Rural affairs

Simon Stephens, 07.01.2015
Art and audiences in the Lake District
Despite the best efforts of a weather bomb, as it seemed to be described in the news, I managed to make the trip from London to Cumbria before Christmas to interview Gordon Watson, the chief executive of Lakeland Arts, for a forthcoming Museums Journal profile.

Not only was there a tree on the train line, but the tree was touching overhead cables and had caught fire. Nevertheless, I eventually made it to Kendal for a slightly truncated visit where I heard a lot about the trust and its plans for the future, which include the development of a boat museum on lake Windermere.

Lakeland Arts also has an ambitious programme of temporary exhibitions at Abbot Hall Art Gallery, and this year it includes shows on Canaletto, St Ives artists in the 1950s and portraiture from the Arts Council Collection.

One of the exhibitions being held at Abbot Hall before Christmas was about another cultural organisation in the Lake District, Grizedale Arts, which has been active in the area for the past 15 years.

The Nuisance of Landscape featured some of the many artists that Grizedale Arts has worked with, including Marcus Coates, Jeremy Deller and Andy Goldsworthy.

The show presents a challenging view of the rural landscape and the conventional romantic perceptions of it. This is part of the overall philosophy of Grizedale Arts, which aims to use art to actively engage with the complexities of the rural situation.

This often involves working alongside the local community to develop and realise the work with artists.

Lakeland Arts and Grizedale Arts are very different organisations in many senses but both have lessons to teach others about risk, ambition and not underestimating audiences. I aim to return the Lake District soon and see more of what they are up to, although I might make it a summer visit.