Thinking about applying to East Sussex Open 2015?

Posted on 16/02/2015
East Sussex Open 2014. Photo: Alison Bettles

East Sussex Open 2014. Photo: Alison Bettles

With only two weeks to go until the deadline for this year’s regional art showcase, East Sussex Open 2015, we talked to three previous participants – Suzanne O’Hair, Tom Banks and Kate Graham – to learn what it was like and why they would encourage others to apply.

East Sussex Open (ESO) has been running since 2009, designed to give regional artists and makers from a wide range of visual arts practices an opportunity to show and sell their work in a nationally renowned gallery.

If you’re thinking of applying, know that you’re in good company. While artists have ranged from self-taught painters to established artists with 30 year careers, competition is naturally stiff, but everyone has an equal chance of getting in through the competitive process. Last year, we received 300 applications; approximately 30 to 35 artists are selected each year.

Read on to learn how other artists have had their careers and confidence boosted in equal measure through taking part in ESO and get inspiration to give it a go.

And don’t forget to get your application in – the deadline is 1 March at 4pm.

UPDATE: PORTAL FOR ENTRIES IS NOW CLOSED. See to find out who selected participants are. Successful applicants will be contacted via email by 10 April 2015.


Suzanne O’Hair

Brighton-based artist Suzanne O’Haire was also involved in last year’s Open, having recently relocated from London.

O’Haire says:

“The first time I visited Towner, I said to my boyfriend how I would love to have a piece of my work shown there. It’s an inspiring space, and the staff are so approachable and involved. I really was drawn to every aspect of Towner’s mission. Then a friend, who had shown in the previous years show, encouraged me to give it a go.

“Being part of East Sussex Open helped my work tremendously – it got things moving, created shifts, literally out of the studio, but also regarding showing my work again and my mind set. It has opened up new channels for dialogue with others, which can only benefit my practice further.

“What would I say to anyone who is thinking about applying to the ESO? Do it! Outside of London, there aren’t many a worthy space such as Towner to see your work exhibited. For me, in both spatial and curatorial aspects, it rivals London’s best. And it’s fun and accessible to a wide and enthusiastic audience.”

Tom Banks Tower1

Painter Tom Banks exhibited his work in the 2014 edition of East Sussex Open.

Why did you decide to apply to the ESO?

“I’m not aware of anywhere else in the South East you could possibly get your work seen by such a huge and diverse audience.”

How has participating in the ESO changed/helped develop you as an artist?

“Having my paintings shown in such a fantastic exhibition space felt like an affirmation of the direction my work was heading.  Especially when the quality of the selectors is always so high.”

What would you say to anyone who is thinking about applying to the ESO but hasn’t yet?

“Why would you not grab the opportunity to have your work exhibited at Towner?”

What did you most enjoy about participating in the ESO?

“Exhibiting alongside other, great artists.  Some I was already aware of and admired, and others that were new discoveries for me.”

Kate Graham

Kate Graham

Sussex-based photographer Kate Graham recalls her experience of being part of ESO 2010. She had the thrilling moment of not only showing work, but using the platform as a springboard for new commissions and professional development.

Why did you decide to apply to the ESO?

“I was making work that was never seen beyond the screen of my home computer. The 2010 ESO call offered me an opportunity to bring some images out of hiding and seek an informed response.”

Did the process meet your expectations?

“Feedback from the ESO panel and advice from the curator have been very valuable. My processes and some of the results have great meaning for me, but I had no idea that my work might be of interest to anyone else until I submitted examples to the 2010 ESO.

Finding that my work had a place in a Towner exhibition showing examples of the county’s contemporary art output was unexpected, a great thrill and an honour.”

How has participating in the ESO changed/helped develop you as an artist?

“Following the 2010 ESO I was invited to show work elsewhere and offered a commission. I had the confidence to respond to other open calls, one of which led to a residency at UCA that allowed me to extend my stills practice and experiment with moving image.

I view an annual submission to the ESO as fitting response to Towner’s support of local artists, and an excellent way of gauging the development of my practice. When you work in isolation, a submission to Towner is a brilliant opportunity to seek reaction from expert contemporary art practitioners.”

What did you most enjoy about participating in the ESO?

“When I delivered my pieces for the 2010 ESO Towner was in the process of taking down The Dark Monarch exhibition. I was accompanied to the drop-off area, put my frames in the designated corner, looked around and froze in my tracks – as I realised that my work was being stored in the same space as the Dark Monarch pieces. My first printed images waited alongside the renowned artists’ works that I had revisited repeatedly in previous weeks. Amazing! … never in my wildest dreams … a pinch-myself moment and once in a lifetime experience I am still excited to recall.”

What would you say to anyone who is thinking about applying to the ESO but hasn’t yet?

“I think we are very fortunate to have Towner – the range of art experiences it brings and the welcome it offers to its visitors, participants and to us – local artists, working in any and every medium. I would say – “Make the most of it, enjoy it, support it, respond positively, interact with the ESO and learn from the feedback. In some years work will not be selected by the panel – please don’t let that deter you in future: if I had done so I would have excluded my work from the ESO since 2011.”


To apply to East Sussex Open 2015, see Deadline is 1 March at 4pm. Entry fee is £20.