Saturday, 1 November 2003

To Trust or not to Trust

My time on the board of Arts and Media Training will finally be up after an extended and very rewarding 11 years. Having had a great deal of fun (yup, that's the word I'd choose) recruiting some extraordinarily talented new board members to join the still fresh and fabulous existing Directors, my time as Chair comes to an end in April 2004. So what next? Conscious that I could use the time for more reading, walking, dog patting or cultural enlightenment I am seriously looking instead at an alternative non-executive role. It kind of gets in the blood. But who with? Arts and Business have a Board Bank service to broker the right skills with the right organisation, so that's one route, but what about extending slowly, carefully and with trepidation into a new field? What about inveigling ones way into the huge beasty that is the National Trust? These days (and this is a very new development) places on the regional committees are advertised to all National Trust members, and you fill out an application which is very reminiscent of any job application you will have ever completed. And rather than referees you need three nominees, all of whom must also be members. In the West Midlands they are looking for 3 or 4 new committee members, and are interviewing 12 self-selecting bods, including myself.
Its the outdoorsy bits that get me; walking coastal paths, woodlands and beaches in the care of the NT is always a seriously appreciated pleasure, and Mopsa is always welcomed and able to get through the sensibly designed stiles and gates. The scourge of creeping commercialism is kept away from sites of natural beauty which are kept raw and accessible, balancing protection with access. Their own souvenir shops are only a minor irritant with their homogeneity firmly rooted in uppermiddleclass stereotype (yes, I think it deserves a singular description), and even so I do love the chocolate ice cream served in Heddon Valley, Devon. The gardens, the deerparks, the rarebreeds and all that countryside stuff has me all stirred up with positives, but I can't say the same for the properties, or at least how they are displayed and offered up. The Guardian ran a strong piece on how the art was displayed by the NT, and my recent visit to Attingham Park would support this blast of criticism; the rooms are so dark that you can barely see the outline of what might be a tantalising piece of beauty or a slab of dross. The many guides are charming, knowledgeable, articulate and too everpresent, and I cannot like the roped off approach that in one fell swoop diminishes the size and feel of the rooms and stops you with equally everpresent labels from touching anything, even solid marble-topped tables that could surely take the strain. However, I think we are supremely lucky in having the NT, and I am very curious to know what it would be like from the inside looking out.

Mopsas first sculpture trail

It's been months since my last blog and I can only blame a surfeit of work for that, but it hasn't just been all work and no play. To my delight, public art seems to be playing an ever increasing role in my professional life. Our recent visit to the Tyrebagger Sculpture Trail for a new client meant four hours of strolling through the Aberdeenshire heather and under the forest canopy in deliciously warm late summer to view the whole trail of twenty sculptures including the then about to be launched and fabulous new piece (Tyrebagger Circle) by Gavin Scobie. You enter a gap in the forest to see what might be an ancient wooden temple in a surprisingly gleaming new state, but with no apparent means of entry. As you circle around it, a narrowish slit enables you to squeeze into the high-sided cylinder to reveal a roofless room that has all the peace and calmness of a space intended for nothing less than contemplation. There are three magnificently raw, simple and substantial seat blocks which allow you to sit and look up into the forest, or down to the flickering shadows of leaves and branches. You are completely enclosed and simultaneously part of the whole forest. A magnificent experience.

Back at home, jealous of the Aberdonian dogwalkers daily arts-rich walking possibilities, I took Mopsa to Witley Court to see the Jerwood Sculpture Park - now moved to Ragley (unfortunately neither website does justice to the sculptures). A very different experience this time with just ten sculptures in a small woodland area - you can see the next piece pretty much as soon as you leave the previous one, unlike the journey of discovery approach at Tyrebagger. They have some of the biggest names on show: Lynn Chadwick, Anthony Gormley, Elizabeth Frink, and all the pieces are based on the human figure, so although some of the individual pieces were wonderful the overly thematic approach made the total experience rather boring - not enough of the unexpected or anticipation of discovery. I had to ask the staff in the visitor centre, who by the way loved Mopsa, for info on the sculptures. They gave me a leaflet that they kept behind the counter, with a scrappy photocopied A4 map of where the sculptures and other features of the site were located which they gave out only on request. You enter and exit the site through the visitor centre and on my way out I asked for a second leaflet on the sculptures to send to a colleague and the staff explained that they don't put them out on display as people just put them in the bin, but that as I was interested, yes of course I could have another copy. So unless you are committed to finding out about the sculptures or know they are there, there is no casual way of picking up the info, although you cannot miss the sculptures themselves as you walk to Witley Court. We sat outside - coats firmly zipped right up - and had a delicious cheese on toast at the tea room - before going back to the Court to watch the fountains whoosh spectacularly into action.