Now in its fifth year, the DARE Art Prize is part of the ground-breaking DARE partnership between the the University and Opera North, in association with the National Science and Media Museum and The Tetley. The prize is awarded to an innovative, ambitious artist with an original proposal for creative works in partnership with leading scientific researchers at the University.

Manchester-based writer, performer, producer and maths educator Keisha Thompson has been announced as the fifth winner of the annual DARE Art Prize. The award was presented to Keisha last night at a special ceremony held in Kino, Opera North’s restaurant on New Briggate in the heart of Leeds.

The £15,000 commission, part of the pioneering DARE partnership between the University of Leeds and Opera North, and in association with the National Science and Media Museum and The Tetley, Leeds, challenges artists and scientists to collaborate on new approaches to the creative process.

Keisha’s project DeCipher was chosen for its innovative and playful look at mathematics. It aims to place the subject at the heart of everyday life – literally ‘deciphering’ what many people perceive to be a difficult topic to underline its relevance and make it more accessible to everyone.

Winner of the 2024 DARE Art Prize, Keisha Thompson © Elmi Ali

Recognising that knowledge around mathematical topics, such as coding and economics, gives individuals an advantage in society, Keisha is looking to create an interactive performance piece which delves into the power dynamics attached to mathematics as content, history, pedagogy, and culture. In so doing, she will explore the question of how engaging with mathematics can potentially be used by people to reclaim agency and creativity. Her work also acknowledges that the history of mathematics needs to be ‘decolonised’ with Asian and African voices having effectively been forgotten in the classroom.

As Keisha explains: “Mathematics has always been a creative subject for me. I was introduced to it via puzzles and games before I started school. When I got in the classroom, it was like meeting an old friend. However, as I moved through the education system, I found that I was in the minority in this experience.  I want to use my skill, experience, and enthusiasm to create engagements and outputs that support a new cultural appreciation for mathematics.”

Keisha Thompson’s show Man on the Moon © Benji Reid

This will be Keisha’s second time working with Opera North. She was previously awarded a Resonance residency with the arts organisation in 2021 to develop The Bell Curve, a new play exploring the ethics of DNA hacking technology commissioned by Eclipse Theatre, Yorkshire Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre. Since then, she has been CEO and Artistic Director of Contact in Manchester, Chair of radical arts funding body, Future’s Venture Foundation, an ITC board member, and a Research Fellow at the University of Manchester. She first began working on the DeCipher project last year, as an Artist Researcher with Esplanade Theatre (Singapore). She also recently received a T.S. Eliot residency at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, appointed by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage.

As the DARE Art Prize winner, Keisha is looking forward to engaging with scientists and mathematicians from across the various Schools at the University of Leeds. “It was such a joy to find a commission like the DARE Art Prize with partners that understand my passion for creative mathematical pedagogy,” Keisha enthuses. “I know that the process will push me to take my ideas to the next level.”

Katie Surridge casting steel from a traditional Japanese furnace

The four past Prize winners have each interacted with the work of the University and the Leeds-based opera company in unexpected, illuminating and very different ways, from working with infrasound, climatology, the environment and the paranormal, to exploring AI and insect biodiversity. Last year’s recipient, Essex-based sculptor Katie Surridge, worked with teams at the University to address the problem of e-waste and the valuable resources, including gold, silver, copper, platinum, aluminium and cobalt, that are present in discarded electronic devices. Katie used these to produce new sculptures, one of which has been purchased by the Science Museum in London, redefining perceptions around what is considered redundant and worthless.

Keisha will begin her collaboration with Opera North and partner institutions this term with the project developing over the course of the coming year.


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