Sue Challis

Sue ChallisI’m a video artist, participatory & community arts worker, evaluator and artist-researcher. Ive been 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  …

April 2021 …Too much coronavirus b…s..t on social media…here is Babylon …

March 2021 – I’m working with artist-led Arts Council England Meres & Mosses project with artists Andrew Howe, Kate Johnston and sculptors Liz Turner and Keith Ashford… making work in response to the amazing raised peat big at Whixall and Fenn’s Moss Shropshire.

In March 2020 I was accepted for a 4-week Artists Residency in Northern Italy for July 2020 by the Rensing Arts Centre, California, working on artwork about sense of place and connection, Vivo Qui/I Live Here making video and mixed media work at home and in Italy STOP PRESS residency deferred until  July 2021 because of Coronavirus – but the work will go on. Even more important now to reach out internationally – and I’m learning Italian!  Daft little videos here starting to link a small hilltop village in Liguria with a small market town in Shropshire…STOP PRESS AGAIN… Residency delyaed until 2022 by coronavirus…

Vivo Qui#1

Vivo Qui#2

April 2020: Just finished the final evaluation report on Scour2 The Machine in the Park, innovative and beautiful 2-year project developing artwork in the last of Britain’s water-driven needle making forges, ForgeMill in Redditch; working with Elizabeth Turner and Keith Ashworth (SculptureLogic) was a joy throughout and the reception of the work was phenomenal. Report here: The Machine in the Park

Encounters: When I brought the on acetate, typed words, light

Encounters: When I brought the sun video and shed construction

         When I brought the sun

I loved working with poet Kevin Evanson in the October 2019 Encounters group exhibition in the VAN gallery in Shrewsbury – we made a collaborative installation, with poems, sound, video, paintings and paraphanalia…

Care without borders I, 2019

The Art of Caring London group exhibition July – 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 (sold) and III)

Preceded 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 nearly six 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  through acquired brain injury and making her own privacy in a life with 24/7 care – her Final Uni show was May 2020  AND GRACE WAS AWARDED A FIRST CLASS DEGREE ! see her work at  

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

2017-2020 Consultant researcher into the impact of rural theatre tours for the Arts Council England with the National Rural Touring Forum 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 reported to the ACE and NRTF

Feb 2017  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 a a 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”

ITATI Evaluated 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) pianola repaired 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.

Research: Working with NHS and Coventry University’s Disruptive Media Learning Lab researching creative participatory methods and wellbeing in secondary schools for Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust. This follows publication of Savin-Baden and Wimpenny’s A practical guide to arts-related research (2014, Sense Publishers) to which I am a contributor

My work using creative research methods in a London women’s refuge recognised in UCL award to collaborator Natalie Ohana-Eavry

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….

Professional Development

I’m continually learning new ways of working and taking on new ideas through my work and I’m always looking for training.  Looking back on over three years of  PhD research, investigating the evaluation of community arts interventions, (supported by the Economic & Social Research Council and the Coventry-based public arts organisation Imagineer Productions) I know I have developed a raft of new skills and understandings.  Here’s a paper on my research published in August 2013 by the European Conference on Arts and Humanities  or follow me on     . Full text of my PhD thesis is here .

 I tweet as #createevaluate (see tweets right)

… on participatory & creative evaluations, social justice and other misc stuff- follow  @createevaluate

The recent past…

At the end of 2018 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.

On International Women’s Day I presented at the TEDxBrum2014  event at Birmingham’s new library on 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   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

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 – fascinating !

Curious Reveries …  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…

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 in London, using creative and innovative methods alongside online and paper surveys… check out our conference blog at  and our twitter feed @createevaluate. Our report to the RGS-IBG was very well received.

It’s been invaluable to be in a reflective Action Learning Set with Clore Fellow Wanjiku Nyachae (tweet @1GQ_N) .

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…

Picture 1

 ‘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

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.

But You Promised poster with video still


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Curious Reveries

The Cabinet of Curiosities in Church

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 )

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

Video Still ‘Dusting’

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Paola’s Dance

A short piece made with Paola Alessandro at my ‘In Disguise’ residency at The Hive Arts Centre, Shrewsbury – part of an exploration of identity – 2005

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Impact Arts !

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

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Reading Agatha Christie (2007)

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.

Reading Agatha Christie 2007 Extract

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