Art and environmental science come together in a new project called Beauty & Utility that explores a vital but sometimes overlooked part of Britain’s ecosystem, floodplain meadows.
Contemporary art charity Meadow Arts has commissioned three artists from its Creative Practitioner network to create a series of projects that engage with the community, reflect the seasons and capture the changing environmental conditions and biodiversity of Avon Meadows Community Wetlands in Pershore, Worcestershire. The project is a new partnership with the
Floodplain Meadows Partnership hosted by the Open University, School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, and has been running throughout the seasons from December 2020 through to Summer 2021.The artworks are intended to be a ‘love letter’ to the site and the wider notions of beauty and utility associated with the ancient use of floodplain meadows in managing flood water, providing sustainable land management and community benefit.
The first artist to work at the site over the winter period is Andrew Howe, who is teaching people how to create their own paper from reeds and other plant materials, in online workshops during the winter lockdown. In his blog, he writes, “I’m thrilled to be one of three creative practitioners commissioned by Meadow Arts to make an artwork and to work with community groups and schools, responding to the seasons and changing environment at Avon Meadows in Pershore.”
Full of wildflowers, grasses, tall reeds and bulrushes, plant life, birds, insects and animals, the meadow and wetland at Avon Meadows was established in 2008 by Pershore Town Council and Wychavon District Council and is supported by a local volunteer group – the Friends of Avon Meadows. It covers an area of 24 hectares beside the River Avon and, as it is only a five-minute walk from the town centre, it’s well used by the residents of the town. Visitors can get up close to the local wildlife via a boardwalk that runs through the centre of the wetland and it takes surface water from the nearby residences and provides a natural means of improving the water quality before it enters the river. The majority of the site is a meadow, cut every year to remove the hay, and then grazed afterwards by sheep. The Friends of Avon Meadows and Wychavon District Council are currently restoring the meadow to its former glory by introducing hay containing seeds (green hay) from a nearby wildflower meadow. So every year, new wildflowers should be visible on the site.
Melanie Woodhead, the second artist to take part in the project, will experiment with photography and building mini-environments inside cloches during the spring. Melanie explains her motivation, “I am excited to be co-creating with the community of Avon Meadows and exploring the commonalities and interdependence of the humans and non-humans sharing the space. Using digital and alternative photographic practices and site-specific installation I want to capture the amazing biodiversity of these floodplain meadows during spring, to highlight the beauty and utility of this wetland.”
In the summer, land artist Kate Raggett will lead community walks to create outdoor artworks using found materials from the site. Kate will also create a large-scale piece of land art in response to Avon Meadows that will be photographed from above.
Meadow Arts is a contemporary arts organisation and charity in the rural West Midlands, producing unique contemporary art projects in unusual places, including large-scale exhibitions, the commissioning of new artworks and events. The small team works with highly regarded heritage buildings, historic sites and landscapes or public spaces to bring new audiences to the contemporary visual arts, in areas where few other opportunities exist. The Beauty & Utility project is the first time that they have worked with The Floodplain Meadows Partnership, a chance to fulfil long held ambitions to create work that responds to the natural environment and engages local communities with it through art projects.
The Floodplain Meadows Partnership brings together scientists and practitioners to develop understanding based on sound science of how to manage, restore and create species rich seasonally inundated floodplain grasslands and the multiple benefits they provide.
An online Eco-printing workshop with Andrew Howe takes place on Instagram at 2pm on 13 March – @MeadowArts
Find out more about Beauty and Utility on the Meadow Arts website