The inspiring Wiltshire landscape has drawn artists into the county for centuries; some have come to capture the natural beauty or record the fading traditional ways of life whilst others have been captivated by the mysteries of the standing stones, white horses and ancient hill forts. Perhaps the most famous figures to portray the landscape are John Constable and J.M.W. Turner, both of whom have been the subjects of major exhibitions in recent years at The Salisbury Museum.
Later artist such as the great pastoralist Robin Tanner ignited a generation to value the dying agricultural traditions of Wiltshire through his captivating engravings, and Fay Godwin traversed the county following the Ridgeway in search of new ways to capture the ever changing landscape. In her book The Oldest Road she said “I don’t believe there is such a thing as a definitive picture of something. The land is a living, breathing thing, and light changes its character every second of every day.” And so contemporary artists are still drawn to Wiltshire to find their own place from which to draw inspiration.
Undoubtedly artists will continue to visit the county to make their work and share it with the world but this raises the question what value the historic landscape has for the creative community within Wiltshire? And how can communities who live amongst these inspirational features be encouraged to learn more about them?
The Avebury and Stonehenge World Heritage Site Coordination Unit delivered a seminar in the autumn of 2015 to ask these questions and to explore some answers with the organisations whose duty it is to protect and interpret them. The outstanding significance of Wiltshire’s landscape is recognised through the protection afforded to specific features such as its ancient monuments and the larger natural areas such as country parks or conservation areas. With these protections comes the responsibility to share access to knowledge about the prehistoric landscape and the subsequent story of the communities who have lived within it.
The seminar invited local artists to explore what protection means and what types of work have been successful in creating exciting and dynamic ways for audiences to enjoy the landscape. The outcome of the seminar was the formation of a steering group who will review the restrictions which inform how the landscape is managed and what creative practice has to offer those who manage that landscape. A series of case studies was developed by Wiltshire Council Arts Development service to identify exemplar projects and explore some of the issues that creatives face when working in complex environments. Some of these case studies are listed below:
The steering group is working to develop a Guide to Creative Practice in the World Heritage Site to provide information for artists on the practical issues facing those wishing to work within the historic landscape. The steering group is also looking at what resources exist within the cultural sector in Wiltshire and where there are opportunities to create work and engage audiences sustainably through the museums, art galleries and theatres within the county.
The museums and art galleries in Wiltshire have developed collections which respond to the Wiltshire landscape including works by Paul Nash, Henry Moore and John Piper as well as more contemporary practitioners such as Emma McNally. The Salisbury Museum has delivered exhibitions portraying major artists’ responses to the local landscape and is currently working towards a contemporary art exhibition in 2017, whilst the Wiltshire Museum has explored the more esoteric artform of Crop Circles as well as hosting group shows including work by David Inshaw and solo show including exhibitions of work by Henry Moore. Both museums also have collections of pre-historic artwork of designated national importance.
Cultural venues and organisations across the county have responded to the landscape through innovative practice inviting audiences to walk (and even run) through the landscape, exploring its past and present through song, photography, dance and theatre. The Wiltshire Music Centre worked with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment to commission orchestral work made through found sounds of water in the landscape and the Salisbury Playhouse has staged works which explore the history of the county and its iconic landscape. The Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival and Devizes Outdoor Celebratory Arts have illuminated the White Horses of Wiltshire, lead groups of young people to explore the Fovant Badges and created unique artistic moments in the most unusual and extraordinary places.
Innovation, therefore, is nothing new to Wiltshire. Opportunities to discuss ambitious collaboration, however, are much rarer. The steering group recognise the value of the creative sector and will be working with partners to find ways to explore the opportunities that the landscape affords to inspire, engage audience with and create great art.
If you would like to know more about the seminar or the work of the steering group please either leave a comment below or get in touch with me on firstname.lastname@example.org