluation report for Birmingham Spectra theatre work with young people and adults with learning disability (click here Spectra report )
September 2016 fab fun in aa two-month residency in the Kynaston Ballroom, Wem, Shropshire, culminating in a three day group exhibition with 187 visitors – my work included huge paintings and four video interviews with local people who had danced in the Ballroom in the 1940s… See separate page above
April 2016 Completed the evaluation report for the re:collect artist’s group (click here for full report re:collect evaluation): Shropshire Arts Development Officer Alexa Pugh commented “Well written, balanced and insightful…What a great piece of work to have going forward – I’ll definitely use it in the reports I have to write. It’s clear within the report how active the group have been and so have achieved an enormous amount with positive outcomes, but pleased to see you have identified areas for development and further learning which are realistic”.
…and currently still evaluating the exciting network-building process around the Open Door Theatre’s Is That All There Is? conference in Birmingham in March 2016 – we used some innovative methods to capture pledges for good practice with Young People With Learning Disabiilties (such as henna tattoos…).
Artwork:Exhibiting at Shrewsbury Museum drawings and sound reflecting on the use of popular music as a way of suppressing dissent in WWI – made using my new (100-year-old) pianolarepaired by the wonderful Andri Maimaridou (musiccrafts). My short films, sound and text pieces are currently touring in a Cabinet of Curiosities – work was made in response to ideas about how we view the past (inspired partly by Susan Sontag’s writings) for the Re:Collect group show (with five other artists), including at Powis Castle, Wrexham Museum and now at the Participate Artists Space and gallery Shrewsbury.
Evaluation: As an evaluator I’m delighted to be working again with six Library Services across the West Midlands in A Place of Safety with Brighton participatory arts company Blast Theory and Arts Connect West Midlands. Previously I worked with Birmingham Community Libraries and the Birmingham Rep Theatre in an innovative library project (CLASP) with Birmingham arts company Sonia Sabri Dance and videomaker Andy Spencer. The £250k project trained library staff to tell stories in creative, visual and imaginative ways. The evaluation aimed to build a team with the skills to evaluate continuously in a systemic, integrated process. This was a highly successful project with identifiable benefits. Amongst other data, the evaluation analysed over 500 feedback returns from Library users, parents, children, staff and artists. You can read the two final Summer 2015 reports here ( CLASP report Part 1 ‘Summary and the more reflective CLASP report part 2 ‘Striving’ ).
And before that South Shropshire’s Lively Libraries project with Arts Alive! and the Birmingham Royal Ballet – the BRB’s professionalism was stunning and the final event – a performance by children after only four rehearsals – was outstanding. I prepared the evaluation report for this at the end of 2014, reflecting on the impact on remote rural towns of such quality arts engagement. Local artists Sal Tonge, Kate Johnstone, Zoe Needle and writer Polly Peters ran inspirational workshops in rural libraries throughout the project. See the evaluation report here: Final Report Lively Libraries 25.11.14
I have recently written up three Pilots of the Arts Council’s new Children and Young People’s Quality Principles for Arts Connect West Midlands. These Pilots were with the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, Motionhouse Dance, Leamington Spa and Imagineer Productions, Coventry. We have been working out how to integrate the Principles into the kind of systemic and creative evaluation approach I developed through my evidence-based PhD research.
Also, a joint evaluation (with Jo Trowsdale of Warwick University) of Imagineer’s Not Yet Invented innovative arts projects bringing artists, engineers, teachers and schoolchildren together to design and make 3m high moving mechanical artworks powered through Coventry by bicycles Summer 2015. Check out Imagineer’s blog Not Yet Invented …. and started another one for their innovative Imagineerium project with engineers, artists and young people not in employment or education….
… with social justice researcher Quaco Cloutterbuck – on participatory & creative evaluations, social justice and other misc stuff- follow us on @createevaluate
The recent past…
At the end of last year I was consultant evaluator with the Open Door Theatre Company and Birmingham Hippodrome for Richard Hayhow in an imaginative project with young people with learning disabilities in four Birmingham special schools aimed at improving their creativity and leadership skills.
Last International Women’s Day I presented at the TEDxBrum2014 event at Birmingham’s new libraryon why creativity (embodied knowledge) is so important to women
The final 2013 issue of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice (Vol 6 Issue 2) carries my article on creativity, thinking and writing, about a year-long Sketchbook Postal Exchange between myself, Shaheen Ahmed and Irish artist MandyMullowney : your comments most welcome! See http://coventry.academia.edu/SueChallis SKETCHBOOK POSTAL EXCHANGE The Journal is part of the Goldsmiths HEA WritingPad project .
The sketchbook, posted between Ireland, Birmingham & Shropshire became collage, inspiration, collaboration & artwork
This Issue was edited by Alke Groeppel-Wegener who hosts the Tactile Academia blog on non-verbal, creative ways of knowing http://tactileacademia.com/ – fascinating !
Curious Reveries … I’m working towards a performance event for the first year of the multi-million pound new Shrewsbury Museum & Gallery in 2014/5 – look out for strange sounds, evocative music, a ‘call to prayer’ in more than one religion, farm auctioneers and local youth bands… the work feeds into a series of videos I’m making for the Museum about how we look at museum objects, with film from the Natural History Museum of Dublin & the National Museum of Ireland, the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Williamson, Clun Museum and several others…
September 2013, I’ve been working with UCL Faculty of Laws researcher Natalie Ohana -Eavry in her project to explore the feelings and languages of the legal system as experienced by women in domestic violence situations. Together we developed a four-day workshop to help women in a London Refuge to make powerful and lucid statements through creative expression. STOP PRESS! See link to UCL award for the work UCL Laws PhD student named Engager of the Year
At the RGS-IBG, August 2013, with social justice researcher Quaco Cloutterbuck, .carried out a four-day evaluation of the Royal Geographical Society’s International Conference http://www.rgs.org/HomePage.htm in London, using creative and innovative methods alongside online and paper surveys… check out our conference blog at http://createevaluate.blogspot.co.uk/ and our twitter feed @createevaluate. Our report to the RGS-IBG was very well received.
Consultant for Birmingham-based, artist-led Community Interest Company Frilly (as an Associate Artist/Evaluator) for the British Council in South Africa evaluating arts programmes. Click here for Frilly
Group show Jan 2013 with Re:Collect artists’ collective at Shrewsbury Museum. Two of my short videos, shot in museums, Dusting (2012) , about our love of the materiality of old objects, and Sheelanagig (2012) based on an interview in the basement of the Dublin National Museum, where some things were hidden away…
‘Dusting’ (silent) (left) preparatory work for the Curious Reveries work at Shrewsbury Museum 2014 (oh and by the way, … I’m still pleased that three of my films were shown at the ICA for the ‘Because we’re worth it’ conference on participatory arts in March 2012).
Digital Content Development – the fossil brain coral projections Shropshire Museums April 2011
Working with digital artist Martin Sumner we produced a series of delicate and beautiful pieces, using projected text, video and images onto a 430million year old brain coral fossil, found in Shropshire, creating digital content for smart phones in the re-launched Shrewsbury Museum (Spring 2013): inspired by working with such an ancient artefact, almost beyond human imagination. I made video of local people’s imaginative flights of fancy about the past and a sound piece (linked by Martin to audio-responsive colour) of a reading of the Poem which won the first ever Much Wenlock Olympics in 1842 (read by Much Wenlock Olympic archivist Chris Cannon); played against Martin’s time-lapse dawn to dusk on Wenlock Edge, and other images we produced.
But You Promised was a video made and shown at the National Dublin School of Art and subsequently in a solo show at Oriel Davies in Powys in 2008. The film (showing rubbish in the Grand Canal Dublin transformed by bright sunlight into golden treasure), about the death of a parent, was installed in the bottom of an oil drum, in which echoed a haunting refrain from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, ‘Full fathom five they father lies’. The installation was later shown at the Chocolate factory, London and The Swept and Garnished group show in Shrewsbury, alongside several other films made at the time.
As well as work inspired by Sontag, from 2015-2017 I’ve worked with the Re:Collect artists’ collective touring in the West Midlands with the Cabinet of Curiosities – I’ve made text and sound and video based installations in drawers and boxes within a portable wooden cabinet with many hidden spaces. We’ve exhibited in Museums and Castles and churches and used the work to commemorate WWI and in intergenerational participatory workshops (see list here https://recollectartists.wordpress.com/exhibitions/ )
Dusting, a video I made for the multi-million pound rebuild of Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, was part of a series made for the launch year in 2014/5, inspired by Susan Sontag’s Unguided Tour essay, about the way we feel and look at objects from the past. Here’s a taster, from a group show with artists’ collective Re:Collect in Shrewsbury January 2013 ‘Dusting’ Sue Challis 2012
Following two years of documentary video-making with the Changes Consultancy’s Home Office project ‘Active Citizenship’ I was asked to help a group of ten South Asian and Black Country women write a successful £23,000 Arts Council bid for a 12 month arts project. As coordinating artist I was privileged to be part of the whirlwind of creativity which followed as the women developed individual artworks using photography, video installation, textile printing and sculpture, to ‘tell their journey’ in a stunning exhibition at Wolverhmpton Art Gallery’s Bantock House Gallery, professionally curated by established Irish artist Mona Casey.
This was probably the most satisfying project I’ve ever been involved with: maybe because I had known the group and they had known each other for two years previously; we were well funded and met fortnightly for a whole year, with several weekend residentials and a trip to London galleries; we could afford excellent professional artists (including Shaheen Ahmed, Adrienne Frances, Mona Casey) and had a quality venue to exhibit in – with marketing support from WMAG.
Extract from video and installation By Pauline Callaghan
Reading Agatha Christie (2007) was made with a group of Iraqi Kurdish refugees in Birmingham. It shows a number of ‘Middle Eastern’ people trying to read from Christie’s ‘They Came to Baghdad’ in Arabic in a film clearly made for ‘the record’ rather than aesthetic reasons. While the artist and Iraqi cameraman constantly interrupt, giving conflicting instructions, the readers’ expressions subvert the implicit control. This tense and funny film explores the interactions between cultures and emerged from the disquiet I felt about sources of knowledges about the Middle East – I read a lot of of Agatha Christie, who, despite her casual colonial racism, is widely read in the region (and apparently much requested at the internment camp Guantanamo Bay). The film has shown in Birmingham and London, and at the Cairo Film and Video Festival, and the Festival of Time Based Media in Vermont, USA. This is a short extract from a longer film.