Researcher blog: Introducing Anna Santomauro

Cochineal insects are collected from a prickly pear cactus pad in the village of Ein Qinya outside of Ramallah in Palestine, on February 10, 2023. Photographed by Al-Wah’at Collective.

In the second of a series of blog posts introducing some newer members of research staff, we meet Anna Santomauro to find out about her new role, how she hopes to work with research staff, and some current projects. 

Anna is a Senior Research Fellow in the Culture & Creativity Research Institute (CCRI) where her role is to create bridges between Arts Catalyst and the institute that could lead to different ways of working together. She is a curator, educator and researcher in micropolitics and socially engaged art who joined Arts Catalyst as Curator in 2017. Arts Catalyst is a visual arts organisation and charity which develops creative projects connected to the world around us. 



Can you tell me a little about how your role came around, and what the background is with Arts Catalyst and Sheffield Hallam (SHU)?

The conversation between researchers at Sheffield Hallam University and Arts Catalyst has been evolving for some time. We have been exploring different ways for the two institutions to align, given we have a set of common research interests and values around the role of art, arts organisations and artists in society, particularly in social and environmental justice. One of the ways in which the conversation crystalized was through the creation of this common post. There was an open call and I felt I was well positioned to apply and bring my knowledge of Arts Catalyst, given that I was already working with that organisation and I was interested in growing dialogue with SHU. The idea with this post was to find common ground that could lead to different ways of working together. It is an experimental collaboration, a way of testing out possible forms of collaboration between two different types of institutions – a charity and a higher education institution. It is exciting for me to be in this role as it means I get to shape it with all the stakeholders involved.

Arts Catalyst has quite a long history with some researchers in the Art, Design & Media Research Centre (ADMRC), is that right?

We have been working with Lise Autogena as part of a curatorial programme called Nuclear Culture led by then Associate Curator Ele Carpanter, and in 2017 Lise and Joshua Portway presented their work in the context of an exhibition called Conflict Minerals. It was part of an ongoing research interest within Arts Catalyst around environmental and social impact of mineral extraction of raw materials. Lise’s work has specifically been looking at uranium deposits in southern Greenland (Kuannersuit; Kvanefjeld). Lise and her collaborator Joshua Portway worked with Arts Catalyst on a month-long exhibition and inquiry exploring the nature of conflict in relation to the use of the Earth’s geological natural resources. The conversations with Lise have been ongoing since then so this collaboration with Sheffield Hallam University, initially led through by that curatorial and artistic dialogue, has been very organic.

Tell me more about how your role will work and some projects you’re working on.

This is a part time role, a very fractional post, and the rest of my week is at Arts Catalyst. One of the multiple ways in which we are thinking about the collaboration is by talking projects which deeply align with not just the ADMRC but also the CCRI, since my role sits within the Institute. I’m meeting colleagues across the different research centres to try and look at areas of common ground and develop different forms of dialogues. It’s an ongoing process and it will be shaped through the process itself. During my time at SHU I’m also working on a network and programme called Soil Futures, which was initiated within Arts Catalyst in 2022.

Soil Futures is an ongoing project and network about soil, thinking with and thinking about soil in different parts of the world. It looks at soils in very particular geographies (including in Palestine, southern Italy, UK, Indonesia), and the ways in which communities in these different countries are performing or enacting a form of custodianship, guardianship and stewardship of soil. I am interested in ways in which artists and arts organisations participate in developing different forms of soil stewardship that are simultaneously hyperlocal and transnational. At the moment the network includes: Arts Catalyst (UK), Sakiya (Palestine), Riwaq (Palestine), Struggles for Sovereignty (Indonesia), Vessel Art Project (Italy) but we are hoping to expand it further.

People gather around Ailo Ribas and Areej Ashhaab for a fiber demonstration during the final workshop with Al-Wah’at Collective at Sakiya in Ein Qinya outside of Ramallah in Palestine, on March 11, 2023. Photographed by Yasmine Omari, courtesy of Anna Santomauro.

People gather around Ailo Ribas and Areej Ashhaab for a fibre demonstration during the final workshop with Al-Wah’at Collective at Sakiya in Ein Qinya outside of Ramallah in Palestine, on March 11, 2023. Photographed by Yasmine Omari, courtesy of Anna Santomauro.

There’s a diverse set of researchers within the institute. Where have you seen common ground, or alignment with the research interests?

There is a lot of common interest, even though coming from different perspectives, within Lab4Living, particularly thinking about planetary health, and the ethos of Lab4Living in general – the notion of planetary health and the human and more-than-human entanglements in the context of environmental justice has been at the core of Arts Catalyst work.

I’m soon going to meet some of the researchers from the Helena Kennedy Centre. and explore shared interests in the context of international social justice. I’m keen on exploring further the role that arts organisations and artists can play within society in different scales and capacity – from community led initiatives to the wider realm of policy.

After many years in London, Arts Catalyst had not long moved to Sheffield before the pandemic, which must have been a challenge. How did you adapt, and what kind of projects are you undertaking with Sheffield communities?

The move had been planned for a while, but the pandemic made the process of embedding ourselves in the region more complicated, at a time that presented many challenges for everyone in many different ways, including for arts organisations and institutions. During the pandemic, we did a lot of work online and really rethought the way we programme our engagement and public programmes using different online platforms. We have been using radio as a tool of engagement, and as a way of creating a form of publicness using sound as a form of exchange and transmission.

With Arts Catalyst, we have been running a programme called ‘Emergent Ecologies’, a series of experiments in developing human and non-human collaborations in different sites across South Yorkshire: from collecting stories from local and planetary wetlands that are under threat to repairing and re-shaping an urban garden at Sheffield Mind; from exploring materials histories of industrial & extractive sites in the Peak District to working with asylum seekers and refugees to make the city centre of Sheffield less hostile for migrants.

We have been running various different events publicly, mainly happening outdoors, where we invite people to go on a walk together, using different listening devices and embedding themselves in a particular landscape.

What are you most looking forward to in this role this year?

For me the priority is to meet colleagues and find out about the research that is already being developed within the institute and thinking about how my role and my expertise, which really sits within the arts and particularly within curating social and socially engaged and environmentally engaged practice, can become a bridge between different sets of knowledge and expertise.

How are you able to find out about and connect with the work and researchers within the institute?

David Cotterrell (Head of CCRI) has introduced me to various different colleagues, and every time I meet someone new I ask them, who do you think I should meet? So it’s this kind of rhizomatic process but every time there’s a meeting, there are more meetings opening up.

I also started a series of Drop-in sessions in May. These sessions in Cantor happen every other Wednesday morning and invite colleagues who have an artistic or creative practice to share them with me if they need someone to act as a sounding board, would like any feedback or just start a conversation. This is a great way to meet more colleagues and find out more about the work that is developed within the Institute.



Join Anna at her CCRI seminar next week on Wed 10 May at 13.00, during which Anna will specifically focus on the two programmes: Emergent Ecologies and Soil Futures.

More details >> Becoming Symbiotic: Instituting across Ecologies and Situated Knowledge


About the researcher

Anna Santomauro - Courtesy of Anna Santomauro

Anna Santomauro – Courtesy of Anna Santomauro

Anna Santomauro (she / her) is curator and researcher in micropolitics and situated ecological practices.

She joined Arts Catalyst in 2017, and was appointed Senior Research Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University in 2022.

Her role at Arts Catalyst involves developing and delivering artist projects and commissions.

Arts Catalyst

Website: Arts Catalyst Insta: @artscatalyst  Twitter: @theartscatalyst

Emergent Ecologies programme

One of the the Emergent Ecologies projects is Mind Garden, a collaboration with Sheffield Mind. The project is about repairing and redeveloping the garden at Sheffield Mind, and rethinking the role of the garden. It is co-created with artist Harun Morrison. We are developing the infrastructure for the garden for the next few years.

Arts Catalyst is also running a series called Kitchen Club in which invited practitioners who use food as a tool in their practice share their work, and engage people in different forms of tastings, but also thinking about the processes that imply collaboration between human and non-humans, for instance fermentation.

Mind Garden by Harun Morrison, photograph by James Clarkson, courtesy of Anna Santomauro

Mind Garden by Harun Morrison, photograph by James Clarkson, courtesy of Anna Santomauro