Art in the Woods: An Exploration of a Community/University Environmental Arts Project

Publication: ‘Art in The Woods: An Exploration of a Community/University Environmental Arts Project’, in Community-University Partnership in Practice. ISBN 978 1 86201 317 9.

Exhibitions: Three large site-specific sculptures have been made that are permanently situated on the Sussex Downs near Brighton; (pub: NIACE, National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, 2007)

‘New Timber Giant’ on National Trust land at New Timber Holt, near Brighton
‘Saddlescoombe Spiral’ on National Trust land, Saddlescoombe Farm, near Brighton
‘Stanmer Dragon’ in Stanmer Park, Brighton and Hove Countryside Services

Each year in May a group of art students from the University of Brighton and women from a local council estate spend two weeks in woodland belonging to the National Trust, foraging in the trees and wrestling with honeysuckle, clematis and buckets full of chalk to create huge, organic woodland sculptures. The sculptures, New Timber Giant, Saddlescoomb Spiral and Stanmer Dragon have emerged from their joint experience and the forms suggested by the landscape, local history and the materials on hand. These sculptures were made entirely from found materials on-site still nestle snugly among the trees, sprouting bluebells and celandines and offering shelter to local wildlife. Their size and capacity for growth indicate the achievement of their makers in placing their own mark on the landscape. They represent the start of an ongoing partnership between two very different groups of people and what can be achieved through creative, inclusive, collaborative working.

The request for this project came from a National Trust warden who attended a presentation on the Access to Art Project (inclusive arts for people with complex learning disabilities) and saw the potential for groups to work within areas of National Trust land. The National Trust is an independent charity that maintains and provides permanent public access to historic houses, property and land. The coming together of three partners, the University of Brighton, a community arts group based on a local housing estate and the National Trust who provided the venue, provided the opportunity for the students to work together in the open air and for me to continue my research in inclusive arts practice.

I also co-wrote another chapter for the Community University Partnership book published by NIACE: Access to Art: From day centre to Tate Modern.
The aim of my research is to develop appropriate and meaningful practice within inclusive arts making environments. I am also exploring issues concerning diversity, creativity and the mutual benefits of diverse groups working creatively together. I have initiated new arts collaborations between university students and local community groups, supporting the University’s contribution to social inclusion and encouraging socially purposeful activity among the students.

In 2007 Overalls, a research project funded by InQbate (Sussex University and University of Brighton), involved teaching based research carried out within the Access to Art project exploring the use of overalls as a creative, inclusive medium for evaluation and documentation of artistic ideas.

I have recently been awarded a Commercial Fellowship to carry out research in partnership with Prof Angie Hart from the Institute of Nursing and Midwifery. The task is to develop visual practices for Resilient Therapy working with children and families experiencing constellated disadvantage.

Insights from my research informs all my various projects including the current curriculum development of a new MA in Inclusive Arts Practice (learning disabilities, disability arts and architecture and the built environment).

The Access to Art project is now working in collaboration with Corali Dance and artists with complex needs towards a performance at the Tate Modern in May 08. As part of this activity we intend to research some of the ‘ways of looking’ people with complex learning disabilities use in response to artworks, collections, spaces and audiences. We also intend to examine the value of new media technologies (particularly mobile phones) in enabling people with learning disabilities to record and communicate their perceptions of spaces, objects and people, in the context of a national art gallery.


‘The Diversity and Difference in Lifelong Learning’ Conference, July 2005. Organised by SCUTREA (Standing Conference on University teaching and Research in the Education of Adults). Entitled Access to Art: testing the limits of diversity and inclusion my paper was included in Diversity and Difference in Lifelong Learning, published by the University of Sussex and SCUTREA

At the Curriculum Innovation for Diversity Conference, Sept 2006, hosted by The Higher Education Academy in collaboration with the University of York, I presented a paper entitled Access to Art: Inclusive Learning which has been published on the conference website.

At the Creativity or Conformity Conference: building cultures of creativity in higher education (January 2007), an international, cross-disciplinary conference hosted by Cardiff School of Art & Design UWIC in collaboration with the Higher Education Academy, I tabled a paper on the Overalls research Showcase of Overalls research and film at the ELIA Teaching Academy Conference, 2007


Since joining the university I have made several films about my work:
Degrees of Separation (2004) is a 20-minute film about the ‘Access to Art’ project. Shown at various screenings including the Learning Disability Art Conference ‘In the Frame’ at the Tate Modern in June 2005.

In It Together (2005) was made on behalf of the Community University Partnership Project (CUPP). The film discusses the mutual benefits of university/community engagement and was screened at the CUPP conference in April 2006

Overalls (2006) is a 15-minute film about a teaching-based research study in inclusive reflection and documentation in which undergraduate art students work alongside artists with learning disabilities. Screened at the ELIA Teaching Academy Conference, 2007

a2a Presents the Rocket Artists (2007) is a film funded by The Arts Council discussing the issues that surround art made by artists with learning disabilities, and the moves to improve the particular circumstances that contribute to their general artistic isolation despite the quality of work being made.

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