North East-based artists are thriving thanks to a unique opportunity created by a Teesside University student, designed to connect artists during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Suzie Devey, MA Fine Art
Recognising the impact that social isolation could have on artists, Suzie Devey, who studies MA Fine Art in the University’s MIMA School of Art & Design, was compelled to help them come together in alternative ways during lockdown.
Suzie created Positive Space to enable local artists to re-build their community by creating collaborative works together, taking advantage of the permitted daily outdoor exercise during lockdown.
Inspired by their daily walks, the artists work together to create linocuts that feature wildlife and nature, printed onto log background. There are currently 40 artists involved in the project from across Yorkshire and the Tees Valley, and each piece features a minimum of three artists.
Suzie, 53, said: ‘While artists often work alone, they also thrive as being part of a community. I was conscious that the closure of events, festivals and local art projects during lockdown could have a negative impact on the mental health of the artistic community.
‘I created Positive Space to encourage wellbeing for artists, their families, friends, and anyone who sees the work they create. Covid-19 threatened the existence of the art community as spaces and events shut down, but Positive Space has made it possible for artists to discover new ways to re-build their communities.’
Helen Jane Gaunt, 52, from Saltburn Studios and Gallery, is one of the artists who took part in the project. She was among the first in the group to receive a sale at Positive Space.
Helen said: ‘During lockdown, the whole process of collaborating with talented and supportive artists to create artwork instilled feelings of community, confidence, inspiration and hope. It brought us into a ‘positive space’, which was exactly what we all needed.’
As well as support from Arts Council England Emergency Response Fund, the project received support and funding through the Microbiz Academy – a programme created by Teesside University to enable students to explore, start and launch business ventures that enhance employability skills and develop income through activity.
It’s the confidence that will carry me forward and a belief that art really can make a difference in people’s lives.
Suzie Devey, MA Fine Art
Suzie added: ‘The support from Microbiz was invaluable. The funding was a boost, but having Steve Dougan, Head of Enterprise, as my mentor was a super opportunity. I’ve been able to test my idea and develop a brand with support, while learning from others at the same time.’
‘I hope Positive Space will make a real difference. It already has with some artists finding a way back to being creative during the pandemic. For others, it’s helped with mental health, and some have benefitted financially from selling the work. It’s quite a natural process and will shift direction as more artists become involved and discover other ways of working together.’
Suzie studied BA (Hons) Business Administration at Teesside University back in 1996 and worked as European Social Fund Project Manager for a local authority, supporting young people who were not in work, education or training to find opportunities.
After taking redundancy in 2014, Suzie embraced the opportunity to work as a full-time artist. She has now returned to university to study her master’s degree and says that she chose her course because it offered a compelling range of modules that would stretch her approach to art.
She said: ‘Studying for my master’s has made me consider art in an entirely new way. It’s given me a huge amount of confidence to be daring and adventurous in my practise. I have tackled things I wouldn’t have dreamed of before.
‘It’s the confidence that will carry me forward and a belief that art really can make a difference in people’s lives.’