Review of Sky Academy Arts Scholarships Showcase Event

Since 2011 Sky Academy Arts Scholarships (previously Sky Arts Futures Fund) have supported five promising artists under 30 annually with a £30,000 bursary and mentoring opportunities. The Scholarships aim to release the financial and second-job shackles of life as a young artist and provide an opportunity for each to take their practice to the next level with the help of dedicated mentors in their field. Last year’s Scholars were visual artist James Lomax, dancer and choreographer Eleesha Drennan, theatre designer David Shearing, jazz drummer and composer Ollie Howell and creative producer Tom Mcdonagh.

For this Showcase Evening, hosted by Melvyn Bragg, Sky Arts also brought together previous alumni, including visual artist Phoebe Boswell, spoken word artist Sabrina Mahfouz and digital artist Lu Sisi, to celebrate their work and progression that the scholarship has enabled. With works showcased around Shoreditch’s Village Underground, performances from Sabrina Mahfouz, Lu Sisi and Ollie Howell and a panel discussion between Lord Bragg and recipients of the prize, it was an intriguing showcase of the benefits not only of financial freedom for young artists, but of their immersion into the worlds of their mentors and the necessity of guidance in these early careers when the number of ideas buzzing through an artist’s head can be overwhelming.

A segment of David Shearing’s immersive performance installation The Weather Machine, represented a much larger work due to be debuted at West Yorkshire Playhouse later in the year. The work, a genre-defining piece of theatre, poetry, text and installation, immerses visitors in a performance in which they take the lead and aims to explore the weather and its effects on us as one of nature’s most potent, uncontrollable forces. Representing dance, Eleesha Drennan’s Channel Rose is described as “a sensory tonic for the jaded urbanite” and provides an otherworldly exploration of three dancers’ pursuit of utopia. The energy emanating from Drennan’s choreography is transfixing and tells a universal story that marries perfectly with its accompanying soundtrack. With just short excerpts from the performance displayed, it’s an intriguing taster into exploring her practice more.

Mahfouz’s spoken word provided a searing insight into the life of a young girl bent on a destructive relationship and gave glimmers of intimacy and machismo often simultaneously. Lu’s digital audio visual performance plunged the event into the realms of avant-garde club night and picked up the beat while expertly illustrating the huge gamut of the prize winners’ directions. And the fusion beats of Howell’s jazz were at once both familiar and surprisingly original, especially considering their rooting in a music form that has developed little in nearly 100 years.

While the works on show were mere snippets of each artists’ oeuvre since being awarded their prizes, they provided enticing tasters to further explore all the exciting events, exhibitions and showcases happening across the country today. The UK has an exceptional art scene and is punching way above its weight on a global stage, but the variety, creativity and absorbing nature of these works highlights just why scholarships such as those of Sky Arts are so important.

Ruby Beesley

Find out more about the Scholarships at

1. The Weather Machine, David Shearing.