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The middle of winter is certainly feeling like it this year. It’s not particularly wintery in the weather, but it certainly feels darker and more gloomy. Anyway, we’ve past the shortest, darkest day, technically. Now the days are getting longer again we can look to the future and think about the year ahead. But it’s also that time of year where we look back at the past year and take stock.

For me 2016 has felt like a particularly busy year. The tail end in particular was a bit hectic at times. But it’s been a productive one. Lots of new things – new people, new works and new places to work with.

‘Lotus Souvenir’ – large origami lotus flower installation at Bicester Village, Oxfordshire. UK. in February.

Lumb Mill Viaduct

Lumb Mill Viaduct

‘The Scenic Route’ was a short research residency walking two former railway lines in Lancashire.

‘PaperBridge’ had a variety of outings over the year – includig being featured on a TV show on the Discovery Channel, being in a book on micro architecture and being presented to the King and Queen of Lesotho. A smaller working model was shown in an exhibition of paper design in Chicago, while drawings and a short documentary was shown in Nova Scotia and Montreal.

September saw the start of a series of back-to-back installations right across the North of England, starting with ‘Tower’ – an architectural intervention at the Festival of Thrift in Kirkleatham.

From September to November I did a series of installations across Lancashire for a commission. ‘When the Red Rose…’ saw temporary interventions in Preston, Blackpool and Lancaster. A fourth on the canal at Blackburn sadly didn’t happen, but I’ll keep that one back for another day.

The major piece of the year however, was just three fields away from where I live.

Three barns were wrapped in slow-motion projections of waterfalls from the nearby River Tees. Over six short nights over 2,000 people ventured to see the work, in the dark in a quiet, remote corner of County Durham. Blessed by a harvest moon the first weekend and by clear skies with resident milky way the second, no number of photos or videos can ever capture the experience those lucky 2000 had.

While it was a good year for interesting and ambitious new works, for me ‘Waterfall’ stood out as probably the best piece I’ve done so far. And to do it on my own doorstep, in front of my own local community was a particularly special thing to do.

Just as good as being able to do all those installations, exhibitions and workshops was all the wonderful people I got to work with. None of these can happen without teams of people dedicated to making them happen – from those commissioning the work and those fabricating some of the pieces to those who work tirelessly to promote the work or organise the epic tasks they can sometime become. So hopefully I haven’t missed anyone off but here goes:

Nancy Kryzanowski, Gemma Jackman, Sally-Anne Blaise, Caroline Ruddick, Paul Gray, Phil Carr and Alan Carr Print & Design, Premier Papers in Gateshead, Nick Hunt, Melanie Diggle, Diana Hamilton, Roy Halliday, Nick Lund, Julie Tomlinson and James Cropper plc, Lexi Gerry, Jon Stynes, David Metcalf and October Films, Aleta Florentin, Vianna Newman, Harvey Lev, Judith Bauer, Diane Spark and all at UTASS, Ian Hunter, Paul Chaney, Alex Murdin, Henk Keiser, Brenda Vrieling, Jan Hartold, Vicky Holbrough, Nicola Golightly, Stella Hall, Trevor at Kirkleatham Old Hall, Christina Hesford, Janet Rogers, Paul Murray, Becky Nicholson, Kirsty Childs, Jill Bennison, Karen Marshall, Kate Percival, Lowri Bond, Sara Cooper,  Jane Shaw, Fiona Goh and Holmfirth Arts Festival, Sarah Branson, Jamie Frost, Thomas Charveriat, Sarah Gent, Sarah Mayhew-Craddock, Lucy Jenkins, Rebecca Turner, Harry and Kate Vane, Ewan Alinson, Jill Cole, Malcolm Walton, William Burton, Chris Woodley-Stewart, Nicki Cullens, Shane Harris, Mark Tyler, Ryan May and Hightlights, DCC events team,  Lyndsey Waters, Tim Joel, Richard Baxter, Rita Whitlock, Ella Byford, Justina Ma, Sally Jastrzebski-Lloyd, Anna Izza, Hannah Leighton-Boyce, Keri Sparkes, Jen Morgan, Catherine Shaw, Philippe Handford, Jamima Latimer, Louise Miller, Mike Neale, Stacey Walker, Julie Brown, Sandra Blue, Brent Lees, Friends of the Storey Garden, Rebecca Johnson, Laurie Peake, Sarah Steele and Preston Methodist Chapel, Alex Rinsler, Mykey Young, Richard and the Lightpool team, Zoe Dawes, Jenny Needham, Flossie Mainwaring-Taylor, Trevor Brookes, Martin Paul, John Gillmore, Heather Fox, Jennie Collingwood, David Turner, Andrew Barton, Paul Kingston…

I hope I haven’t missed too many off. That’s quite a team and a huge thanks to everyone on the list – I seriously could not have done all I have this year without each and everyone of you.

So, that’s it for this year now. Next year is another year. It’s going to be an interesting one for so many reasons, but I hope it’s more in a positive way.

Onwards and upwards…

 

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Its a cold, grey morning in Stockholm. The weather forecast says rain. What’s coming out of the sky is white and flake-shaped. Anywhere else they’d call it snow. It’s not really settling here but there are plenty of cars around with a half-inch coating on the roof. They’re all Volvos. All estates.

That’s outside. I’m now inside one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of little coffee houses that make up the city. No Starbucks in sight, but plenty of good strong hot coffee and pastries galore.

My professional development project* had been going at a much slower pace than originally expected. My first prospective mentors unexpectedly changed their minds and decided they didn’t know any more than I did already. Actually they joked I presumed they were professional and developed in the first place. Ouch!

So it was a great relief to finally meet up with someone who was happy for me to pick their brains about stuff. One of the areas I was looking to develop in my practise was the realisation of pieces of real scale in the landscape. I’ve been increasingly interested in the emotional effect of scale on an audience and how landscapes are immersive experiences. I’m currently working on three major landscape works: ‘Tangled’ is a textile piece stretching 90m across a valley in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire:

tangled

‘PaperBridge’ is what it says on the tin – a full-sized packhorse bridge made entirely of sheets of paper in the Lake District:

paperbridge

and ‘Whistle’ – a sound installation covering 18 linear miles in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park. Artistically these are pretty well formed, however the realisation of pieces of such scale present a whole new level of logistical challenges.

There aren’t many artists in the world working with scale to chat with (I actually have a list and it fits easily on one page of my pocket notebook). In fact the only ones to have ever created an artwork over a valley and over a 20 mile distance are Christo & Jeanne-Claude. While it’s always good to talk with artists, for this PD project I’m more interested in the logistical side, so it was with great pleasure that I was able to meet up with Wolfgang Volz while I was in Stockholm.

Wolfgang has been a core element of Christo’s team for over 40 years. As well as being the eyes of Christo as a photographer, he is also technical director for all the large temporary installations. When it comes to realising immense temporary artworks in the landscape, there’s no one more experienced in the world than Wolfgang Volz.

Over that great Swedish tradition of ‘fika’ – everything takes place over coffee – we worked our way through the importance of finding the right engineers, managing install teams and testing everything every-which-way.

Because every project they do is different and every project is the first time something like that has ever been attempted, there’s no previous knowledge to fall back on. The only way to know how to do something and discover how it behaves is by doing it. It’s something I relate to in my own work but never really solved before. The solution that Wolfgang used was to do full-sized tests elsewhere first. Before they wrapped the Pont Neuf in Paris (1985) they found an even older bridge  some 30km away of a similar size over the same span and wrapped that first. Without the gaze of the public and media they were able to work out all the problems and the practicalities so when they came to do the final piece there were far fewer surprises.

pont neuf wrapped

Pont Neuf Wrapped – Christo & Jeanne-Claude. 1985. photo © Wolfgang Volz

The level of planning involved in the realisation of Christo’s work is mind-blowing. Yet, when working at that scale and level of public engagement I can see how it’s the only way to go. Large installs are built around a pyramid cascade of responsibility and management. Starting with the artist at the top right down to the unskilled install teams at the bottom. Even the unskilled teams undergo days of training beforehand so that come the day the piece just appears.

Of course all these extra things cost money. As Wolfgang pointed out, the older you get the more money your projects cost. But I’m serious about developing my practise and looking to make each piece of new work the best it can be. That ultimately is the most important for me.

Last year I went to see Christo’s Big Air Package in the Gasometer at Oberhausen in Germany. At over 100m high this was one of the largest single artworks I’d ever seen. The engineering was incredible for something so huge. Yet the €1m budget for the piece received no public funding and in fact was entirely self-sustaining through admission. That was a revelation to me – an understanding not only of the scale of the budgets involved but also that it’s possible for pieces like that to pay for themselves.

big air package by christo

Big Air Package – Christo 2013

I’m sure this is something we’ll discuss further in future conversations. While each of my projects has its own unique logistical and technical issues, there’s much I can learn about the process of finding those solutions.

As Wolfgang said, he and Christo have been working out how to do projects for over 40 years now. They’ve never had the luxury that I have of learning from others. Of standing on the shoulders of giants. For that I’m grateful.

*my self-initiated programme of professional development is funded through the A-N Artists Information Company re:view bursaries and Arts Council England through Grants for the Arts scheme. This post has previously appeared on my secret professional development blog. Shh! Don’t tell anyone…

arts council england

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It’s that time of year again. The crowded summer is definitely over and the year is slowly winding down. The leaves are just at the turn of colour – give it another fortnight or so and those golds and reds will be in their prime. Already the sun is lower giving longer shadows and bringing shape and texture back to the fells. There’s an overall warmth to the light bathing everything in a cosy glow while the evening air is filled with the first of the log fires.

autumn colours

While there’s still a bit of warmth around and a good full day’s daylight it’s my favourite time of year – the landscape is at its best around now.

Back in 2004 this was also the time a bunch of us like-minded artists decided to shake up art in our rural corner of England.

Art in Cumbria at the time was dominated by the tourist landscape painting market. There were very few opportunities for artists to show their work outside the souvenir gallery scene. A few years previous a series of open studio events had started which began to open up the market a little. However, the open studio model only works for a distinct portion of artists – namely those who made work to sell clearly. Those who only worked to commission or outside of the commercial realm were still invisible to most people. Yet Cumbria – and the Lake District in particular – had a huge potential audience – in tourism terms second only to London in the UK. Clearly we were missing a trick.

cant john kelly

‘Cant’ – John Kelly 2005

The solution as we saw it was FRED – a 10-day ‘Art Invasion’ where artists created work outside the gallery environment and brought it into the path of everyday life.

It was an idea which turned into a vision which gathered pace and became something that just had to happen. So it did.

The first year was done on an absolute shoestring budget. I still wonder how on earth we managed to do anything at all that first year, but we did. With no sensible budget we encouraged artists to realise projects they always wanted to do but for whatever reason had never got round to doing. By getting enough artists to do those little projects at the same time we would generate a critical mass where the sum of all that activity became a much bigger thing. Well, that was the idea. To hold it all together we needed a brand and visual identity. We wanted this to look and feel like an artist uprising. For that it was important that every detail was regarded as a work of art.We managed to persuade David Haldane – a cartoonist for The Times – to come up with a branding which would be an artwork in itself. This idea that FRED was art everywhere – a bit like the ‘Humphrey’ milk marketing campaign in the ’70’s. Davids FRED cartoons became postcards and stickers and spray-painted roadside placards.

fred 2004

FRED – © David Haldane 2004

We also managed to secure the unused advertising space on the back of car park tickets right across the main tourist spots in the Lake District. Adele Prince was commissioned to create a series of artworks which turned car park stickers into artworks – not advertising. It was all very low-fi and more than a little anarchic. But something happened.

Adele Prince Carpark Tickets

Car park tickets © Adele Prince 2004

On the very first day the BBC news picked up the story of the parking ticket artworks and the ‘outdoor art festival in the Lake District’ and ran it on the half-hourly news slot on the ‘Today’ programme on radio 4. Probably the biggest radio audience in the UK. By the end of the day every BBC radio station in the country had phoned me up, followed by regional TV and a couple of national newspapers. It even made the front page of the local newspaper. This might not seem a big thing, but art NEVER featured on the cover of the Herald, let alone crazy contemporary art.

Coniston UFO

Julian Claxton re-creating the UK’s first ever UFO sighting in Coniston. The artist even secretly stayed at the B&B owned by the first person to report it when he was a school boy in the 50’s. (photo: FRED archive – unattributed)

Around 40 artist – some alone, some as groups – created temporary projects all over the county – from park benches to railway stations, dry stone walls to shops. We even had  piece in the tiger’s enclosure at the zoo.

The media coverage alone far outweighed anything that had ever happened art-wise in Cumbria before. Bigger than most stuff outside London even.

lakelife by gill baron

‘Lakelife’ by Gill Baron. A painting of an underwater dance in the bus stop at Newby Bridge. THe bus stop has since been replaced – however the parish council pressed for a wooden replica in order to preserve the painting. It’s still there after 10 years and well loved locally. (photo: FRED archive – unattributed)

The Arts Council were a bit embarrassed at its success having turned it down for funding and so suggested doing a book on it to get their logo somewhere.

Over the next couple of years the festival grew in size and ambition. In 2005 the marketing work of art was done by Graham Rawle who at the time had a regular slot on the Guardian with his Lost Consonants series

can you find the art graham rawle

FRED 2005 – can you find the ART? Original artwork.  © Graham Rawle 2005

Following on from the success of the car park tickets we wanted someone to do something on the back of till-roll receipts at the service station on the M6. A couple of probably quite cheeky emails enlisted fellow rural-based artist Jenny Holzer to create a coupe of new works. The new versions of Truisms and Survival Series as ‘For Cumbria’ appeared on the back of over half a million receipts over the 16 day festival and helped attract more serious arts coverage in the national press.

for cumbria jenny holzer

‘For Cumbria’ – Jenny Holzer 2005. image ©stevemessam 2005

Whilst the ambition and profile of the festival grew year on year, the budgets didn’t really. The marketing commissions remained the only paid commissions. All the other projects were only paid travel, accommodation and materials expenses. As such they weren’t commissions and the artists consequently had complete artistic control. Despite that each year we waded through up to 500 proposals from all around the world and whittled it down to just 30 or so projects.

FRED by Gordon Brown

FRED Everywhere – ©Gordon Brown 2007

On top of expenses covered we also provided the artists with project management, marketing skills training and got them the audience and exposure many public funded galleries only dream about.

statueofliberty

visitors sally barker

‘Visitor’ – Sally Barker. Iconic landmarks in miniature – included a grass Statue of Liberty and Easter Island heads made from sheep poo. photos © Tony West 2007

The whole event was one big learning experience for everyone involved. An annual contemporary art event like this had not been done before so we had no one to learn from except ourselves. Over the years we developed and refined the programme always looking to see what worked best and what failed completely. What worked best year on year was being able to take risks and exploiting the untapped potential of the rural environment.

weathercube gareth kennedy

‘Weathercube’ – Gareth Kennedy. 2007. photo: ©Tony West

Scale was one of the biggest assets. We could do things that even the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern would struggle to cope with. Engaging with the landscape was more than just about the visual presence. The experience of landscape was just as powerful. For some of the really remote pieces that journey to get to them was all part of it.

wildboar jan hicks

Installing the wild boar by Jan Hicks- a hill drawing on the fell where the last wild boar in England was shot, made from the fleeces of the sheep that graze there. photo: ©stevemessam 2006

The complete lack of light pollution preempted the ‘Dark Skies’ projects and illuminated artworks took on a whole new level of engagement with their surroundings.

shake pole richard box

‘Shake Pole’ by Richard Box. 2006. 300 fluorescent tubes planted beneath the national grid power lines which glowed through induction. photo courtesy of the artist

resonet 2007

‘ResoNet’ – Mark Tynan and William Chen. 2007. The tensile structure in a woodland responded to movement – the lights tracing the wave of motion across the surface in the wind. photo courtesy of the artists

'ThickSpace' by Aaron J. Robin, Laura Belevica & Feng Guochuan. 2008

‘ThickSpace’ by Aaron J. Robin, Laura Belevica & Feng Guochuan. 2008

enclosure by robbie colman and jo hodges

‘Enclosure’ by Robbie Coleman & Jo Hodges. photo © Tony West 2006

However, we never tired of the opportunity to take risks. The very human connection you get working in small, often isolated communities, meant it was easy to find like-minded souls who welcomed and even encouraged real subversiveness and damn right cheek most art institutions would never get away with.

tits by Jane Anderson

‘Tits’ – Jane Anderson 2006. This ornithology book was censored with every word except ‘tits’ tippexed out. Correctly catalogued and shelved in the library at Sedbergh. photo © Tony West 2006

FRED was more than just about spectacle or art in beautiful landscapes. It was also about local issues and connecting with the people who live there. The real rural issues overlooked by the urban media and politics – public transport (or lack of), disappearing petrol stations and libraries, Eastern European wagon drivers, the decline of upland farming. FRED wasn’t just about tourism, at its heart was engaging and speaking alongside rural communities. This wasn’t about trying to replicate an urban notion of contemporary art. It was about finding a rural voice – doing something that simply cannot be done in any city anywhere. It was about being rural and proud of it.

refuel noel connor

‘Refuel’ – Noel Connor 2008. Poetry on the pumps at a community-run petrol station in Brougton-in-Furness. Photo ©Tony West 2008

FRED’s strength came from looking outward rather than within. Projects weren’t restricted to the geographical boundaries of Cumbria. There were plenty in all the neighbouring counties and even one running in Bavaria one year. So many rural initiatives suffer from being too parochial. Less than a quarter of the artists came from the county. By the final year there were more proposals from overseas than from NW England. I guess to an overseas artist the draw of travelling abroad and creating a piece in stunning landscapes and having all your expenses covered is quite strong. Rural issues are similar around the world also, and the ability to voice them anywhere is rare. But that mix of the local and international often ended up strengthening everyone’s work.

all wrapped up ettie spencer

‘All Wrapped Up’ – Ettie Spencer 2008. The family hill farm was no longer viable and so was literally wrapped up (in bale wrap). photo ©stevemessam 2008

Doing an event working with up to 80 artists in maybe 60 locations over 2,600 sq. miles, every year is a huge undertaking. I certainly didn’t do it single-handed. There was a team of 5 or 6 dedicated artists every year working ceaselessly for what little crumbs we had to spare. All doing their bit and without who it would never have happened. But the funding was never right. In five years of bringing in thousands of people contributing hundreds of thousands to the local economy each year on top of developing the contemporary art environment in Cumbria, we never received a single penny from the County Council. Only in the final year did any of the local councils contribute more than £100. Raising the money was a year round job – each festival took 18 months to fund, plan and organise. The lack of enough money meant I was also creating all the print design, building websites documenting half the works and reinvesting my own money just keeping the thing afloat.

orange slice bridget kennedy

‘Orange Slice’ – Bridget Kennedy. photo ©Irene Sanderson 2007

After five non-stop years it was decided to call it a day and quit while we were still on top. Initially the excitement and momentum kept me going, but after all those years it left me physically, mentally and financially broken. FRED finally finished in October 2008.

uncommon ground ben teasdlae

‘Uncommon Ground’ – Benjamin Teasdale. Photo © Tony West 2008

FRED was a product of its time – the right people in the right place with the same idea. It happened but there’s no going back. I doubt anything like it will happen again in the same place. Behind the scenes it ended up in such a messy way I’ve deliberately avoided looking back at it for years. However, wherever I go people still speak highly of it – both local people who remember the mad things that happened in their village and rural communities around the world in awe of its energy and ambition.

Evening Glory Charles Monkhouse

‘Evening Glory’ – Charles Monkhouse. A necklace of light around Old Man Coniston. Photo ©stevemessam 2005

Over the past few months I’ve finally come round to being able to look back on it and see all the things it done. It may not have generated any Turner Prize winning art – it was far too anti-establishment for that – and it was always a bit ragged around the edges. But it was raw and real.

head mills and walton

‘Head’ – Russell Mills & Ian Walton. A gold-leafed shed on the site of Kurt Schwitter’s allotment

And that glorious early autumnal light made it just look amazing.

P.S. There’s a rough archive of all five years of FRED online here: www.fredsblog.co.uk

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Nines and Tens

At last the weather decided to play ball with me and it’s a fabulous day up here perched atop Nine Standards Rigg. The rigg itself is named after the nine huge cairns straddling this ridge overlooking, well pretty much overlooking the entire Eden Valley, the Eastern Lake District Fells and on a clearer day, the Solway Firth and Scotland. Behind me, a few yards away is the North Yorkshire border and to my right County Durham and beyond. It’s no wonder then that centuries ago people decided it would be good to mark this point.

One of the reasons for coming up here today was to see if I could see my house from the top. This may sound a silly thing, but the Nine Standards are such a feature on the  skyline around Kirkby Stephen and always wondered why I couldn’t see them from my studio. The cairns are over 20ft high (some are at least) and one theory of their origin is that they were built to scare off invading vikings / scots / romans ( take your pick, they all came ) by appearing as giant soldiers keeping guard.

Yep. Can definitely see my house from here.

The other nice bit about the Standards is their movement. They are of unknown origin and date, but what is clear from the site, and stories, is that there has always been nine of them. If one falls down another is built from its remains next to it. So over time they have moved back and forth across the ridge.

I like this.

A few years ago some of the cairns were in a realy bad state and in real danger of collapse. There was a great deal of local debate as to whether, and how they should be restored. In the end, a small team of champion dry stone wallers did an amazing job of rebuilding four of them and securing the others. Today is the first time I’ve seen them in their new glory.

As I reached the top I had a great chat with a couple from Darlington about the stones. Being on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk, there’s a lot of traffic up here. The land erosion by millions of booted footsteps is really taking its toll in places. With no more than a mention on the OS map, these walkers – and probably loads more – presumed they were a work of art by some land artist. It’s no wonder they look a bit like an Andy Goldsworthy at the moment. They were rebuilt by some of the same wallers who work with Goldsworthy on his pieces. In fact, the Nine Standards are responsible for much of his work. As a young artist straight out of art school, Goldsworthy worked as a gardener at a local estate. You can just about see their sillhouettes from the house he worked at, and would regularly walk up to them. As part of his sheepfolds project across Cumbria, Goldsworthy paid tribute to his roots with a proposed nine pin-cones within view of the rigg. Sadly only four were finished.

Raisbeck Pin Cone by Andy Goldsworthy. From a photography project I did with Barrow Deaf Club for the Sheepfolds Project. Shot with a disposable camera on Ilford XP2 film. Lith-printed on Kentmere paper and gold-toned.

Today is a beautiful day – clear blue skies and hardly a breeze, even on the top. Definitely spring.

So vey different from when I last came up here 10 years ago. To the very day.

I remember it well. It was freezing cold. there was a thick hoar-frost on the north faces of the cairns, and on the way back down to town it started to snow.

I remember it well. 1st March 2001.

The very next day everything changed.

On 2nd March 2001, the number of confirmed cases of foot and mouth disease in Cumbria was rising fast and as a precautionary measure to stop the spread, MAFF (now DEFRA) closed the countryside. All footpaths across land where animals were farmed were closed to the public. Thousands – hundreds of thousands, of cows, sheep and more besides would be culled across the region over the next year or so in an effort to stop the spread of the disease. My next door neighbour, who was in his eighties had his entire stock killed for precautionary measures one morning. He was a broken man. Generations of stock breeding wiped out in an hour or two. Too old to start again from scratch he more or less gave up on everything. He didn’t know what else to do with himself. He thought about retraining with computers, but as he struggled to come to terms with phones without cords, it really wasn’t likely. He died within a couple of years.

On the 2nd March 2001, I remember driving towards Penrith and seeing a dotted line of black smoke billows reaching from the direction of Carlisle, spreading down a line which seemed to follow the A6 towards Shap. Thick black smoke. Really black. These were the unforgettable pyres burning the carcasses of culled stock. Piles of old tyres kept the temperature of the fire high enough to incinerate everything. Walking through the streets of Penrith the air was thick with the smell of burnt rubber and meat.

photo by Murdo Macloud

At one stage, at the gallery I ran, we contemplated an installation about the culling. We toyed with one  idea of representing every animal culled with a sheet of toilet paper. Until we realised we didn’t have enough room in the gallery for that many rolls.

It was a dark time. Not just for farmers. It affected every single person in our sheep-farming town. Once I had a chat with friends to see who was the remostest from farming to have their work affected. The water bailff on the River Eden lost his job as there was no access to the river banks, therfore no fishing and no fising permits. Every B&B and hotel in Kirkby Stephen, bar one, is now under different ownership than before foot and mouth. In a town which survives on walking-based tourism and sheep farming, everything was decimated. I lost a lot of the work I had lined up too with everything around me out of bounds.

It was just before my photography went digital, so everything was still on film. With work cut, I had to ration my film use – I was so broke – so sadly I didn’t really document what was going on. I wish I had now. I wish I had photographed the ‘dip and go’ pads outside every shop which not only disinfected your boots but slowly dissolved them. I wish I had photographed the check-points on every road outside every village where your car tyres and chassis was sprayed by people in space-age bio suits. I wish I had photographed the endless lines of brand new red wagons with sealed roofs on the tippers carting away hundreds of carcasses to disposal sites, once they decided that the pyres were just too awful. Busses for the rotting.  I wish too I had photographed the Yorkshire Dales, empty of all animals, and the brightness of the buttercups that took over the landscape – becoming a vibrant yellow instead of the usual lush greens.

For 18 months, the nine standards looked over the town – lonely and unvisited. Kirkby Stephen had the last recorded case of Foot and Mouth in Cumbria and consequently the countryside round the town was the last to re-open to the public.

A great deal of money was invested into rural areas following the outbreak. Regeneration money to get everything back on its feet. 2003 – 2006 was a boom time for rural England. Much went on. Much new stuff started. Tourism took a real boost.

That money is long gone now. Some stuff remains, which is good. Farming has changed – for the better in many respects. DEFRA have completely re-written the procedure for handling any future outbreak of foot and mouth, so that agriculture won’t be as badly affected. That’s good news for farmers if it works. However, the reliance on tourism as the new saviour of upland communities is a fragile one. The fact remains that access restrictions to the countryside would still happen, just as before. My, and many many others besides, fear that should it all happen again, despite all the well intentioned regeneration programmes, we’ll be no better off next time round.

Ten years on, the world has changed. It’s changing lots it seems at the moment. Through all this, the Nine Standards will remain, looking over the valley (and my house too). Maybe moving a bit as the centuries pass, but it’s good to keep moving.

Best get down the hill before sunset.

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I’ve swapped one of my normal hillside blogging spots for a comfy sofa and a cuppa. It’s Heritage Open Weekend so I’ve taken the opportunity to have a nose around Farfield Mill Art and Heritage Centre as it’s free today. There’s normally an entrance fee to see the artists studios, shops, small exhibitions and displays of the weaving heritage of this bit of the dales. Not the best choice of art or the most engaging of displays so the entrance fee is another barrier to me coming more often. But still, these things cost money to run and the cash has to come from somewhere.
It’s a topic I’ve found myself conversing about a lot this week – firstly at a talk I was asked to do about being a professional artist in Cumbria for Littoral Arts in the Lakes. It also dominated chats I had when I visited the lovely folk at the Storey Gallery in Lancaster and meeting the deputy director at the North Pennines AONB in Teesdale. There’s a great deal of concern around at the moment about the state of government funding for the arts and public funding generally. Wobbly times it seems. David Shrigley has even made this video for the cause.


As an individual artist I realised long ago that you couldn’t rely on public money to pay you a living. I’m sure there are artists and even more arts organisations who feel the state owes them a living, but that’s something I feel very uncomfortable about. As Alistair Hudson from Grizedale Arts pointed out in his presentation at Littoral the visual arts are largely dictated by the commercial sector. Artists are only famous and successful if they are selling well. The Turner Prize is never contested by struggling artists. The public face of visual arts is determined by a small group of influential gallerists and collectors. In fact they have it all pretty much sewn up at the top end.
So what chance do artists who don’t want to go that route have of ‘making it’? It’s all a matter of business models. The music industry was once seen as a similar situation with record companies monopolising on what was considered talent. Then came Napster and illegal file sharing and a whole range of internet based ways of discovering more music – beyond just those the record companies wanted to sell you. Then iTunes came along and wanted to sell you that new found music legally. Now places like Bandcamp mean that musicians can make and sell music without record companies. There’s more profit and less interference. Win / win for the artists. While musicians are waking up to the fact they can control their own artistic directon and make a living too, the record labels ate crying foul and blame it on piracy for the wholes in their pockets when it’s just that their business model has just been bettered. Similar things are happening in publishing with a whole bunch of authors taking advantage of the boom in ebooks and loopholes in their publishers contracts which enable them to bypass them and sell more directly to the public.
That’s all great for musicians and writers, but what about visual artists?
In 2008 Damien Hirst pulled a fast one by selling directly through an auction house. The sale room becoming a solo exhibition and the auction house publishing the catalogue. As the buyer pays the sales commission on top of the hammer price hirst pocketed every penny of the £111 million sales.


Christo and the late Jeanne-Claude fund their multimillion dollar temporary installations entirely from their own pocket. They make their money selling drawings, prints and models produced as part of the preparatory process and giving lectures. Not only does it give them a more sustainable business model but crucially it gives them 100% independence from the agendas of cultural institutions funders and curators.

It’s that independence from the source of money that I aim for. While I’m lucky to be in a rare position to make some form of living solely from my art I also realise just how important it is to keep money and art separate. Making art for money generally leads to bad art. It then becomes a manifacturing process Using art to subsequently realise more money is a far more sustainable option as it ensures investment for the future and room for development. How that balance is realised depends on the business model. It’s not arts funding that will see artist through these uncertain times, its a look at the broader business model. Art always fairs well in turbulent times. Maybe the latest financial insecurities will prove to be a good thing for arts – a chance to step back and regroup. A time to reflect on the value of the arts and the affects of art.
In the meantime I’ll reflect with a cup of tea on a comfy sofa. There’s a lot of profit in a cup of tea…

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