The year is drawing to a close and I’ve been reflecting back on the projects, people and places I’ve been a part of. In my usual freelance rhythm, Spring to Autumn is busy with the matter of ‘doing’ and in Winter, the pace slows down, and naturally, it’s time to rest and restore for the next quarter
Last year, at around this time, I was finishing off the final module of my Wild Beach Leader qualification coursework and establishing Under Open Sky as an organisation. I wasn’t sure where formally marking the growing shift in my practice would take me. Over recent years, I’d found myself drawn to working outdoors and creatively celebrating the natural assets and seasonal rhythms, particularly here in the Great Yarmouth coastal area. It’s been both very hard and very satisfying to see Under Open Sky become an organisation and start its first year of activity. During this time, it has had support from local and national funders, two Directors: Kate Harper and Sasha Pinto, and lots of freelancers and organisations, meaning our activity has supported over 100+ people to nurture their connection to the coastal landscape, through creativity and citizen science engagement
I hope that Spring in 2023 can also include Yarmouth Springs Eternal, as it has done for the past 2 years. Through working repeatedly – in same location at same time of year – we’ve been growing a body of experience about how Spring unfolds in Great Yarmouth, during a time of climate and ecological emergency. Yarmouth Springs Eternal received a Highly Commended award for the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance: Climate Award recently, which was such as boost during the bid writing! I’m keeping fingers crossed that we can step out into Spring together again, whilst also recognising the heightened competition for funding during this cost-of-living crisis, especially for a freelance workforce supporting people experiencing these challenges most acutely
Something that re-emerged with another wave of importance this year was making time for my arts practice. Not just fleeting moments – 20 minutes here and there between Zoom meetings or laundry cycles – but to dedicate significate blocks of time, half and whole days, or even a month! This time last year I applied for, and was rejected for, an Arts Council England: Developing Your Creative Practice grant. I was hoping to access support to spend a full turn of the wheel of the year creatively exploring coastal ecologies, using plants, light and natural elements. Whilst I didn’t get the grant, I still made it happen, in a different rhythm!
I was offered space at The Yare Gallery, Great Yarmouth during their ‘Fauna and Flora’ Summer show this year. I used this time to pause participatory projects over the Summer and as a base to reconcile my Springtime explorations, and further deepen into my practice. The Summer was scorching hot and we experienced a very long drought here in East Anglia, and my table, wall and window space at the gallery was baked with heat. I used solar dyeing processes using locally foraged plants to make the best of this uncomfortable aspect, to add seasonal colour swatches to a hand-stitched textile banner I started around the Autumn Equinox in 2021. The exhibition closed almost a year after I started the banner. Since then, I’ve been creating Earth Light Paintings with beach-combed chalk, mud, compost, charcoal and light-sensitive leftover Cyanotype photographic chemical, amongst other materials. Whilst in the Summer I was exploring the overlooked abundance of plants; this Autumn and Winter I’ve been drawn to make time for thinking about tipping points and boundaries
Finding a flow between my community arts work, my arts practice and my values feels like lifework, an on-going balancing act. I feel grateful to (mostly) being able to make this happen. Recently, I was asked to talk to students at Norwich University of the Arts about this. Serendipitously, I’ve been invited to be Slow Ways Story Contributor in 2023. This commission will support me to create quarterly stories of walking journeys, which tap into personal reflective narratives, local voices and a space to be experimental. I’d like to keep my journeys on home ground, wandering the East Norfolk coast and surrounding areas. I’m still mulling over my first route, but I’m going to start from the upcoming 70th anniversary of Great North Sea Flood in 1953, and to see what emerges from walking and spending time with that story. Under Open Sky will be part of an event marking this anniversary with Gorleston Library and Restoration Trust. The Slow Ways stories will feature on their website, newsletter and social media, alongside other UK-wide folk collecting and curating stories about their own patch
My final freelance work of the year will be with Creative Arts East, facilitating workshops for older people, as part of their Silver Social programme that aims to address rural isolation. I’ve planned creative workshops on the evocative nature of festive scents and spices. Through Under Open Sky, I’m co-leading Cycle to the Sun, a duo of gentle cycling events to mark the turning of the wheel in Great Yarmouth. Once those seasonal activities are wrapped up, I’m looking forward to some well-needed lolling about and festive cheer!