Museums across the UK are coming together for the sector's largest ever collaborative project in order to highlight the biodiversity crisis and inspire a love of nature among schoolchildren.
Launched by the arts charity Art Fund, The Wild Escape will see 500 cultural institutions running special events and art workshops for schools and families to reconnect them with nature.
Through a range of activities, both in person and online, the participating museums hope to encourage hundreds of thousands of children to create wildlife artworks inspired by objects in their collections.
All of the animals drawn by the children will be released into a large-scale digital environment created by the immersive games studio Preloaded, which will be unveiled on Earth Day 2023 on 22 April, and available to view online and at participating institutions.
The project is supported by a range of partners across culture, heritage and nature, including the World Wildlife Foundation, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the National Trust and English Heritage. It will be accompanied by a David Attenborough BBC series, Wild Isles, along with a series of films by leading artists, including singer-songwriter FKA Twigs and interdisciplinary artist Yinka Shonibare, creating works inspired by animals in museum collections.
At the launch of the project in London's Natural History Museum, the museum's director Doug Gurr told how the UK is in the bottom 10% of countries when it comes to biodiversity loss. "This is a project that is incredibly close to our heart: our subject matter is under threat," he said. "This is the way we address this crisis - it's all about trying to reconnect young people with nature."
Jenny Waldman said the project aimed to "bring children into contact with museums in a fresh, original way", particularly given the drop in school visits following the Covid pandemic.
The project received £890,000 from Arts Council England, the largest grant ever awarded via its National Lottery Project Grants programme. "We are passionate about the role museums can play in supporting creative people and cultural communities," said Emmie Kell, director of museums and cultural property at ACE.
Museum projects range from Birds and Beasts, an exhibition of artworks depicting animals and birds from the collection of Pallant House Gallery in West Sussex to An Elephant Never Forgets, a series of creative workshops at the Northern Ireland War Memorial in Belfast exploring the story of "Sheila the Elephant", a baby elephant that was sheltered in the home of her zookeeper during the second world war.