Stour Valley Art Project
Stour Valley Art Project
King’s Wood, Challock, Kent
The Stour Valley Art Project is an environmentalart project atKing’s Wood in the Stour Valley at Challockin Kent. It evolved from a local joint initiative betweenKentish Stour CountrysideProject, the Forestry Commission and its agency, ForestEnterprise, South East Arts, Kent County Council and AshfordBorough Council.The aims of the project are to promote greater interestin the countryside through an environmental art programmeand to increasepublic awareness and enjoyment of art in the landscapethrough the work of artists in residence, artists leadingthe educationprogramme and international exchanges. It is intendedto be a regional resource for artists, environmentalist,teachers, studentsof all ages, tourists and the general public.
In the six years since the inception of the project, eight international artists have worked at King’s Wood during the annual two month residencies. They have created major works, each with an intended life span of about five years, using materials which reflect the wood’s natural ecology – sweet chestnut wood, living trees, chalk, and flint – as well as photography and words. Artists have included Richard Harris, Chris Drury, Dominique Bailly, Hamish Fulton and Susan Derges. Whilst avoiding the creation of a sculpture trail, artists have been guided to locate their work in the general area of the most frequently used Beech Walk.
An artist-led education project is run for two weeks in the summer or autumn term with pupils from Primary and Secondary Schools, and some In Service training sessions for teachers have offered by the Local Education Authority. Independently arranged study visits by schools to King’s Wood are also encouraged and a teacher’s resource pack was produced in 1996, which is soon to be updated. Selected students on the Fine Art, Art and Architecture Course at Kent Institute of Art and Design (KIAD) have the opportunity of working in apprenticeship to the resident artist. Modest annual student bursaries are also open to application by students who already have experience with the Stour Valley Art Project, for sculpture proposals to be made at locations near King’s Wood. For two years in 1995 and 1997, the bursaries were awarded for students from KIAD to take part in an exchange programme with France to make sculpture in parkland and public garden settings in Nord Pas de Calais.
The Stour Valley Art Project was conceived in 1992 by Martin Hall, then Countryside Officer for the Kentish Stour Countryside Project, a countryside management partnership of local authorities and other bodies. On a bike ride in the course of his work, he discovered a large area of woodland which had public access but was apparently little known or used, except by local dog owners. The 1,500 acre King’s Wood at Challock is on the A251, between the M2 and the M20 and within easy reach of large centres of population in Ashford, Faversham and Canterbury. It is owned by the Forestry Commission, and managed Forest Enterprise as a working wood, producing sweet chestnut stakes, mature beech and oak, and softwood from a variety of conifers. Martin Hall saw it as a huge under-utilised resource for the public to enjoy and learn about the countryside. He was aware that the respected sculpture initiatives at Grizedale Forest, Cumbria, and the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, had attracted large increases in visitors and felt that art would be an appropriate way of attracting people to explore King’s Wood.
Forest Enterprise has three main objectives in the management of its woods:- to provide a public amenity, to conserve the natural ecology and to harvest timber. King’s Wood was clearly not well used by the public and the market for its sweet chestnut stakes was reducing. So when Martin Hall approached David Sykes of Forest Enterprise, who had responsibility for the wood, he welcomed the idea. He agreed with Martin that an art project would increase public use of the wood and raise its profile, and that of Forest Enterprise, and at the same time bring visitors into the local area. Martin also approached South East Arts, Kent County Council’s Arts and Libraries and Planning Departments and Ashford Borough Council and met with a similarly positive response, and a steering group with representatives from these bodies was formed. Funding of £11,250 for the initial phase came from South East Arts (£4,000), Kent County Arts and Libraries (£1,000), Kent County Environment Unit (£1,000), Ashford Borough Council (£250), Kent County Council European Fund (£5,000).
At the instigation the Visual Arts Officer at South East Arts, it was agreed that the project should take an imaginative and international approach to the sculpture project. It was evident that a specialist curator was needed to lead the art project and a brief was sent out to a selected shortlist of consultants who were invited to make a proposal. Freelance curator Sandra Drew was awarded the part-time contract and began work in late 1993. Her proposal was for a programme with three strands:- an annual residency by an international artist to create a major work, an education programme across all sectors of education, and student apprenticeships and bursaries.
As plans for the project became publicly known in the area around King’s Wood, considerable opposition developed amongst local residents, and the Friends of King’s Wood was formed to lobby against it. There was a fear the wood would become a theme park and its peace and tranquillity would be destroyed through over use by people with no understanding of the countryside. David Sykes and Martin Hall, as representatives of the wood’s managers and the countryside management team for the area, met with the Friends of King’s Wood over several months to explain the project in more detail and allay their fears. As time has gone on, opposition has receded when people have seen the sensitive approach taken by the artists, and most local people now actively support the project. The Friends have become part of the project partnership and their Chairman and Secretary serve on the Steering Group.
Stour Valley Art Project was conceived as a partnership and the key to its success has been the enthusiasm, commitment and practical support of the organisations in the partnership. Forest Enterprise manages the wood, deals with public access and amenities, and supplies expertise and materials. Kentish Stour Countryside Project offers environmental education and supports the artists with skills, expertise, tools, equipment and voluntary labour. The Local Authorities and Regional Arts Board partners supply contacts and funding support. The Kent Institute of Arts and Design (KIAD) has a close partnership over the programme to which it makes a modest annual financial contribution, for which it receives apprenticeship and bursary opportunities and hosts talks by the artists in residence. Sandra Drew continues as part-time co-ordinator. Her role includes artist selection, supporting the resident artists, education programme, fundraising, publicity and strategic planning, and liaison between the partners.
The project is managed by the Steering Group with representation from all the partner organisations but is legally part of the Kentish Stour Countryside Project, itself an arms-length project of Kent County Council. Funding for the Art Project is channelled through Kent County Council. There are plans to set up an independent charitable company for the project during 2000. This coincides with the acquisition of a four room building in King’s Wood which provides an office base and meeting room for the co-ordinator and the education programme, and separate studio and accommodation for artists. A part-time education co-ordinator, Caroline Angus, was appointed in December 1999 to run the education and student programmes and to assist Sandra Drew. The annual budget for the project in 1999/2000 is £46,000 provided by the partner organisations in cash and in kind, with additional grants from the Arts Lottery and trusts.
The Stour Valley Art Project has successfully attracted a much larger number of people to use King’s Wood by raising awareness of it in the region and providing an incentive to explore the wood. The main car park offers nearby facilities for families just within the wood, with the opportunity for longer walks as well. This encourages a wide range of visitors the majority of whom are from the local area. Visitors are generally favourable to the art works which can be enjoyed or simply passed by depending upon interest. There has been remarkably little vandalism of the sculptures which can be attributed to the sensitivity of the artists, the appropriateness of the work, and perhaps the fact that the works do not offer themselves obviously but need to be searched for. Only one work, comprising loose chalk formed into a curved ridge, has suffered repeated damage.
As a result of the increased visitor activity, a Recreation Ranger, Gill Crebbin has been appointed by Forest Enterprise with specific responsibility for paths and visitor amenities. She is also the point of contact for Forest Enterprise with the art project for liaison over artists’ needs, materials, site permission and access. A management agreement and plan is to be drawn up by Forest Enterprise with the Stour Valley Art Project to formalise issues of liability, maintenance and decommissioning works, which is expected to be in place by 2001.
© Copyright Joanna Morland 2000