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Art Directors Statement

When I became Arts Development Officer at Basildon District Council I was raring to go in what I thought was a community in need of cultural and creative input. It’s fair to say that I was proved wrong. Basildon has a central theatre, a thriving Arts Trust, several museums, a number of talented artists, and had even funded a mini sculpture trail in the past. I quickly revised my preconceptions realising that here was a ‘new town’, receptive to new ideas.

My early perception of Basildon is an example of what I deem to be Basildon’s greatest problem from a national perspective - its image. Basildon does not have delusions of a grandeur, nor does it suffer from class issues. It is a New Town that benefits from open spaces, lots of trees, and speaking as a Londoner –fresh air! We found conversely that Basildon sees London in a somewhat Dickensian light – dank, dirty and a bit dangerous, as is apparent from some of the children’s comments in this book. I had just graduated from the Royal College of Art, an experience that opened up unimaginable creative horizons, and I’d decided I wanted to somehow ‘appropriate’ my experiences and artistic practice into the community if at all possible – merging innovative creativity within the institutions of mainstream education - and involving as many young people as possible. Wat Tyler Country Park was especially receptive to new horizons. It took me a while to come upon the place, and when I did it was a real revelation. Robert Bloomfield’s photography represented here will, I hope, give you a flavour of that revelation. It endeavours to create an ‘encounter’ with the park and its eclectic character of pillbox and pylons, marshland and modern art, so uniquely of our times.

With the idea of the sculpture park in place and with the full backing of the Countryside Services, funding from the Big Lottery, Essex County Council and the Cleanaway Pitsea Marshes Trust came rapidly. We were aware of the precedents – I’d spent my student days earning extra income by riding around on a quad bike cleaning up the Henry Moores in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Closer to hand, other ‘new towns’ had been there before us – Harlow led the way with a remarkable collection of sculpture from the 1950’s including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Elisabeth Frink and Helen Chadwick. And more recently Gunpowder Park in the nearby Lee Valley, who were enormously helpful with their time and advice in our own more modest project, has been significant in the development and recognition of public art in an environmental context.

Regarding the selection of artists, people kept asking me about site specificity. I question site specificity, it jars on me. I’m not as interested in that as I am interested in the pieces being interactively specific, as being thought-inspiringly specific. But the educational strand was enormously important– over and above the general aims of art education we wanted local schoolchildren to feel a sense of ownership of the sculptures. What mattered most was that the artists we selected were going to co-create with schoolchildren.

I genuinely feel honoured to have had the opportunity to lead on such an innovative project. It was a huge undertaking that required patience, commitment and support from many sectors of the local community.

Thank you to all those who, in the words of Frank Lloyd Wright, with their dedication, hard work and unremitting devotion made Sculpture at Wat Tyler happen. I hope you enjoy it.

Tim Balogun
Artistic Director
Sculpture at Wat Tyler

Sculpture Trail at Wat Tyler Country Park

From a personal point of view

I started my career at Wat Tyler ten years ago, at a time when the park was already a popular destination for the local community. It’s contrast of habitats offered a diversity of wildlife for those seeking peace and tranquillity and built facilities such as the Motorboat Museum, miniature railway, retail craft workshops and marina appealed to wide range of other visitors. Sculpture, however, were not in prospect and coming from a fairly ‘purist’ background in nature conservation, I confess that they were never likely to have been initiated by me!

When I was approached by the Council’s Arts Development Officer in 2006, with a proposal to locate modern sculpture at Wat Tyler, it was the connection with local schools and the on-going educational potential of the project that struck a chord. By that time, we had in place a very low-key series of sculptures depicting the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, including an artist’s impression of Wat Tyler himself. The historic context had been the appeal in this case, but art for arts sake – that was something else!

Thinking back, I was probably quite obstructive to the proposals initially, and for good reason. Wat Tyler Country Park is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its unique assemblage of wildlife, so anything that might impact on the integrity of this wasn’t going to win my vote. Also, by 2002 the park had an enhanced range of activities, including very popular and challenging Adventure Play Areas, and in an increasingly risk-averse culture it might have been seen as irresponsible to introduce additional ‘climbing frames’ in the form of sculptures to the mix. Although the area of the park is 125 acres, it is only the relatively narrow belt of non-SSSI land either side of the access road that contains the buildings and activities, so with the addition of large sculptures, the place could have got a bit overcrowded.

In retrospect, I’m satisfied that taking the role of ‘Mr Nimby’ was the right contrast to the infectious enthusiasm of the Arts Development Officer and his team. I think the balanced view has produced an interesting selection of sculptures and their location, in most cases, has been inspirational. I did insist that each artist produce a computer image of their work, superimposed on a notional area of the park where they envisaged it being located. This proved invaluable for a philistine like me and was the final bit of evidence that I needed in my cultural journey to enlightenment!

I sincerely hope that the early interest and curiosity in the sculpture trail continues for many years. With the project plans for major heritage improvements to the whole park now in the delivery phase, the expectation is that visitor numbers will expand from their current level of 260,000 per annum to around 350,000 within three years of completion. That’s a big potential audience to spread the word about the sculpture trail and to help advertise Wat Tyler as a regional ‘destination of choice’.

Steve Prewer
Open Spaces Manager January, 2008

Wat Tyler Country Park

Image: Robert Bloomfield