WHO WE ARE_medium imagecSPACE director Dr. Loraine Leeson has worked with communities through the visual arts for over thirty years, creating artworks and initiatives in the public domain.

As a young artist returning from a scholarship in Berlin in the mid seventies, she recognised the cultural power of art throughout history and set out to find ways for her art to make a difference by supporting those working for social change.

Teaming up with her work and life partner artist Peter Dunn, she embarked on a series of projects with trades unionists and activist that centred on the politics of health, producing posters and exhibitions for the Bethnal Green Hospital Campaign and East London Health Project. In the early eighties they co-founded the Docklands Community Poster Project, developing a team of six artists and designers to work with the communities of London Docklands. Over the following decade they created photo-murals, exhibitions, posters, events and photographic documentation making the case for a re-development of the area that would meet the needs of local people.

In the early nineties they co-founded The Art of Change, developing participatory projects that addressed issues affecting the communities of East London in that changing urban environment. Much of their work was realised through public art initiatives, while Loraine became increasingly interested in opportunities for collective creativity afforded by emerging Internet technologies. When she and Peter went their separate ways at the end of the decade, she founded cSPACE at University of East London. Working with teams of freelance artists as well as students and academics from the university, she developed projects that would use the visual arts and new technologies to bring the voices, ideas, and first-hand knowledge and expertise held by local people into the public domain.

Loraine was born in London and educated at St Martins College of Art and University of Reading, followed by a DAAD scholarship to the Hochschule der Künste, Berlin. She received her PhD in Art, Communities and Social Change from University of Ulster in 2010. A retrospective exhibition celebrating thirty years of her work with communities toured Berlin, London, Toronto and Dublin 2005-08. The Catch, a gateway public artwork she created for Barking town centre with the input of three hundred children and a mentoring scheme for university and college students, was voted a London 2012 Landmark. The Young Person’s Guide to East London (2012) produced with hundreds of teenagers from the London boroughs hosting the 2012 Olympics, received the Olympic Inspire Mark and a Media Trust Inspiring Voices award. In 2015 Lambeth Floating Marsh (2015) in collaboration with scientist Nithin Rai, supported biodiversity along the shored up banks of the Thames in central London. A recent project Active Energy (2008-20) with The Geezers, a group of older men in Bow East London, investigated renewable energy for their community, and earned the 2016 RegenSW Arts and Green Energy award. In 2017 Loraine’s work from the 1970s produced in collaboration with Peter Dunn and East London health workers’ unions, was exhibited at the ICA London, a return to that institution after first being shown there in Lucy Lippard’s Issues: Social Strategies for Women Artists in 1980.

For the first decade of cSPACE, Loraine was Visiting Research Fellow at University of East London then in 2011 Fulbright Scholar in Residence at University of Washington Tacoma. Following this she was resident artist at the Mattress Factory museum of installation in Pittsburgh, where in 2012 she worked with a seniors’ group towards an exhibit for the Feminist and… exhibition curated by Hilary Robinson. Loraine developed an MA in Art and Social Practice for Middlesex University, and also teaches undergraduates in Fine Art Social Practice. Her book Art: Process: Change published in 2017 uses her experience as a practitioner to offer a first-hand glimpse into the development, organisation and delivery of art projects with social agendas.

Loraine’s practical work is currently realised through research projects, which she conducts through Middlesex University.