Art & Literacy Event

Spotlight on Sue Britt: The Artist Behind "The Radius of All of Us"

An image of Sue Britt smiling into the camera.

An image of Sue Britt smiling into the camera.

At Words Alive, we strive to inspire young people to read by showing them how words on a page can relate to their own lives and even transform into something new. Once a year, we welcome our Adolescent Book Group (ABG) students to participate in our Art & Lit Exhibit, a program-wide project that enhances the reading experience and encourages them to think critically about themes in the book and their own environment.

This year’s project, called "The Radius of All of Us," is a response to The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt. This unique exhibition is designed by community artist Sue Britt, facilitated by Words Alive, and created by students attending alternative schools from North County to the border!

Sue Britt is a San Diego paper artist who has developed a technique she calls Paper Tapestry. Her highly textured work is a result of layering, carving, and weaving substraights wrapped in paper to create highly textured landscapes. Her landscapes are full of motion, which is inspired by hiking and influenced by reading and thinking about change in the landscape over seasons, years, or millennia. She works and shows her art in Studio 34A in the Spanish Village Art Center, and in festivals throughout California.

Sue is delighted to take part in the Words Alive Art & Lit Exhibit, tying together her loves of reading and creating. A project like this allows her to step outside her usual medium and approach the project with the experience of the students in mind, giving them a way to express themselves both individually and as part of a group. Art, both in book and visual forms, can be a powerful way to examine a life, an experience, and an idea, and give the public a window into those conversations.

Sue heard about Words Alive through friends who sit on the board and by attending the Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser for multiple years. She fell in love with our mission and truly believes that reading opens doors for people. She was excited to work with Words Alive because she knew that art would be a new way for these students to think about what they were reading. “Visual art allows for the same finding of meaning as words do in a book.”

An image of Sue Britt talking with students from Lindsay Community School as they work on their art.

An image of Sue Britt talking with students from Lindsay Community School as they work on their art.

“The Radius of All of Us” is about perception. The characters in The Radius of Us perceive and are perceived in ways that evolve as their stories and personalities are better known to others. Perceptions and the words we use to describe other people and ourselves create the radius of each of us, which each word forming a boundary of limitations.

Sue said that her own perceptions were challenged in an interaction with one particular student at the Monarch School. With this one particular student, Sue went over to her and poured the “proper” amount of alcohol ink on her piece, intending to help her complete the art correctly. The student perceived this act as her vision being interrupted. She told Sue, “Now this art is yours.”

For Sue, this was a moment of learning that really stood out to her throughout this process. She realized that although she had a vision for this piece and was thinking about it as a process for the students to follow and execute, for the students this was all about personal expression. They aren’t often allowed to express themselves through art, and this was a real chance for them to pour themselves onto the page. Sue apologized to the student and got her a new piece of paper to start over with.

We were so thankful to work with Sue on this art project and to see her vision come to life through the creativity of our students. To see the final pieces of artwork in person, join us from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5th, at the San Diego Art Institute, 1439 El Prado in San Diego. RSVP for the event here. Learn more about Sue Britt here.


In conjunction with this project, and in partnership with Jewish Family Service, we are collecting donations of new socks and underwear for Jewish Family Service’s new shelter for asylum seekers. Please donate new socks and underwear for children in all sizes and for adults in size small. Bring items to the Words Alive office through June 5 or to the exhibition at San Diego Art Institute.




The Radius of All of Us: Words Alive's Annual Art & Lit Exhibit

At Words Alive, we believe that reading becomes truly exciting, joyful and inspiring to young people when they see how words on a page can relate to their own lives and even transform into something new.

Once a year, we work to bring books alive in a different way for our ABG students by welcoming them to participate in our Art & Lit Project. ABG students participate in a program-wide project that enhances the reading experience and encourages them to think critically about themes in the book and their own environment – all while having fun and creating their very own piece of art.

Words Alive's Adolescent Book Group brings books alive for teenagers facing extraordinary circumstances such as homelessness, violence, teen pregnancy and impact by the justice system. Trained Words Alive facilitators deliver a Common Core-aligned curriculum of hands-on projects, creative writing exercises and discussion prompts specifically designed to spark students’ love of reading, enhance critical thinking skills and boost self-esteem.

About the Book

This year’s project, called "The Radius of All of Us" is a response to The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt.

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Ninety seconds can change a life — not just daily routine, but who you are as a person. Gretchen Asher knows this, because that’s how long a stranger held her body to the ground.

Ninety seconds can change a life — not just the place you live, but the person others think you are. Phoenix Flores-Flores knows this, because months after setting off toward the U.S. / Mexico border in search of safety for his brother, he finally walked out of detention.

Ninety seconds can change a life — so how will the ninety seconds of Gretchen and Phoenix’s first encounter change theirs?

Through working on this project, students will connect the novel to their world by exploring themes of perception and transformation while grappling with the complex issues of trauma and immigration.

About the Art

This thought-provoking work, designed by community artist Sue Britt, showcases the deep ways in which students can connect literature to art, themselves and the world.

The characters in the The Radius of Us perceive and are perceived in ways that evolve as their stories and personalities are better known to others. Perceptions and the words we use to describe other people and ourselves create the radius of each of us; each word forming a boundary of limitations.

Words around the circle represent labels that are placed on the student by others or themselves.

Words around the circle represent labels that are placed on the student by others or themselves.

But as we trust enough to share our inner selves, our circle can expand and be blown wide open; although, as realized through literally blowing alcohol ink across the page with a straw, breaking these boundaries can be a challenging process with unexpected results. And still, the words that make up our circle do not go away but remain part of our transformed selves.

Relationships are represented in the work through each drop of ink within the circle. Initially, each drop forms a hard edge, but as drops collide and interact with one another, they change shape and color to symbolize the ways our relationships with others affect who we are. Behind each work, a transparent color reflects the light we shine on those around us.

Each student’s radius, created on translucent paper, comes together with their peers’ work to form a phoenix – a mythological bird reborn from its ashes – a symbol of how trust and sharing with others can lead to personal growth and transformation.

To see the culmination of our students’ work, and the final phoenixes, join us for a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 5th at the San Diego Art Institute, 1439 El Prado in San Diego. RSVP for the event here.


In conjunction with this project, and in partnership with Jewish Family Service, we are collecting donations of new socks and underwear for Jewish Family Service’s new shelter for asylum seekers. Please donate new socks and underwear for children in all sizes and for adults in size small. Bring items to the Words Alive office through June 5 or to the exhibition at San Diego Art Institute.