Thursday, 28 November 2013

Creative Residencies

I feel like I’m getting a little bit behind with this, which was a worry from when I started – if you don’t write a blog post regularly, then there’s not much point in the blog.

Once again I’m writing this on a train heading towards Birmingham from Bristol, so doubtless I’ll see the tops of the cedars at Croome quite soon. Last week I was on my way to an NT Midlands Contemporary Art Futures Group meeting in Nottingham. It was held at Primary Studios in Nottingham, and it gave us an opportunity to meet some of the artists there and talk about their work. The artists we met were Yelena Popova, Rebecca Beinart, Chris Lewis-Jones and the curator Tom Godfrey. Rebecca and Chris both do interesting and playful work out of doors, and Tom works with a lot of new artists.

Some of my own thinking about ways of working has become clearer, largely in discussion with Ashleigh, Rachel and Richard. We have decided to try implementing a series of creative residencies at Croome, with focus on specific projects. These people fit very much into the ‘New Talent’ category, which is both a legacy of the 6th Earl, and a key element of Croome Redefined. It is a very broad category, however, and we’ve been trying to refine the idea of what it might look like at Croome in the 21st Century.

The Creative Residencies are aimed at creative practitioners from across all creative disciplines. They could be digital curators, games designers, shoe-makers, textile artists, photographers or poets, to name but a few. They will invariably have left university or art college in the last few years and worked on some smaller scale projects, showing a lot of promise in their chosen field. They will be with us for between 6 months and a year, and we will provide them with an appropriate mentor who will bring experience, expertise and a network of contacts. They will work with recent graduates, and be involved in running workshops for visitors. We currently expect all our projects to work in this way.

Our first such residencies has gone to Clare Harris who is a digital curator/producer and nascent games designer. She will be working with us on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, plus a bit extra here and there, over the coming year. Her immediate focus will be on the Soul to Sole project in the Court, and then games in the Park over the summer/autumn 2014. Her two mentors are Molly Price of Jason Bruges Studio in London and Diffus Design in 
Copenhagen and Rosie Poebright of Splash and Ripple in Bristol.

What lies behind this is the idea of giving opportunities to emerging creatives in an attempt to create 'a centre of development for new talent in craftsmanship, creativity and design.' Quite a bold thing for the Trust and it will take some doing. But if it's at least partially successful, it has a chance of being sustainable through increased income from more visitors, and ongoing partnerships between the Trust and organisations such as The Arts Council and GRAIN.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Shoes #2

We’ve had our first meeting with students from Worcester Uni to hear their initial ideas for the Soul to Sole project. The ideas were spread across a good time period and range of people – from Capability Brown to one of the children of the Krishna devotees.

The image here shows an initial concept for Capability Brown, with gardener’s shoes placed over a transparent pressure sensitive pad which sits on top of a tablet computer. When the shoes are lifted, the tablet plays a slideshow of images – original designs of the Park and photos of its current state.

We discussed the possibility of making the images seasonal, and adding an audio track of the outdoors. We also talked about other ways the images could be displayed – multiple tablets, projections (either into the shoe rack, or out onto the user – upside down of course, so that you can see it on yourself by looking down), photos on a roll. I’m sure that when we hear the next iteration on the 27th it will have progressed further.

The idea behind this came from the tour of the Park, led by Hugh (our Ranger), that the students did, and Hugh’s explanation of how one’s view is effectively teased and controlled by Brown in his design for the positioning of plants, trees and buildings.

Croome is all about looking: outside, the view is constantly changing as you see the Park and buildings from an ever-shifting perspective. As you walk from the lake towards the Court, it is right in front of you, looming ever larger as you approach. But then you come to the ‘river’ and are forced to walk parallel to the Court, your perspective shifting yet again, until you arrive at the position of the Chinese bridge and your view is framed by the handful of trees on the far side. Once inside, of course, you are inevitably drawn to the large windows, as the varied views of the Park outside are now framed by both the window frame itself, and the multiple frames of each pane of glass.

[I’m writing this on a train from Bristol to Nottingham via Birmingham and have just looked out the window to see the Malverns to the left. And there are the Cedars of Croome, distinct and visible above all the other trees.]

Thursday, 7 November 2013


I stayed up near Tamworth on Sunday night so that I could go to one of the Trust's 'sharing days', at Calke Abbey, between Burton-on-Trent and Loughborough. Some properties have been exploring the idea of Encounters, which is essentially live interpretation. This is being used at places like Carding MillClumber Park, Saltram. It's something that visitors seem to like a lot, as you'd expect - real people in costume who engage with visitors.

The most engaging presentation was done by people from the Eden ProjectNathanRamon and Di (aka Peggy), who told us about their pollinators. This is their form of live interpretation, and effectively it's everyone, all the time. They talked about being provocative in order to encourage visitors to strike up conversation. Provocative can mean simply starting to clean all the leaves on the plant with the smallest leaves, or creating characters that roam the site. If someone starts a conversation with you, you know that a) they're interested, and b) they speak English.

It's a long way from being bombarded with information, which was so well illustrated at the beginning of the day with a clip from Steve Coogan's The Trip, called How To Spoil a Beautiful View.

Other things they touched on were the importance of creating common ground with your audience and how character and costume tend to break down barriers. Interestingly, at Eden, people have to audition before their potential peers, and the person is found before the role, rather than the other way round. This then plays to the strengths of the individual. And a final point - magic requires planning.

Friday, 1 November 2013


No visiting other properties this week, but it didn't mean I was inside Croome Court all the time. Thursday morning I was outside, working with the Park and Gardens team - four of us spent a couple of hours removing an old fence at Westfield Farm, and creating this one in its place. I've been meaning to spend a morning with this team since I started, and it was great to be out in the fresh air, especially as most of the rest of my week was spent in meetings.

Tuesday we had the big programme planning meeting, with people from different parts of Croome, including four of the people who volunteer here, and NT consultants involved with the Redefined project. It was the first time we've all been in the same room together and was really useful in understanding how much is going on, and where we are trying to get to in terms of activity. We finished up with a very long wall chart showing what things will be going on over the next few years, with (unsurprisingly) more detail in 2014 than beyond. It is ambitious, but there should be something for everyone.

Wednesday we started on the shoes, with a group of third-year students from the creative digital media course at Worcester Uni. The project is going to be titled 'Soul to Sole'. There was also the sound designer who is working with us, Andrew Kristy, as well as the photographer Jack Nelson (who will be our overall project photographer), and digital curator and producer Clare Harris who set up The Cutting Room at Nottingham Playhouse.

On Thursday afternoon I met with Rachel and Al from Gloucester College to discuss both working with their students and the idea of having photography courses at Croome. As Croome seems to me to be all about looking and having one's perspective continually altered as you move around the Park or through the building, this seems to fit perfectly.