Dr. Loraine Leeson is a visual artist who works through social engagement. This specialism underpins her teaching in Fine Art Social Practice in the Department of Visual Arts - also her previous appointment as Fulbright Scholar in Residence at University of Washington Tacoma, where she introduced community engagement into its programmes. Loraine is director of the arts charity cSPACE, and chair of the strategy group Arts for Labour plus the film and video production and training centre Four Corners. Her research focuses on the role of art in social change through bringing community-based knowledge into the public domain. She is particularly known for her work in support of the campaigning communities of London’s Docklands in the 1980’s, and her later use of digital media and the Internet to explore collective creativity. A retrospective exhibition celebrating thirty years of her practice toured Berlin, London, Toronto and Dublin 2005-08. Her art practice with people has been recognised through a Media Trust Inspiring Voices award and Olympic Inspire Mark, while her public artwork The Catch involving 300 children became a London 2012 Landmark and Active Energy received the 2016 RegenSW Arts and Green Energy award. 2017 saw her 1970s photomontage work in support of health campaigns exhibited at ICA London as well as the Routledge publication of her book Art:Process:Change – inside a socially situated practice. In 2018 she completed an interdisciplinary AHRC funded project in India addressing issues of water shortage in desert regions, and is currently extending this work through partnership with University of West of England and arts practitioners in India to help support children traumatised by the conflict in Kashmir..
Featured Artist in Women's Eco Artists Dialog
"Projects can gain longevity if they are rooted in community and not subject to the overarching constraints of commissions or funding bodies. Through supporting concerns identified by senior citizens in East London, Active Energy has been able to address urgent ecological issues and discover new ways that crucial local knowledge can have an effect both locally and with a constituency far beyond its own borders." - Dr. Loraine Leeson
cSPACE director Dr. Loraine Leeson has worked with communities through the visual arts for over forty years, creating artworks and initiatives in the public domain.
Active Energy: Communities Countering Climate Change
in WEAD-Women Eco Artists Dialog [online]. Issue 11, November 2020
Promoting citizen-led innovation, this project comes out of British artist Leeson’s “long-standing art practice rooted in the belief that keys to social change are held in the knowledge of ordinary citizens.” A true pioneer of community-based visual art, Leeson has lived and worked through 30+ years of cultural activism in the “intense community life” of the East London waterfront. This essay is a follow-up to one published in WEAD Magazine ISSUE No. 7, which described the inception of her collaboration with The Geezers, a self-named group of senior working class men. Working with Leeson, the men became “consumed by the quest to find alternative energies for their community”. Leeson updates how she fostered the Geezers’ ideas, making progress possible through connections to resources, engineers and scientists, and supporting institutions. This success story is sorely needed in these uncertain times.
Geezer Power: the Active Energy project
in Culture, Community and Climate: emergent transpraxis, ed. R. Povall, Dartington, Art.earth.2020.
This book is primarily interested in exploring how we can cross disciplinary boundaries in exploring a question or idea. The book is also exploring transculturalism: professional disciplines have their own cultures and ways of thinking and working, but even in this globalised world, so do individual nations and ethnic groups. All of these cultural languages play into our work: this book would like to explore how culture, practice and language can intermingle to create new projects that explore real-world questions. In addition we explore such boundary-crossings through a theoretical lens in an attempt to discover forms of transpraxis and what we can learn from the crossing of boundaries.
The Environment Magazine November 2019
CIWEM FRIENDS The Geezers joined in with this autumn’s week of climate-justice action, showing east London school students how a floating water wheel can power an aerator to cut the impact of pollution on fish and wildlife in the River Thames, writes Loraine Leeson.
The event celebrated how older and younger people can come together to deliver environmental change in their communities. It marks the latest stage of Active Energy, the award-winning arts and environment project that challenges older people’s lack of input to technological development.
The Geezers, based at AgeUK Bow, have worked with students from Bow School to develop wind and tidal turbinesto generate renewable energy.
The Lie of the Land
Exhibition at MK Gallery, Milton Keynes 16th March - 26th May 2019
Through a playful and provocative display The Lie of the Land charts how British landscape was radically transformed by changes in free time and leisure activities since hunting and shooting, the recreations of the aristocracy, were enjoyed on the rolling hills of their private estates. In part, tracing a line between Capability Brown’s aristocratic gardens at Stowe and the social, urban experiment at neighbouring Milton Keynes, the exhibition teases out the aspirations that underpin our built environments.
The Environment magazine February 2019
Article describing Loraine Leeson's Active Energy project with a new water wheel installed at Three Mills.
Art as Activism
Interview with Loraine Leeson and Peter Dunn in Switch, Paris. 4th July 2019
Cet entretien a été mené par Juliette Desorgues,curatrice et écrivaine indépendante, anciennement Commissaire Associée à l’Institute of Contemporary Arts, à Londres, avec les artistes britanniques Peter Dunn et Loraine Leeson. La discussion se concentre sur l’action militante collaborative engagée par les deux artistes entre 1977 et 1980,la Bethnal Green Hospital Campaign (1977-1978) et l’East London Health Project (1978-1980). Par le biais de différentes plateformes et supports, parmi lesquels des discussions, des actions, des affiches,des films et des expositions, le duo d’artistes a cherché à mettre en lumière les problèmes majeurs apparus dans le domaine de la santé publique à l’époque:fermetures d’hôpitaux dues à des compressions budgétaires ainsi que les menaces pesant sur des enjeux tels que lasanté mentale, l’avortement, la contraception et les droits des femmes.
Practice-Based Teaching in MA Art and Social Practice and BA Fine Art Social Practice
in Work-based Learning eJournal Volume 8, Issue 2, December 2019
Arts education is by definition practice-based. However at Middlesex we also offer education in the emerging field of socially engaged art. This requires not only a holistic approach to the creative development of the individual, but engagement with others, both in the process of teaching and through the external projects that are the focus of practice on these courses. The MA Art and Social Practice and the exit degree BA Fine Art Social Practice in the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries are both relatively new courses. They nevertheless build on a long history of community-based arts in the faculty while also drawing on the methodologies of social practice developed in the professional field. The main practice elements of these courses are delivered by a team of just two people, Alberto Duman and myself, each active as a practitioner and researcher, and with extensive connections in the professional world. This enables us to build into the teaching enrichment activities such as experiential visits, student involvement in conferences and events, and inter-university dialogue and debate. The development of students’ practical outreach projects, which are the main focus of these courses, are facilitated through one-to-one tutorials a mixed-level support group and workshops. While the MA is part of a postgraduate matrix with two theory modules taught by other specialist staff, additional and more focused theoretical input is provided in the practice element of the course through a regular ‘think tank’ for which students often choose the texts to debate. A programme of mixed-level seminars and lectures raise issues pertinent to practice, and make significant use of the tutors’ own experience and research.
For Walls with Tongues
Recorded interview, exhibition and publication by Greenwich Mural Workshop
For Walls With Tongues’ (FWWT) is an oral history of the mural movement in the United Kingdom charting the lives and experiences of some of the muralists active in the period 1966 to 1985 created from interviews with thirty British muralists working around the country, recorded between November 2017 and September 2018.
Water Power: Creativity and the Unlocking of Community Knowledge
in Water, meaning and creativity: understanding human-water relationships, ed. Jones, K. and Roberts, L. Routledge, 2018
“When electricity prices prevent older people from heating their homes, and the Thames is just down the road, why aren’t we using it to power our community?” was a question posed by a member of The Geezers Club senior’s group. This was at the beginning of a six-week art commission exploring why the life experience of older people is failing to be utilised in the development of new technologies. Nine years on we have enlisted a professional engineer and a range of partners, raised further funding, created exhibitions, investigated how turbines might function on the river’s flood barrier, tested a small-scale tidal turbine in the Thames, run schools’ workshops, engaged in interdisciplinary presentations and virtual communications, and most recently created a floating water wheel to oxygenate the water and support fish and wildlife in a Thames tidal basin. The chapter explores the role of art in this process, its role in making meaning and bringing together the ideas, people and concepts that enable innovation. It also considers those processes of creative facilitation that draw out ideas and generate the inspiration whereby the hands-on experience of communities can be brought to bear on issues that affect all our lives.
Patricide Issue 1
The End of a 60-Year-Old Mistake
Contribution to a zine on legacy, the title referring to Jeremy Hunt's divisive remark and dismantling of the UK's National Health Service. Patricide issue 1 is a patchwork of commissioned and existing texts and images. Major contributions include Loraine Leeson's images and an interview about her project within the 1978 Bethnal Green Hospital occupation.
Blog on Mdx Minds, 4th January 2018
Dr Loraine Leeson explores the idea that art is a vital part of civilised society and should be a method of self-expression for everyone rather than the privileged few.
Loraine Leeson at Art and Ecology Alliances workshop
10th July 2018
On 10th July 2018 Loraine will participate in a national discussion to review evolving frontiers of arts-led responses to the ecological issues of our time.
Since the 1960s, the arts have played an increasingly important role alongside education and the sciences in engaging people and responding to emerging environmental challenges, most recently including climate change. In light of factors such as the USA’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement and uncertainty about post-Brexit environmental safeguards in the UK, is it time to map out a new era of support and collaboration in the arts, and between the arts and other fields, towards more “artfully” wise strategies for the future? This meeting will provide a key opportunity to examine some options.
10 July 2018, 2 pm – 5 pm
CIWEM, 106-109 Saffron Hill, Farringdon, London EC1N 8QS
Organised by members of the Arts & Environment Network, in conjunction with art.earth, the Centre for Contemporary Art & the Natural World, and the Art, Nature & Environment Research group.
Loraine Leeson on women's health posters at Activisms and Artivisms - a Create/Feminisms conference at Middlesex University
2nd July 2018
Keynote Speakers: Tanja Ostojic (artist, Berlin); Ewa Majewska (critical theorist, ICI, Berlin/ Warsaw); Christine Eyene (curator, University of Central Lancashire)
Organiser: Katy Deepwell
This one-day conference aims to reflect on feminist activism and artivism in/through the many different kinds of contemporary art practices, campaigns and art projects and to explore the rich history of feminism’s innovative and diverse approaches and contributions to both art and politics. This is a feminist research event aiming to bring together artists, writers, curators and self-defined artivists and activists, academics and non-academics, theorists and practitioners.
How do the practices of feminist art workers and activists identify, comment, reflect, address and question issues related to changes in civil and political rights over their bodies; campaigns around health and social care and violence against women; in anti-nuclear and anti-militarist campaigns for the end of conflicts or for peace; in protests about women's rights as workers, citizens, refugees or migrants; for LGBTQI rights; for disability rights?
Loraine will speak about her 1970s health posters on a panel with Rosy Martin, Marisa Carnesky and Christina Vasileiou.
Loraine Leeson on The NHS: A People's History, BBC FOUR 9pm
1st July 2018
On 1st July 2018 BBC FOUR broadcasts the first programme in a documentary series celebrating the 70th anniversary of the NHS. It focuses on people’s memories of the health service, and include an interview with Loraine Leeson. It also features the posters on health issues she produced with Peter Dunn in the 1970s. Some of these were in support of the campaign to keep Bethnal Green Hospital open, while others were produced with members of health workers’ unions for East London Health Project to warn people about the impending cuts to services at that time - one of these posters celebrated 30th anniversary of the NHS. A retrospective exhibition of this work was held at the ICA in May 2017.
Loraine Leeson on the London Docklands in International Journal of Heritage Studies
25th June 2018
25th June 2018 saw publication of Loraine’s article Our land: creative approaches to the redevelopment of London’s Docklands in a special editon of the International Journal of Heritage Studies edited by Katazyna Kosmala: Intangible heritage and post-industrial waterfront zones: Ways of seeing.
Large-scale re-development of post-industrial sites can easily railroad 5
over the needs or wishes of its existing inhabitants, or at best involve
them in peripheral consultation. However, when a community is highly
organised and also collaborates with others to gather expertise and
develop effective means of communication, it has the ability to re-envi-
sion a future that can meet the needs of all concerned. In the 1980s The
Docklands Community Poster Project engaged with a cluster of waterfront
communities, which used the arts to influence the regeneration of
the London Docklands. Close collaboration between local people, activists
and artists led to a range of interventions implemented over a ten
year period that included a series of large-scale photo-murals, travelling 15
exhibitions, initiatives and events such as the People’s Armadas to
Parliament and the People’s Plan for the Royal Docks. The article makes
an argument for how and why art can be an effective tool in social
transformation and highlights its role in documenting and making visible
the intangible cultural heritage of the communities it serves.
Loraine Leeson’s health campaigning work featured in Patricide
21st June 2018
Patricide Issue 1 looks at the continued dismantling of the NHS and takes its title from comments in a Fox News report of 2009 relating to the book Direct Documentary, co-authored by Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Daniel Hannan and others. The publications ends a year-long research and performance project by Jos Bitelli, commissioned by Nottingham Contemporary, and is described: “In place of misdirecting our anger into actually murdering our fathers as the name would suggest, with the trouble that would cause and energy it would expend, we have instead assembled this publication.”
This first issue of the journal features an interview with Loraine Leeson The Operation was Successful but the Patient Died on her work with health campaigns in the 1970s. It includes reproductions of the posters Don’t Mince Words and Women’s Action on Health as well as The Authorities and Public Support panels from an exhibition she produced with artist Peter Dunn that was used in the entrance to Bethnal Green Hospital when it was under occupation.
Leeson, L. 2018 ‘The Operation was Successful but the Patient Died’ in Patricide: The End of a 60-Year-Old Mistake, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham. pp. 6-11.
Loraine Leeson at Communalities, Urbanities and Artistic Commonalities
5th June 2018
On 5th June 2018 Loraine gave a presentation on Situated Art Practice and Strategies for Change in London’s East End at a research symposium organised by University of Nicosia at Birkbeck University of London.
This inter-disciplinary symposium interwove ideas of art, activism, politics and urban commons, aiming for a dialogue around how we understand the creation of interdisciplinary platforms of exchange and community action in relation to artistic practices in different locations.
Increasingly creative practitioners have re-imagined and realized new structures of living together, resisted civic and political injustices proposed alternatives to privatization of social housing structures and created formats for collaboration with different marginalized and mobile communities within contemporary cities. The artist’s role, however, in cultivating new imaginaries, communities and bridging differences is often juxtaposed with his/her involuntary reshaping of neighbourhoods which can usher waves of gentrification and the visual capitalization of marginalization.
As our urban and rural commons are increasingly being privatized, the make-up of our cities is transformed via new patterns of global mobility and digital interactions. The segregated divided realities of urban experiences as understood both within local and global frameworks come into focus in this symposium, as well as the positioning of art within these debates. The potential of art to house debates related to civic politics within the urban environment will be explored by juxtaposing narratives from different places and different disciplines.
Dr Sophie Hope
Dr Paul Watt
Dr Loraine Leeson
Dr Evanthia Tselika- Visual Art and politics in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus
Dr Aleksander Aguilar Antunes- Art and resistance in Central American Hip Hop
Dr. Evanthia Tselika, Assistant Professor University of Nicosia, Cyprus & Associate Research Fellow at Birkbeck.
Communalities, urbanities and artistic commonalities
School of Arts, Birkbeck University of London
Loraine Leeson on Co-Creation at University of Bath
24th May 2018
On 24th May 2018 Loraine presented on Co-creation as a Strategy for Change at a workshop held as part of an international research programme looking at creativity-based methods of engaging with communities.
The event was aimed at researchers, postgraduates and professionals who work with different audiences and seek to use art as a means to co-produce shared understanding and knowledge about communities with those living in them, and sought to familiarise different types of practitioners with ‘co-creation’ methodologies.
University of Bath is a partner in the EU-funded four-year project https://www.co-creation-network.org/, which aims to develop and test the process of ‘co-creation’ as a collective art practice involving researchers, artists, community members and a range of stakeholders to address issues of marginalization and stigmatization in different contexts of urban disadvantage in both the Global North and South. The intent is to work towards fairer and more inclusive urban neighbourhoods.
The half-day event was an important opportunity to listen to inspiring practice-focused presentations, participate in debates shaping co-creation methodologies, discuss ways in which challenges and obstacles in the way of community engagement can be overcome, build networks and share knowledge and experience about tools and methods of co-creation.
Co-Creation: Creativity-Based Methods to Engage with Communities
24th May 2018, University of Bath, 6E 2.1
Loraine Leeson and Alberto Duman on social art pedagogy in New York publication
11th May 2018
On 11th May 2018 Art as Social Action: An Introduction to the Principles and Practices of Teaching Social Practice Art was published by Allworth Press, New York. The book was edited by Greg Sholette and Chloe Bass who teach one of the few masters courses on this topic at Social Practice Queens, City University of New York with an aim of gathering together knowledge available to support teaching in this area.
With content arranged thematically around such topics as direct action, alternative organizing, urban imaginaries, anti-bias work, and collective learning, among others, Art as Social Action has created a comprehensive manual for teachers about how to teach art as social practice. Along with a series of introductions by leading social practice artists in the field, valuable lesson plans offer examples of pedagogical projects for instructors at both college and high school levels with contributions written by prominent socially engaged artists, teachers, and thinkers.
Loraine and Alberto’s chapter Experience as Art: Fine Art Social Practice at Middlesex University drew on this university’s longstanding history of teaching in this subject and offered examples of workshops, exercises and events from the current MA Art and Social Practice and BA Fine Art Practice.
Loraine Leeson on Cultural Democracy in MDX Minds
4th January 2018
On 4th January 2018 an article by Loraine Leeson appeared on MDX Minds, which explored the idea that art is a vital part of civilised society and should be a method of self-expression for everyone rather than the privileged few.
The article covers the history of the idea, its seeds in the beliefs of William Morris, how it was subsequently taken up by Jennie Lee through the first white paper for the arts, which she produced for the Wilson government, and the founding of the Arts Council. It then looks at how the ideas developed through the community arts movement in the 1970s and 1980s and found a home in the policy and practice of the Greater London Council.
Coming up to date, current cultural policy is explored, including the present day under a Conservative government, but also how the Labour Party, re-formed under Jeremy Corbyn and reinvigorated by Momentum, is looking again at what cultural democracy means in the 21 century. Finally, a look at some of the challenges, a glimpse into the work of the strategy group Arts for Labour, and also how these ideas have fed into Middlesex’s own MA Art and Social Practice and new exit degree BA Fine Art Social Practice.
Loraine Leeson interview on Resonance FM
20th November 2017
Loraine Leeson participated in a panel discussion for the radio programme Suite (212) for Resonance FM on 20th November 2017. She contributed to a debate on cultural democracy from the perspective or her role as chair of the campaigning group Arts for Labour.
Arts for Labour supports the goal of an arts and culture sector that serves the many not the few and aims to provide a forum for the labour movement and those involved in the arts to inform, debate and respond to arts and cultural policy.
Loraine Leeson speaks at Whitechapel Gallery
1st November 2017
On 1st November 2017 Loraine Leeson presented examples of her work in the public domain at an event on the history of the UK mural movement, organised by Greenwich Mural Workshop. This was a participatory workshop looking at why fine artists turned to working on the street and with communities – a practice at odds with their training and the expected route from art school to gallery.
Artists, critics, historians, local authority representatives, students and the general public addressed the questions:
Why did they work in this way?
How did they go about it?
Did they achieve their goals – and did communities achieve theirs?
How did changes in funding alter things?
What was the effect of local authorities trying to improve neighbourhoods,
What was the effect of the development of public art?
Loraine Leeson in London Community Video Archive
9th August 2017
On 9th August 2017 the London Community Video Archive went live. Its aim is to preserve, archive and share community videos made in the 1970s/80s in London Portable video recording — now a technology routinely embodied in smartphones — became available for the very first time back in the early 1970s, making it possible for individuals and communities to make their own television. The medium was taken up by people ignored or under-represented in the mainstream media – tenants on housing estates, community action groups, women, black and minority ethnic groups, youth, gay and lesbian people, and the disabled. With an overriding commitment to social empowerment and to combating exclusion, 'Community Video' dealt with issues which still have a contemporary resonance — housing, play-space, discrimination, youth arts.
The archive contains one of Loraine Leeson’s videos Emergency, created in 1974 in support of the campaign to keep Bethnal Green Hospital open, and an interview that outlines how this became an important touchstone for her subsequent socially engaged art practice.
Loraine Leeson at the London Festival of Architecture
7th June 2017
Taking inspiration from We Made That’s fifth edition of their recently published place-based newspaper, a hosted conversation reflected upon the legacy of London’s Docklands.
In 1981, the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was established under Thatcher’s government to regenerate the Docklands area of East London. The process brought political controversy and a surge of local protest and community organisation to Dockland’s neighbourhoods.
Dr Sue Brownill and Dr Loraine Leeson joined Hilary Wainwright to discuss planning approaches and community responses to the re-development of the Docklands. The conversation considered the role of development corporations in making our city, and reflected on two remarkable grassroots projects sparked by the LDDC: The People’s Plan and the Docklands Community Poster Project.
The Unlimited Edition: Live! was hosted by We Made That
Wed, June 7, 2017
7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
THE UNDERDOG GALLERY
Arch 6 Crucifix Lane
Loraine Leeson interviewed for The GLC Story
8th May 2017
On 8th May 2017 A Greater London published interviews on its GLC Story web site together with a new zine to commemorate the achievements of the Greater London Council (GLC) in the 1980s.
Loraine Leeson was interviewed in relation to the work of the GLC’s Community Arts Sub-Committee, on which she served during the Labour administration of the 1980s. During this period the most radical re-working of cultural policy that this country has seen took place in the capital, with £millions transferred from London’s ‘centres of excellence’ into cultural projects in which ordinary citizens could participate.
In 1986 the GLC was abolished by Thatcher, but A Greater London aims to recover that lost history, and uncover lessons for today. A group of volunteers collected and recorded these memories, which can be heard here. The oral history project is now complete and to share it with a wider audience a paperback zine has been published, which can be downloaded here.
Loraine Leeson at Riverside Museum, Glasgow
20-21 January 2017
In January 2017 Loraine Leeson presented work from her Docklands Community Poster Project of the 1980s and subsequent projects on regeneration issues at Top down meets bottom up in post-industrial regeneration at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow.
This international conference aimed to look at good practice and challenges in participatory approaches to community engagement in city planning. It was conceived as an opportunity to exchange knowledge and share creative ideas, bringing experts, academics, artists, policy makers and activists interested and engaged in research in post-industrial development. Participants discussed current policy initiatives and debated what these might mean in practice, reflecting on the case studies of Gdansk and Glasgow, Govan, in the wider European context. Examples of good practice were shown from Gothenburg, Sweden, Vela Luka, Croatia, Edinburgh, Leith, Bristol and London Docklands. The conference explored how planning could be approached in a more creative and democratic way and to inform policy making on historic sites, with an aim to preserving rich heritage at waterfronts.
The conference and the programme of associated events were run in association with a Royal Society of Edinburgh, a funded international research network.
Riverside Museum, 100 Pointhouse Rd, Glasgow G3 8RS
20 January 9.30 -17.00
21 January 10.00 -16.30