I continued to research the New Forest, traversing the land, accessing archives and meeting with relevant arts professionals and local organisations to try to identify potential opportunities. The bursary not only provided me with some resources but also a vital endorsement of my pursuits.
My interest in establishing a project in New Forest grew out of my own socially engaged practice and interest in the inter-relationship of people and place. I was interested in the potential contemporary resonance of the historic New Forest and establishing a community of artists and art audiences here.
The New Forest is not a rural location, but does consist of large open areas (of epic woodland and eerie heathland), and it is surprisingly accessible to major cites by rail and road. At certain times of the year it becomes highly populated by ‘people at leisure’ – generally walking or cycling (slowly!). Year-round residents include those who manage the land, for example rangers, park wardens, tree specialists, forest administrators, farmers etc. There are numerous retirement homes, but also primary schools, garden centres, an FE college, forest schools, bird clubs, walking groups and even a fuchsia society.
There are many contexts, histories and stories to be told about the New Forest, from witches’ covens to bomb factories. Agriculture, forestry and fishing are declining industries in the area, and food and tourism are fast growing industries. The New Forest has a myriad of stakeholders who manage and care for the land: Verderers and Agisters, the Forestry Commission, the National Parks Authority (It is the smallest National Park, but also the most visited), the local district council, private land owners and large estates such as the Montague’s of Beaulieu Estate and Roper-Curzon’s of Pylewell Park.
During the initial stages of my research, I had very fruitful conversations and meetings with arts professionals. These included the artist Gordon Dalton and curator Mary Cork, with both meetings undertaken as road trips around the Forest. We navigated the varied terrain and regularly stopped to allow for the infamous roaming New Forest ponies to cross the road! Both meetings proved to be real turning points for my thinking.
Gordon visited in his role of Network Manager for Visual Arts Southwest. The discussion with him was about funding in the Southwest, nearby networks and frank feedback on my initial thoughts. It was a great catalyst and invaluable in moving forward in a positive direction. With Mary we discussed comparative art projects, including Artist Placement Group (1971–89), Grizedale Arts and Groundwork, Cornwall. Her positivity and energy has lead to ongoing conversations. She has become co-curator for the project, and is now working towards curating a programme of new MTP commissions for Autumn 2019.
For those interested in knowing more about the New Forest here are some relevant links on the area: