Artist Sue Brisco tells us about her Open Access award success.

Participants take part in the Beyondness of Bees Workshops

Participants take part in the Beyondness of Bees Workshops

Fine artist Sue Brisco has been awarded two Open Access Awards; the first was a SEED award for a project call ‘The Seeing Small Microscope and Art Project’ which she produced in collaboration Wildside Activity Centre.

The second was a GROWTH award for ‘The Beyondness of Bees Project’. Again Sue collaborated with the Wildside Activity Centre and this time with Elise Stewart - the Chair of the Wolverhampton Branch of the Embroiderers Guild.

We asked Sue to tell us a little bit more about her experiences with Open Access and what she has achieved.

Can you tell us why you decided to apply for an Open Access Award?

My name is Susan Brisco and I am an artist interested in how two very different disciplines of art and science can meet and interplay with each other to translate into an interesting creative outcome. My inspiration and focus embraces nature’s poetic secrets and her fascinating microscopic worlds and landscapes. To date I have and have been involved in two successful Open Access Awards, ‘The Seeing Small Microscope and Art project -2016’ and the ‘The Beyondnesss of Bees -2018/19’ project, both in collaboration with Wildside Activity Centre, which is an environmental and adventurous activity centre.

I’m passionate to share and work with audience members to facilitate learning about nature’s secrets through artistic avenues. This experience ultimately allows for learning to take place through an unusual, innovative artistic route.

It gives me a buzz when audiences express wonderment at first-hand viewing magnified worlds down the eyepiece of a microscope but also have created art that is of value and possesses both quality and integrity. I also feel this can create deeper levels of engagement.

Devising exciting ways to share aspects of nature’s science through art became my mission for the Open Access Award applications, as well as offering something new to people of all ages and abilities with the use of microscopes.

A close-up of some of the work in progress

A close-up of some of the work in progress

In 2016, I took part in a creative initiative to become more business-like as an artist and this enabled me to buy a bank of bench light-microscopes using matched funding. This meant I could offer unique art workshops where participants could actively use a microscope for themselves, exploring the scientist within and to observe specimens for instance of wild flowers or honey bees at magnifications of 40X and 100X. To see first-hand, the delicate veins threading within a petal or the hairy body of a bee becomes revelatory for viewers and the deeper engagement takes place when observations translate in to artistic responses. I felt it was important to collate the outcomes in a public display which gave us the impetus to plan end-of-project exhibitions to showcase artistic outcomes and nature’s microscopic worlds through art.

I first met Wildside Activity Centre workers at a Fun Palace art-science day and we realised a collaboration would benefit us both. Wildside is located on a beautiful canal side site in Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton and was already well imbedded in nature activities with the public. They already wanted to find new ways of helping people to observe nature closely and enjoy its beauty. So happily, Wildside were excited to explore the avenue of combining art and science with nature; furthermore, the centre provided well-informed environmentalists who could advise on many scientific aspects of nature. This seems like a perfect collaboration to benefit all.

How did you hope to build a new audience for your project?

By collaborating with Wildside we were able to connect with a wide and varied audience of interested members, volunteers, and public fundamentally interested in nature. The project series of workshops attracted an inter-generational cross-section of active participants who regularly attended the centre and further included those interested in art-based activities. The ages of active participants ranged from 4 years to 70+ years and these groups were targeted at half term, Sunday mornings and mid-week to reach different audiences from different backgrounds and availabilities. For the Seeing Small project, each participant was to engage with the microscopes and observe wild flower specimens. which attracted those interested in wild flowers and art. ‘The Beyondness of Bees project’ attracted those interested in bees, microscopes and art and contemporary forms of stitch.

Generally, I found workshop participants eager to come to the exhibitions as seeing your work on display always satisfies - whatever your age. Furthermore, participants were keen to bring family and friends for support. The public exhibitions also attracted other groups of people interested in art, and also those who were widely interested in nature. It was also noted that some people attended the exhibition who would not normally attend art galleries.

It is important to note that careful consideration was given to the venue choices for the exhibitions to reach different physical viewing audiences. The Seeing Small exhibition took place at Wolverhampton University which reached art graduates and academic staff as well as the active participants. The Beyondness of Bees exhibition will be staged at two strategic venues, firstly a conventional white space at Eagleworks art Gallery, Wolverhampton to attract audiences interested in art and an unconventional exhibition venue at Boundary Way Allotments in their poly-tunnel to attract audiences interested in gardening, nature and bee pollination of flowers.

A further new audience was reached with The Beyondness of Bees project where microscope drawings were taken one step further into contemporary forms of stitch. This involved new collaborations with textiles artist Elise Stewart, (Chair of the Wolverhampton Branch of the Embroiderers Guild) and her members of the Embroiders Guild. This bought those interested in stitch and embroidery to an art-science arena.

How has the award helped you to do this?

The award has enabled the professional running of a series of workshops, facilitate effective administration and advertising, foster positive liaisons with scientists for advice and Wildside as a perfect venue for the workshops. In each case, the funding made the project more professional and credible rather than simply relying on good will.

Furthermore, the public exhibitions were stage in a professional manner, with displays of high-quality art, worthy of visiting. The projects were selected by a panel in a competitive arena therefore adding value to the project. Wildside has become recognised as a provider of excellent informative art-science programmes (without preaching) and attracted new artistic audiences. Creative Black Country have been able to support, advertise and profile the projects, thus reaching a wider Black Country Audience in Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

What has been the most challenging part of your project?

For me, the most challenging part of the project was social media. The young constantly use social media and I felt I could have utilised this more to connect with digital audiences. Thankfully, Wildside were active in their social media sites, websites and mailing lists. CBC were also actively involved in social media and so were the Embroiders’ Guild, hence this shortfall was met. I feel there is still potential to document the whole project visually through a digital means to reach a wider digital audience.

What do you hope to do with your project in the future?

I am currently applying for Arts Council Funding for a project into the secret beauty of and microstructures of pollen and its effects on humans – this is pending.

Wildside Activity Centre will endeavour to liaise with artists to continue their creative arts programmes which connect art and science. A new project may become live in collaboration with Kew’s ‘’Grow Wild’ project which initiates the planting of wild flower seeds including links with the arts - which will involve input from myself.

Further liaisons will continue with the Embroiders’ Guild in the form of further microscope drawing workshops for members to inspire embroidery works of art and future scheduled talk to the Embroiders Guild on art-science endeavours.

What has been the best part of receiving an award from Open Access?

The best parts of receiving an award from Open Access are many. Firstly, the application involved selection by a team at Creative Black Country. This competitive selection process affirms and validates the project, the artists and centre involved. The award funding has enabled projects to be realised and staged as planned.

Large, varied audiences ultimately became informed and engaged which gave me much satisfaction. I found myself working with many people of all backgrounds and ages and this was fun. Children who may be using microscopes at school were intrigued at the artistic approach to science and the public proved to be forever curious about science and nature.

Can you give us any examples of something/s positive that came out of working with people during your project?

A positive that came from working with people was in the collaborative relationships. Support, guidance and reassurance was always on hand. Furthermore, this has fostered further collaborations as trust and enjoyment was already established. Sharing with the public also became a positive as encouragement and pride came with each microscope drawing achievement.

Is there any advice or words of wisdom you could give to new Open Access awardees?

Advice I would give to new Open Access awardees is to be sure who your audience will be and how you will contact them -also, to pay attention to good planning and organisation.