Since it first launched in 2013, the scheme has given in excess of £40,000 to over eighty Essex and Suffolk artists working in a variety of mediums and disciplines. These range from performance, curation, glass, sculpture, film, sound, augmented reality, environment, weaving, painting and print.


The 2023 Bursary Award winners were announced on 1st February 2024. They are: Samantha Barnes, Jordan Cook, Tom Coomber, Freya Gascoyne, Halla Groves-Raines, Suman Gujral, Thomas Holland, and Juliet Lockhart.

Thomas Holland has spent the last three years exploring Essex from a number of perspectives, including the stereotypes associated with this much-maligned and misunderstood county, its landscape, history, culture and architecture.


He plans to use his bursary award to fund a performance piece titled The Essex Girl Choir, which he says will be “a love letter to the Essex girl, her resilience, perseverance and intelligence.” Holland explains further: “The performance entails a group of five girls singing the type of songs you would hear at any Essex house party or pub, emphasising the UK’s drinking culture and the way music brings people together.


“The singers will be dressed in the stereotypical outfits an Essex girl would wear from the 1980’s to now. Singing between 10 to 15 songs, that range from House to Garage to Pop.”


 He adds: “This bursary will support me as an artist by helping to bring this work to life and help to comfortably produce the work and pay my performers appropriately. It will also help to further my practice and exploration of Essex by allowing me to freely explore music and ways to perform the final product.”


Experienced printmaker Suman Gujral plans to use her funding to explore the current use of textiles by South Asian artists and learn more about the history behind them by visiting the archives and collections of Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London.


Gujral will also participate in a South Asian embroidery course with the aim of making new works based on her research.


She says: “The bursary will also allow me to run a free workshop for users of Integration Support Services (ISS) at Parndon Mill. The charity supports refugees and immigrants to settle in Harlow. This workshop will provide them with the chance to meet others, share skills and discuss similar experiences, and help me with my research.”


Suman also aims to create a solo show, with a central theme highlighting how women assume the key role as memory keepers, by choosing which objects to retain when facing being uprooted from their homes.


Born in Scotland and a graduate of the famous Glasgow School of Art, Halla Groves-Raines stepped away from her career as an artist to bring up her two young children but recently returned to painting, earning a commendation in the 2023 Scottish Portrait Awards.


Drawn to patterns and fabric, her work includes clothes or upholstery that belong to or are connected with the sitter. She will now use the money to create a cohesive group of up to ten portraits, that represent different snapshots of people living in Essex and Suffolk.


She says: “Not only will the award of the bursary support me financially but it will serve as a validation to continue developing my practice. Crucially, I need      that motivation to not give up all together. It would be the impetus to develop a series of portraits I have been thinking about for some time and therefore seriously impact the development and direction of my work.”


Jane Hindley, Chair of Firstsite Collectors’ Group said: “’We had a tremendous response to the 2023 Collectors’ Group Bursary Awards with over 70 submissions, showing the esteem in which the Awards (now in their 10th year), are held and more importantly, the current urgent need for financial support to enable local artists to continue and develop their practice.


“A panel of Collectors’ Group members spent two sessions assessing and discussing the submissions, and remarked on the high standard and broad range of ideas in all media from artists at different stages of their careers. We were delighted to select eight artists, working across print, painting, drawing, video, performance, animation, puppetry, embroidery and stitch.


“We are looking forward to following their progress, including seeing portraits of local people, and the results of a ‘Printmakery’ caravan taking printmaking out on the road in Essex and Suffolk!”


Sally Shaw MBE, Director of Firstsite says: “The Firstsite Collector’s Group Bursary Awards have truly made a mark in nurturing artistic innovation, promoting cultural diversity, and supporting the artistic community in Essex and Suffolk.


“We are extremely grateful to the Collectors’ Group for their commitment and passion to lead these awards, driving them forward each year with such enthusiasm. The fact the awards are now in their tenth year, with £40,000 distributed to over eighty artists, is incredible and demonstrates the substantial impact of the scheme, and our Collectors, in empowering local creatives.

 “By investing in creative projects across many different mediums, the awards continue to contribute to the vibrant cultural landscape of the area. The 2023 Bursary Awards winners are another brilliant example of the diversity of artistic expression within the community, and showcase the breath of creativity, talent, and ambition overflowing from Essex and Suffolk.


“We’d like to wish all the winners huge congratulations and will follow their artistic development with great interest.”


Find out more information about the Firstsite Collectors’ Group and how to join, click the button below or call Alison Frankish on 01206 713700.

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