World Changers: Researcher spotlight

Join us as we look at the work of those who contributed to a collection of essays exploring research at Leeds, and how it is helping to change the world.

The essay collection was curated by Vice-Chancellor, Professor Simone Buitendijk

World Changers

World Changers: Celebrating Impactful Research features 13 essays by early-career researchers working across an array of disciplines to make the world a fairer and more equitable place.  

The authors’ areas of expertise are wide-ranging and diverse, but the common thread tying them together is a vision of a better future for humanity, working together to tackle inequalities and create a fairer future for all.

In this new series of features we’ll profile each researcher – and their contribution to the collection – in more detail, starting with a look at art schools and digital literacy.

Dr Elspeth Mitchell and Dr Gill Park

Dr Gill Park and Dr Elspeth Mitchell in front of a black background with red and blue colour splashes.

Dr Elspeth Mitchell and Dr Gill Park wrote Art School for Rebel Girls: Young women, feminism, art and collaboration in Leeds.

The essay explores their work with the local community through the Art School for Rebel Girls. Starting by questioning what would happen if girls were taken seriously as the producers of creative work, rather than subjects, and noting that images of women shape attitudes and beliefs about women, they wanted to empower girls to make those images.

Linking the feminist activism of the 1980s with how we live today, the Art School provides a space for girls to foster confidence, creativity and collaboration.

They said: “Our contribution to the collection explores an example of the rich histories of feminist artistic practice, collaboration and influence between the communities of the University, the city and surrounding areas.

“While feminist histories continue to inform and transform the present, they particularly inspired us to undertake an arts educational project, Art School for Rebel Girls, rooted in collaborative visual art practice and working to impact the lives of young women in contemporary society.

“We’re pleased to be included as researchers asking feminist questions of concepts like ‘community’ and ‘culture’ in an alliance of theory and practice.”

Both share broader interests in practices and theories of feminism and visual culture.

Dr Mitchell's other research includes a digital art history project to collect and curate oral histories of feminist artists in Ireland and the UK from 1970 to present.

Dr Park’s research, meanwhile, focuses on feminist exhibition and art histories and their pertinence to social change in the present day.

Read Art School for Rebel Girls

Dr Leah Henrickson

Dr Leah Henrickson in front of a black background with a blue colour splash.

Dr Leah Henrickson’s contribution is Digital transformation begins with people: How do we become digitally literate?

Digital transformation is at the heart of our vision for the next ten years. This prompted Dr Henrickson to explore digital literacy, and what makes us digitally literate.

The essay also examines how that literacy helps us get the most from our digital experiences.

She said: “The University’s new Strategy really got me thinking about digital literacy as it pertains to both research and teaching.

“Writing for the World Changers collection gave me an opportunity to distil and share my ideas with a wider audience than most traditional academic outlets would reach.

“It’s been a pleasure seeing my World Changers essay already sparking thought-provoking and interdisciplinary discussion. Such discussion will undoubtedly inform my future work about digital literacy, which I hope will positively contribute to the execution of the University’s digital transformation.”

Dr Henrickson’s research interests include commercial and community applications of digital storytelling, and social perceptions of artificial intelligence.

She also explores the interaction between humans and technology, AI ethics, digital storytelling and unconventional methods of text production.

Read Digital transformation begins with people

Dr Jade French

Dr Jade French in front of a black background with a blue colour splash.

Dr Jade French wrote Becoming an ‘Irregular’ Art School: Collaborating with learning disabled artists to innovate inclusive arts development and education.

This project, on which Dr French is lead researcher, sees Leeds working closely with disability art studio Pyramid, artist-led studio and gallery Assembly House, and Leeds City Council with the aim of boosting the recognition and celebration of learning disabled artists.

It is also investigating ways to better support their professional artistic development, while questioning what it means to be a professional artist in the region.

She said: “My essay contribution is based on my current research which explores inclusive professional development by and for learning disabled artists who are based in the Leeds City Region.

“The essay, and wider research project, are made possible through a range of collaborations between artists who are members of Pyramid – Alfie, Liam, Ria and Victor – support staff, facilitators, social workers and academics, and hopefully show the ways in which researchers can work with people and organisations in the local community to tackle real world challenges.”

The Irregular Art Schools team pose in masks at an exhibition.

Dr French’s research stems from practical experience of facilitating inclusive and community-led projects in museums, galleries and heritage sites.

Her work broadly examines access and participation within arts and museology, with a focus on collaborating with learning disabled people to innovate inclusive practices in curating, commissioning and artist development.

Read Becoming an ‘Irregular’ Art School

Be sure to check back on For Staff over the coming weeks for more in this series of features in which we’ll profile each researcher, and their contributions to the collection. 

In the meantime, you can read World Changers: Celebrating Impactful Research on Spotlight.

The essays are also available as a audiobook series on our SoundCloud page.

Read more about Research Transformed and how we are enabling our research to thrive in the future.

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