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Art of the Brain

Dr Sarah Bailey from the Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology shares her reflections on engaging a local artist and the public with her research.

Art of the Brain represented the first collaboration between researchers in the Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology and local artist, Stephen Magrath. Using art inspired by cutting-edge research, the project aimed to engage members of the public in discussion about brain research undertaken in the Department.

There were three strands to the project:

  • an art exhibition at Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution (BRLSI) with accompanying research presentations
  • a public lecture, Looking at the brain: brain scans and brain waves, delivered by Professor Roland Jones
  • a workshop, Brainwave, with hands-on activities for children aged 8 to 12

What I gained from the experience

The mix of activities really helped to raise the profile of our research. Prior to the events, only 30% of attendees agreed that they were aware that world-class brain research was conducted at the University—this figure rose to 77% following the exhibition.

Throughout the activities, I was struck by the level of interest among the public for our research, and appreciated the opportunity to talk to them and to answer their questions. I also learnt a lot about event planning!

For many of our researchers, it was only their first experience of public engagement but even so, multiple benefits have arisen:

  • following the exhibition, Dr Chris Bailey was approached by a representative from the Developing Health & Independence (DHI) charity to write an article for their magazine on the science behind addiction. Discussions are now underway with DHI as to how they might enhance our undergraduate curriculum (for example, work placements)
  • as a result of publicity surrounding the exhibition, Dr Denise Taylor was invited to do several interviews on Radio Bristol, building her profile locally as a dementia expert
  • Professor Roland Jones undertook a radio interview for the first time and has been able to report this as an output for his funders (NC3Rs) who rate such activity highly

Through the project, I gained media exposure for my research on stress and depression, raising my profile. I’ve made good contacts with BRLSI who I will continue to work with into the future.

What my partners gained

Stephen Magrath felt that the association with the University led to the exhibition having a greater presence and credibility than it might otherwise have had. It raised his profile and he was subsequently invited to speak at a South West Crucible researcher conference and to lead a funded art project for DHI.

He adapted the exhibition for the Fringe Arts Bath Festival, engaging a new audience in his work and secured space to present on the project (alongside Dr Sarah Bailey) at the Engage 2014 conference.

The Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution incorporated the Brainwave workshop into their annual programme of children’s Saturday morning workshops. They were delighted with the public lecture and are working with the Department to host more lectures. They are also securing support from the Department on an upcoming project they are overseeing on the origins of pharmacy in Bath.

What I'd do differently

We'd give ourselves a longer timescale to plan, market and deliver the exhibition. We had set aside three months for this but left the planning of our marketing very late. Six months would have proved far more sensible.

Our tips for other researchers

  • Draw on the strengths of your collaborators. BRLSI's expertise and experience in hosting and publicising public events was crucial
  • Plan marketing well in advance
  • Be open to working with different groups of people from different backgrounds and experience and be willing to accept these differences

Find out more about the project

Watch Dr Sarah Bailey talking about the Art of the Brain project at Celebrating Engaged Research, hosted by the Institute of Policy Research.

Fund your public engagement project

Find out about public engagement funding opportunities

Contact us

If you want to discuss how you might engage publics in or with your research, the Public Engagement Unit can help.