Creative approach to maths wins DARE Art Prize


Keisha Thompson has been awarded this year’s DARE Art Prize for taking an innovative, playful look at mathematics to make the subject less intimidating.

The fifth annual DARE Art Prize was presented to Keisha, a Manchester-based writer, performer, producer and maths educator, during a special ceremony at Kino, Opera North’s restaurant in the heart of Leeds. 

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

Mathematics has always been a creative subject for me… However, as I moved through the education system, I found that I was in the minority in this experience.

Keisha Thompson, DARE Art Prize Winner, 2023-4

Keisha’s project DeCipher uses creativity to place mathematics at the heart of everyday life, ‘deciphering’ what many people perceive to be a difficult topic to make it more accessible to everyone.  

Recognising that mathematical knowledge around topics like 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 the subject. 

Keisha Thompson, winner of the DARE Art Prize 2023-4, said: “Mathematics has always been a creative subject for me. I was introduced to it via puzzles and games before I got to 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.” 

In the piece, 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.    

Keisha 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 and Professor of Poetry at Leeds, Simon Armitage.

Exciting collaborations

Wieke Eringa, Director of the Cultural Institute at the University of Leeds, said: “The DARE Art Prize is a perfect example of how the University supports interdisciplinary research collaborations that drive positive change. When artists and scientists work together in this way, they can act as an engine for innovation with huge potential.  

“Keisha Thompson's DeCipher wonderfully exemplifies this collaborative approach, creatively exploring the world of mathematics. We look forward to supporting the next stage of Keisha's work as part of our acclaimed partnership with Opera North.”

Becky Smith, Head of Academic Partnerships at Opera North, said: “The Prize entries this year were of an incredibly high calibre, with artists working in a wide range of media and looking to collaborate with scientists in all areas of research. Keisha’s DeCipher project really stood out to us however, as a much-needed opportunity to interrogate mathematical pedagogy, using creativity to engage more people with what can be perceived as an intimidating subject.  

“What the DARE Art Prize does is give the winning artist freedom and time, alongside access to the incredible academic staff at the University of Leeds and the artists within Opera North. We’re really looking forward to seeing what emerges during Keisha’s time with us.”  

Bryony Bond, Director of The Tetley, Leeds, said: “The Tetley’s involvement in the Prize came about because we were interested in how to make artists’ research public, and to allow members of the public to see their work as it was emerging.  

“What the DARE Art Prize does is to bring to life often quite complicated scientific concepts and find new routes into thinking about some of the most difficult ideas of our time. We’re delighted to be a partner on the initiative once again.” 

The four past Prize winners have each interacted with the work of the University and the Leeds-based opera company in illuminating 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, 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. 

Further information

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