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CHANGE IS IN THE AIR

Hello everyone! We hope that you have been keeping well these past few weeks. 

After what has simultaneously felt like an eternity and a blink of an eye, spring has now sprung and the Easter holidays are swiftly approaching! If you have a young creative in your household who might be at a loose end over Easter, The North Wall Arts Centre and the Name It Youth Project have a dazzling range of activities, workshops and courses that are sure to keep their creative momentum flowing! Read on below for further details. 

With this season of change underway, we are pleased to also report multiple strands of change and growth within Oxford's cultural sector: Social enterprise Makespace Oxford are hiring 7 dynamic and collaborative individuals to help deliver the exciting high street transformation project Meanwhile in Oxfordshire. Another positive development is the recent launch of the Oxford Cultural Anti-Racism Alliance. Below, you will find information about our involvement in the alliance, the manifesto we have signed, and what this policy means for purposeful change & action against racism across Oxford's cultural sector.

Last, but by no means least, we have interviewed another fabulous artist involved in our Artist Research Labs programme. This week's conversation is with the fascinating Bryony Benge-Abbott, who discusses how creativity within nature can be a valuable tool for enhancing mental well-being. 
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#FusionArts
Header image: Bryony painting the Stay Safe mural in Manzil Way Gardens, September 2020. Photo by Tommy Watkins

IN CONVERSATION WITH BRYONY BENGE-ABBOTT

Bryony Benge-Abbott is a British-Trinidadian visual artist, curator and producer currently based in Kent. Through oil paintings, public murals, surface pattern designs, exhibitions and ‘wild drawing’ walks, Bryony creates interventions and experiences that invite a deeper exploration of the natural world and our relationship with it. She is also part of our Artist Research Labs programme, which aims to help artists discover the next chapter of their practice. We caught up with Bryony to find out more about her work, how her practice engages with mental well-being and how her art is evolving over the course of the programme.

Please visit our blog to find the full version of this interview. 
 
Can you tell us a little bit about your artistic practice?
 
“My interdisciplinary art practice is centred around creating immersive and inclusive portals to the natural world, through which we might encounter alternative ways of understanding our place within the landscapes we share. I’m interested in concepts of interconnectedness and place, and through my work I explore different cultural, social, ecological, political, historical, physical and spiritual dimensions of our experience and perspectives of landscape. At the moment, I’m creating a new body of work inspired by my own ancestral landscapes of Trinidad & Tobago and the ancient woodlands of rural Kent.
 
I also deliver participatory, socially engaged projects, which are focused around the potential of combining art and nature to enhance mental well-being and resilience. 

“I’m passionate about supporting organisations to meaningfully and imaginatively engage, involve and inspire communities and public audiences in their work.” 

Most recently, I set up and led The Francis Crick Institute’s public exhibition programme, curating and project managing exhibitions that explored the Institute’s biomedical research into human health and disease. I was also one of the artists commissioned by Fusion and Oxford City Council to create a mural on Manzil Way last September, which shared a public health message relating to Covid-19.”

Bryony working on the Manzil Way mural, September 2020. Photo by Martin Stott
Left: ‘Kingdom of roots (i)’, oil and gold leaf on board; right: ‘Lichen Heritage’, oil on canvas

How do you address or engage with mental health/well-being in your practice?
 
“A thread that weaves its way throughout my curatorial career and increasingly through my creative practice too, is an interest in deconstructing systems of thought or values that segment or divide us as humans, and distance us from the natural world and our own natural instincts. It’s my belief that nature disconnection is a root cause of so many of the challenges we face socially, politically and, of course, environmentally. There is so much research showing that contact with nature is vital to our mental health and well-being.
 
Through projects such as mindful colouring Roots zineswild drawing workshops, and public-realm projects that integrate co-creation and participation, I’m interested in sharing tools and techniques that empower us to find alternative ways of seeing ourselves, our environment, our communities and our history, in ways that emphasise interconnectedness and celebrate diversity. Within my wild drawing practice, I’ve recently become interested in integrating exercises that activate the parasympathetic nerve, which helps slow breathing and calms our fight or flight mode. I am working to design these practices so that absolutely anyone can take part regardless of art experience, or availability of materials / time / space.

"A lot of my current research is concerned with challenging dominant Western, egocentric views of the natural world,  finding different ways to heighten an ecocentric awareness of the dynamism and myriad layers of connections that exist around us.”

By integrating these concepts into my participatory art practice, my intention is to support a greater sense of groundedness, compassion, resilience and belonging – all of which will be essential as we face the looming mental health crisis in the UK, life post-COVID & post-Brexit, and address the growing environmental challenges ahead.”

Images from Wild Drawing Walks as part of The Big Draw festival, October 2020

How is the Fusion Artist Research Labs programme helping you develop your practice?
 
“The timing of the programme couldn’t have been better. Last autumn I took the plunge into the world of full-time self-employment to focus more energy on my creative practice. Therefore, having the support of Fusion to carve out time to think critically and strategically about my artistic career in the company of others also exploring sustainability, has been hugely valuable.
 
I’ve been using this time to deepen my research into areas that really inspire me, namely nature connection and concepts of place. Just within these few months my practice has evolved so much in terms of the materials I’m experimenting with and my exploration of working in a more spatial / installation-based way.
 
I’ve also been reflecting on the skills, networks and experiences gathered over the past 13 years of creating contemporary science and social history exhibitions alongside my fine art and socially engaged public art practice.

“A significant milestone for me in Fusion’s Artist Research Labs was the moment I decided to drop the artist studio name Bryony&Bloom and to simply work under my full name across all areas of work.”

Left: Bryony working on a new installation piece for a forthcoming group exhibition at Orleans House, opening May 2021. Photo by Ewelina Ruminska; right: detail from ‘Tobagan Forest’, oil on board
Could you recommend another fantastic artist or creative resource for us to check out?
 
“There is a wonderful online exhibition of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, curated by Paintings in Hospital, which is based around the meditative qualities of her art. I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for a mindful, nature-inspired digital experience, something beautiful to help you unwind.
 
Some of the writing that I’ve found particularly inspiring recently are Bill Plotkin’s Nature and the Human Soul, which explores the ecopsychology of human development; Lucy Jones’ Losing Eden: Why Our Minds Need the Wild; and the beautiful essays of Akiko Busch. I read her book How to Disappear at the start of lockdown and it really influenced some of my new work. Emergence magazine commission some fantastic stories too, which are often recorded so that you can listen rather than read. I’ve also just come across the Bind collective, who share creative works that challenge traditional ways of engaging with the natural world. Finally, I’d recommend checking out the blog of Dr. Miles Richardson who has been undertaking some fascinating research into the impact of nature connectedness, specifically around the manner in which we engage with nature as a key factor in enhancing psychological well-being.”
 
Head to our blog to read the full interview with Bryony.
 
To discover more about Bryony and her work you can follow her on InstagramTwitter or visit her website.
 
Next week tune into our Instagram stories for five days of takeovers featuring work by Bryony and the rest of the Artist Research Labs creatives!
Full list of links
Bryony interview blog: www.fusion-arts.org/fusion-talk-in-conversation-with-curator-producer-and-artist-bryony-benge-abbott
Bryony's exhibitions at the Francis Crick Institute: bryonybengeabbott.com/exhibitions
Stay Safe Murals: www.fusion-arts.org/stay-safe-murals-project/
Bryony's Roots Zines: bryonybengeabbott.com/studionews/roots-zines
Bryony's Wild Drawing workshops: bryonybengeabbott.com/wilddrawing
Wilhelmina Barns-Graham online exhibition: www.paintingsinhospitals.org.uk/linear-meditations-online
Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkins: https://buff.ly/3rqlfMj
Losing Eden: Why Our Minds Need the Wild by Lucy Jones: https://buff.ly/39idXUu
Selected essays by Akiko Busch: akikobusch.com/selected-essays/
How to Disappear by Akiko Busch: https://buff.ly/2QI2VS4
Emergence magazine: emergencemagazine.org/podcast/kinship-community-and-consciousness/
Bind Collective: bindcollective.org/
Dr. Miles Richardson's blog: findingnature.org.uk/
Bryony's Instagram: www.instagram.com/bryonybengeabbott/?hl=en
Bryony's Twitter: twitter.com/bryonyandbloom
Bryony's Website: www.bryonybengeabbott.com./
Fusion Arts Instagram: www.instagram.com/fusionartsox/?hl=en

Fusion Arts is one of the signatories on the Oxford Cultural Anti-Racism Alliance Manifesto.
 

On Sunday the 21st of March, the Oxford Cultural Anti-Racism Alliance launched its manifesto for radical change and action against racism. Fusion Arts is one of the 22 manifesto signatories. 

We have come together as an anti-racist coalition of cultural organisations to take action and to commit, both individually and collectively, to dismantling systemic racism, which is a shameful and abhorrent feature of our sector and wider society. 

Fusion Arts is committing to using our expertise, resources, and influence to enact radical and lasting change. We are adopting an active anti-racist stance and will be ensuring that there is meaningful representation of people from the global majority across Oxford’s cultural sector. We pledge to create an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of all people from the global majority.

Fusion Arts is committing to using our expertise, resources, and influence to enact radical and lasting change to ensure that there is meaningful representation of the global majority across Oxford’s cultural sector.

Change is needed. Let’s do it together.

Read the full manifesto we have signed here.

MAKESPACE OXFORD ARE HIRING

With the recent launch of Meanwhile in Oxfordshire, Makespace Oxford are expanding their team! They are looking for seven collaborative and dynamic people ready to roll up their sleeves and hit the ground running on this exciting new £1.7m project that will transform empty high streets across the county into vibrant spaces for creatives, makers and doers.

Application deadline: 6th April 2021


Click for application information and further detail about each role.
The Name It Youth Project have a jam-packed roster of fun, creative & educational activities for young people aged 5-16 running throughout the Easter holidays! 

All sessions are free and include a free healthy meal for all young people who attend. The sessions will take place at Barracks Lane Community Garden, Barracks Lane, Oxford, OX4 2AP. To register for any of the sessions please email nafeesayouthworker@gmail.com or call Nafessa on 07388474808.
2nd April | Easter Treasure Hunt, Upcycling Wood, Nutrition Workshop | 11am-4pm
3rd April | Graffiti Art, Healthy Me Healthy You Workshop, Sports | 11am-4pm
10th April | Food Diversity Challenge, Creative Arts & Henna | 11am-4pm
11th April | Name It Has Talent Activity, Outdoor Living & Bonfire | 11am-4pm
16th April | Foraging Fun, Wild Cooking, Sports | 11am-4pm
17th April | Me Myself & I Workshop, Coming Together Celebration Party | 11am-4pm

GET THEATRICAL THIS EASTER!

Do you have a budding young thespian in your family?

This Easter The North Wall Arts Centre are running a number of performance-orientated courses and workshops perfect for young creatives!

Bursary places are available for all four classes. The North Wall can supply extra devices for the online workshops if needed. To apply, please email Abie Walton at waltona@thenorthwall.com by the 5th April.
Puppetry & Storytelling Course | For ages 8-11 | In-person | £45 for three days

Together, you will learn the skills to become theatre makers as you create your very own stories and mystical creatures in the North Wall studio. 

>> Click here to book.
Stop-Motion Animation Workshop | For ages 8-13 | Online | £5 per household

In this two-hour Zoom workshop you will learn how to create your own jointed paper puppet, and bring it to life using stop motion animation. Under 10s must be supervised by an adult.
>> Click here to book.
Beatbox Masterclass Course | For ages 12-17 | In-person | £60 for three days

In this three-day masterclass you will explore techniques to develop skills in using your voice to create music and performance. This masterclass is open to all levels of experience (including none!)
>> Click here to book. 
Playwright's Workshop | For ages 12-17 | Online | £5 per device

This two-hour Zoom workshop will explore writing techniques and exercises to build characters & pacey dialogue, and get you started on that all important idea for a first draft.
>>Click here to book.
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