Grizedale Arts is a research and development institute for contemporary artists, a space that brings artists and creatives together at its site at Lawson Park Farm. Their aim is to develop projects, skills and ideas that respond to the complexities of the Lake District and the rural. I consider Grizedale Arts to be one of the leading institutes of contemporary art in a rural setting, the perfect example of a remote place that successfully has an important cultural significance and connect to other cultural networks further afield.
So when I began to research for my next project (which involves returning back to the secluded hill farm that I was raised on) I knew that first I had to pay a visit Lawson Park Farm to visit Adam and Karen for some project inspiration and guidance.
Moving from the city and returning to the rural in order to make new work often proves difficult, it is extremely easy to become detached from contemporary art scene when you are living outside of the city and I was particularly interested in the focus of the program being beneficial to the local community, whilst also still being engaged with the wider contemporary art world.
A large element of the stay was focused around three meals a day which we prepared together. Various ingredients from each meal that we made had elements of produce that we harvested and foraged from around the park, other ingredients coming from Adam and Karen’s early summer preserves, all enjoyed together in a family style meal.
We gardened, prepared clay for future community based workshops and spent valuable time in the library during the evenings.
During my stay at Lawson Park I was often reminded of The Good Life by Authors Helen and Scott Nearing, who fled the depression and unemployment of the urban environment for the pre-industrial rural community of the Green Mountains of Vermont in 1932, seeking “a simple, satisfying life on the land, with an ample margin of leisure in which to do personally constructive creative work”. The Nearings’ writing about their life felt highly remnant to my experience at Lawson Park, particularly their self-sufficient lifestyle emphasised personal health, within a broader frame of ethical and environmental awareness. They wrote:
We wanted to maintain and improve our health. We knew that the pressure of city life were exacting and we sought a simple basis of well-being where contact with earth, and home-grown food, would play a large part.
Although this way of enjoying the environment differs from my own personal experience of living rurally, having only lived on a working hill farm, there’s elements of this lifestyle that I wish to bring home.
The final day of my stay was spent at Coniston Mechanics Institute which is home to Coniston’s Honest Shop, designed by artists An Endless Supply.
It is opened daily by local volunteers and holds produce from several local makers. It provides a valuable opportunity for collaboration and cohesion between local producers, as well as securing additional income for local people.
The Honest Shop stock includes cakes, home-grown fruit, veg and flowers (in season), preserves and ready-meals, as well as craft items and other such products that are generally absent from the shelves of the more regulated shops in the town - all made by local community groups or individuals. The shop operates on a self-service basis, relying on the honesty of customers to record their sale and leave money in the box for collection. This bespoke, unregulated model for trading highlights the process of exchange, as opposed to commercial consumerism and profit-driven markets. The shop actively contributes to a developing alternative model for the village, one that is driven by individuals, enthusiasms, seasons and goodwill.
Observing this project first hand was the perfect way to conclude my valuable week spent in the Lake District. I observed how the Grizedale Arts programme actively engages with the complexities of the rural environment, concentrating on the process, conversations and the dissemination of ideas to a wider audience.