We celebrate our natural landscape and sense of place. Our team may be small, but we come with a wealth of experience. For over 20 years, we’ve worked closely with landscape, environment, and heritage organisations like the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Forestry England and the National Trust.
Since 2007, when we were first introduced to the Dorset AONB team, we have developed a sensitivity to producing artistic work in protected landscapes. In many editions of our Inside Out Dorset festival, we have worked on sites that are in the Dorset AONB. Over the years our relationship with the AONB has deepened, our knowledge has grown, and our shared interests and trust increased.
In 2015 we developed a large-scale national project with the National Association of AONBs, commissioning artists AndNow: and produced a three-year project called Life Cycles and Landscapes between 2016-2019.
One of the objectives of Life Cycles and Landscapes was to advocate across the AONB ‘family’ and raise the profile of the arts as a way to emotionally engage an audience with the natural landscape. Through presentations at the National Association for AONBs annual conferences given by our Director, Kate Wood, the relationship with the National Association strengthened further. With her Co-artistic Director for Inside Out Dorset festival, Bill Gee, a programme developed where AONB officers were invited to experience artistic works in the landscape. The works were produced by Activate and a partner festival, Oerol in Terschelling, which is the European leader in presenting theatre in the landscape.
Significant research into nature connectedness, undertaken by Miles Richardson from Derby University, makes a compelling argument that if people have an emotional connection with landscape, they are more likely to care about it. Members of different AONBs experienced the emotional connection possible through working with artists and connecting people to nature. With nature recovery and the climate emergency being high priorities, ideas began to emerge around how the National Association may be able to deepen the public’s connectedness to nature through developing a more strategic approach with arts and culture. Another important objective for the AONBs was diversifying engagement in the natural landscape and this overlapped as an important outcome for Activate and for many in the arts: both sectors want to ensure that everyone has access to either the arts or green spaces.
In 2019, Kate worked with the National Association to secure investment from Arts Council England to write their first national arts strategy. Then in 2020 Bill and Kate went on to develop the strategy and deliver training to AONB officers. Writer Zakiya McKenzie inspired officers with the work she had delivered with Forestry England as a writer-in-residence; we went on to work with Zakiya at Green Space Dark Skies.
The National Association commissioned Poet Laureate Simon Armitage to write a poem, Fugitives to mark their 70th anniversary. This began a partnership with the Poetry School and the Laurel and Gingko prizes.
In 2021, the National Association’s new arts strategy Arts in the Landscape, Connecting People to Nature was published with nine recommendations. The first recommendation was that the strategy be adopted by the National Association and then adopted by all of the 34 independent AONBs across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We went on to facilitate meetings with Arts Council England, and as a result, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Chairs of the two organisations. That was two of the recommendations achieved.
In late 2021 we introduced the National Association of AONBs to outdoor arts specialists Walk the Plank, who were planning Green Space Dark Skies which was to span all four nations. The National Association became a partner on this project, along with the National Parks. Activate was commissioned to produce the Dorset site with the Dorset AONB and artists Zakiya McKenizie, Subathra Subramaniam and Isaiah Dreads.
The National Association has an Arts In the Landscape Steering Group and Activate is working in partnership to help deliver the final recommendations of the strategy.
Image: Green Space Dark Skies, Dorset AONB, Photographer Phil Young.
“How lucky we are in Dorset to benefit from such a brilliant work brought to us by your excellent organisation.”