Creative Reflections: A Synthesis workshop

18 November 2022 – RSA House, 8 John Adam St, London

There is a growing volume of research demonstrating how arts-based research can contribute transformative agendas to landscape decisions, including issues such as creative thinking, fostering empathy, developing metaphors, embracing uncertainty, and opening up deliberations. The AALERT 4DM project was funded by AHRC and the Landscape Decisions programme to explore and enhance understanding of these contributions. 

The Creative Reflections workshop will reflect on our experiences throughout the project alongside other national and international perspectives. It aims to enhance our understanding of the role of arts research and practice in landscape decisions and explore how creative approaches can be incorporated into policy and practice. We interpreted landscape decision making in the broadest way ranging from individuals to policy development and decisions made in different sorts of institutions.

This is a free hybrid event, and spaces will be filled-up on a first-come-first-served basis. Click here to register. Make sure you are registered for the right, in-person or on-line, format. 

We have a limited budget for covering travel expenses. Priority will be given to participants with low budgets and the need to travel long distances – to enquire, email 

Preliminary Programme

09.00 – 09:45 GMT     Registration and coffee

09:45 – 11:20 GMT     Session 1: Reflections Part I (1 hour 35 mins)

10:00 – Introduction to the event and housekeeping (5mins)
                AALERT team
10:05 – AALERT 4DM scope, experience, reflections (15 mins + 5 mins Q&A)
                Eirini Saratsi & Tim Acott
10:20 – Other perspectives: 4 papers (15 mins per paper +10 mins Q&A)
               Jon Bridge, David Edwards, Chris Fremantle, Simon Read 

11:35 – 11:50 GMT     Refreshment break (15 mins)

11:50 – 13:15 GMT     Session 1: Reflections Part II (1.25 hours)

11:50 – Other perspectives: 5 papers (15 mins per paper + 10 mins Q&A)
               Ewan Allinson, Jenna Ashton, Bram Thomas Arnold, Harriet & Rob Fraser,
               Andrew Howe

13:15 – 14:00 GMT     Lunch (45 minutes)

14:00 – 15:10 GMT     Session 2: Artistic practice, Sustainability,
                                    Policy (1h 10 min)

14:00 – Short talks: Arts Organisations, Policy, Communities (30 mins incl
                Dave Pritchard (RCN), Cordelia Spalding (NE), Martin Phillips (LD) 

14:30 – International Keynote: Ecoart, Ecocide and Policy change (30 mins incl
               Aviva Rahmani  (
15:00 – Discussion

15:10 – 15:20 GMT     Refreshment break (10 mins)

15:20 – 17:00 GMT     Session 3 Discussion and critical reflections (1h 40 min)

15:20 – Small group discussions and feedback to the room (50 mins)
                To discuss key points and suggestions forward
16:10 – Panel Discussion open to the audience (40 mins)
                Panellist: Natural England (rep TBC), Forest Research (David Edwards), Aviva Rahmani,
                 Victoria Leslie, AALERT (rep TBC)
16:50 – Summing up and conclusions (10 mins)
                The AALERT team

AALERT video on Display throughout the day

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Session 1, Parts I & II – in alphabetical order of first author’s name

Allinson, Ewan & Stephen Pritchard: The Subversive Potential of Place-based Governance: Two insiders’ views on adapting top-down policy-schemes to give local people ownership over the design and delivery of their own local priorities

This paper tells the story of how £4.5 million was spent between 2010 and 2019 in the western half of Co. Durham in northern England in a way which demonstrably altered decision-making dynamics at the local level and delivered long-lasting value for money with respect to positive outcomes for people and place. The money spent came courtesy of two successive place-based partnerships, one deriving from a well-established landscape-policy initiative – the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Landscape Partnership programme, the other being a trial of a cultural-policy initiative called the Great Place Scheme, first announced in the UK government’s Culture White Paper of 2016 and also funded from national lottery funds. As leading protagonists of the subversion in question, readers will rightly scrutinise our claims about the success of the place-based, arts-driven, partnership-working model we developed over ten years. To address the inevitability of talking-up our collective achievements, we draw upon external sources, including that of the external evaluator and of the various regional and national award committees whose ‘objectivity’ can be depended upon, as well as drawing upon feedback from the public and reports from stakeholder groups.

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Arnold, Bram Thomas: Production and Consumption in Bibliotherapy for the Anthropocene and Agri/culture 2.0.

 This paper will span a timeline from the online meeting Art, Ecology, Emergency: Sustaining Practice, coordinated by the Eden Project that took place under lockdown in 2020, through to the summer of 2021 and an event in a series of fields on the Lizard in Cornwall. Agri/culture 2.0 was initially the title of a report commissioned by Kestle Barton, Rural Centre for Contemporary Arts, to explore how the institution could incorporate their 56 acres of farmland into collaborative cultural production with their Gallery. Bram Thomas Arnold presented iterations of his work Bibliotherapy for the Anthropocene as part of Art, Ecology, Emergency: Sustaining Practice and subsequently at Kestle Barton.

This paper will draw on the original research the collective produced for Kestle Barton and these two iterations of Arnold’s Bibliotherapy for the Anthropocene, which is a performance in the guise of a reading group, a cross between a Quaker meeting and a reconvening of the Dead Poets Society. This paper will be presented in the format developed by Arnold for Bibliotherapy for the Anthropocene: a series of texts presented as strata’s that deepen and interweave conversations between practice and research, landscape and place, consumption and production: Through this process, this paper will evidence how arts practices that are cyclical and performative can embed creativity and democracy into conversations taking place in and around landscape decision making.

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Ashton, Jenna: Our Green and Pleasant Land: Re-imagining place and climate action through storytelling

For this paper, I analyse the role and methods of place-based folk arts and socially engaged practices in offering a space of imagination and ritual – for residents, policymakers, and local authority workers – for evolving and sustaining post-industrial urban communities under climate change. I offer reflection and analysis from the interdisciplinary project, “Community Climate Resilience through Folk Pageantry”, funded via the UK Climate Resilience Programme (2020-2023). The project is embedded in the ward of Miles Platting and Newton Heath(Manchester, UK), working with residents and partners to create a day celebration with an approx. 80min scheduled and timed community and climate-themed Pageant at its core. An underserved low-income area, Miles Platting and Newton Heath was previously at the heart of the city’s industrial productivity. Its neighbourhoods have witnessed extreme loss of working class cultural spaces, arts and religious traditions, social housing, infrastructure, and green places for wildlife and people. Through storytelling and re-enchantment of place, we aim to foreground site-specific community knowledge and creativity for shaping landscape and environmental decision-making.

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Bridge, Jonathan with Harriet Tarlo and Julia Udall: Mapping interfaces: collaborative cross-disciplinary explorations of the landscapes of decision-making

Decision-making at a landscape scale is often dominated by a small number of expert stakeholders, scrutinised by those with agency and energy to do so, but largely exclusive of many others who live and act in and on the landscape. Landscape is thus continually made and remade by all its participants, human and more-than-human, past and present – often to the frustration of ‘decision-makers’. In this paper we reflect on discussions and micro-scale practice-research interventions conducted through the AHRC HydroSpheres research network. We explore the roles of collaborative and co-produced work in the arts and humanities to map and give representation to the complex, often hidden landscapes of imagination, mediation and memory from which the physical landscape emerges. Through conversations with landscape and environmental practitioners working in the Upper Don catchment, South Yorkshire, we develop a typology of ways in which such co-produced interventions may be used to engage and inform future decision-making in increasingly stressed and changing landscapes.

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Edwards, David with Chris Fremantle, and Laura Meagher: How artists influence landscape decisions: enriching pathways to impact

This paper argues that we need to broaden our notions of ‘research’, ‘knowledge’, ‘evidence’, ‘decision-making’ and ‘impact’ to better understand how artists contribute to interdisciplinary landscape research. Pathways to impact are typically conceived as linear processes of dissemination that generate a direct ‘instrumental impact’ on decision-making,  itself imagined as a single moment of authoritative choice, with a clear separation of facts from values, guided by neutral organisations who gather all the necessary evidence. Recent policy research challenges this perspective, noting the importance of re-framing problems, for example, in ways that can then lead to changes in decisions and actions. This expands the range of possibilities for understanding the roles of artistic intervention. Many artists working in the public sphere resist instrumentalization but nevertheless generate considerable ‘conceptual impact’ by changing how people think and feel. At their most transformative, artworks and related engagement activities can shape the wider social discourse in which policymakers and land managers operate, influencing how problems are framed and solutions identified, sometimes in unpredictable ways. When they conduct research themselves, artists also generate new knowledge. We outline elements of a framework that seeks to do justice to the contributions that artists can make, drawing from diverse examples that consider alternative ways to understand the meaning and impact of landscape research.  In so doing, we hope to draw upon and expand upon existing practical guidance for conducting (and evaluating) interdisciplinary collaborations between natural and social scientists and artists when tackling complex, holistic problems such as those arising in landscape research.

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Fraser Harriet and Rob Fraser: Making Sense of Here: revealing multiple narratives of place through artistic process, and seeking pathways to integrate artists’ perspectives and methods into research and multi-agency decision making.

 The widely celebrated English Lake District, a National Park and World Heritage Site, embraces complexity and tension. Many people feel ‘ownership’ and multiple value systems exist here, but not all voices are equitably considered in a way that could improve decision making. Farmers, landowners, policy makers, ecologists, residents, tourists and businesses have vested interests, as do the land and non-human inhabitants, although these are too often ‘done to’. In this paper, we will reflect on ‘Sense of Here’ (2018-2020) which built on a decade of our practice in this region: using walking, poetry, photography, film and installations, working with local experts and general public, to reveal under-acknowledged narratives, to collect ‘Data of the Heart’, and to shift patterns of listening within and between interest groups. To address challenges that emerged – how to bring multiple viewpoints meaningfully into improved decision-making processes with artists integrated into research teams – we established the multi-artist PLACE Collective within the UK Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas in 2021. Our paper will discuss progress and insights so far.

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Fremantle, Chris et al: What does indeterminacy, uncertainty and risk mean in landscape research? A report on a multidisciplinary programme of events.

Indeterminacy and uncertainty are increasingly significant factors in the accelerating climate and biodiversity changes/crises. Over a series of discursive events a multidisciplinary group of environment-focused researchers across arts, humanities, social & natural sciences, law and economics have explored the values, meanings and ways of working with indeterminacy and uncertainty. This directly addresses how research interacts with landscape decision-making. Where landscapes are often planned and managed to create very specific results in, for example, economic production, biodiversity or visual qualities, art practice often instigates processes with flexible and sometimes unclear boundaries and outcomes that may be ambiguous or open to widely differing interpretation. The proposed paper is a report on the various approaches to indeterminacy/uncertainty as presented in the first two sessions with reflections on points of connection and difference resulting from a third session. It will highlight opportunities for future collaborative research towards potential inter-/trans-disciplinary initiatives.

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Howe, Andrew with Kim V. Goldsmith – Mosses and Marshes: Voices, Values, Action

Over three years, artists Andrew Howe (UK) and Kim V. Goldsmith (Australia) invested in establishing collaborative relationships with other artists, land managers, environmental specialists and local communities to explore new perspectives and thinking about the future of the internationally significant wetlands, Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses (UK) and the Macquarie Marshes (Australia) — rare habitats vital for combating climate change and supporting biodiversity. The holistic approach of the Mosses and Marshes project aims to enable multiple tangible and intangible values to be considered, while using art to transform thinking about a place and changing environment, and to imagine how interdependence between humans, land and ecosystems might build sustainability. Arts events, site interventions, community engagement and discussion invite challenge, reframe questions and provide focal points for conversations across disciplines and cultures. The international exchange puts each site into new context and brings fresh perspectives, allowing site specificities and shared commonalities to assert themselves.

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Read, Simon: The covert and overt role of the arts in landscape partnership

It is frequently assumed that the role an artist serves in any management partnership is secondary to the decision-making process, informing it, illustrating it explaining it, articulating it but never bringing a hitherto unconsidered dimension to the discussion. This is not an argument for the inclusion of the arts as a known and predetermined entity, but more that they represent a community of thought and method that have a capacity to expand the scope of a discussion, increase contextual awareness and its relevance to a broader public. The essential contribution for me  lies in the discursive process that art can bring to a partnership and not so much its product.  Through this essay, I wish to discuss the several skills that artists employ when operating in a public environment and the and the strategies, both covert and overt that they demand to ensure an integrated approach to policy. Using case study examples from projects conducted in the landscape, I will discuss levels of transparency and subterfuge that an artist may transit from direct aesthetic intervention to academic research the implementation of governance and decision-making, and on the ground consultancy in to influence the process of governance of landscape.

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Session 2, Short talks

Dave Pritchard: International environmental governance – entry-points for arts-led perspectives
The Ramsar Culture Network

This short contribution will signpost some of the decision-making frameworks on landscape and ecology in the UN and the Council of Europe, which define (implicitly or explicitly) some form of official role, at the intergovernmental level, for the kinds of values that may be best advanced by arts-led perspectives.  If this door is open, how may it be pushed wider?

Cordelia Spalding: Reviewing priorities and challenges; Exploring new opportunities
Natural England

Natural England is constantly looking for opportunities to progress dialogue on landscape and landscape change. The creative approaches in all their guises are seen as valuable contributors to this wider discussion and offer an opportunity to build empathy and understanding. This short talk opens up an opportunity to explore access points and ways forward.

Martin Phillips 
Landscape Decisions Programme

Abstract to follow soon 

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Session 2, International Keynote

Aviva Rahmani – Ecoart, Ecocide and Policy

We are accustomed to linear, simplistic delusions that there are top-down, rigidly quick-fixes accountable not to the Earth or ourselves but to accountants and a status quo. But art always observes and can uniquely challenge our assumptions about life.

As a child of parents who settled in Palestine under British rule at the turn of the last century, I have long followed the UK’s complex relationships between land and colonialism. The UK has a paradoxical, fascinating and storied relationship between monarchy and progressive land management, from hedgerows to the Rambling movement to Polly Higgins’ drive to make ecocide an accountable crime to current movements for rewilding.

I will present how my trigger point theory might be a means for ecoart to address and wrestle with chaotic relationships to land and human survival and reveal scalable solutions to our present perils, including the jurisprudence of policymaking. Trigger point theory is a set of rules to analyze the constantly changing relationships between agents in complex adaptive systems, grounded in principles of change from quantum mechanics to effect change. Using case studies from my own work, I will describe that process.

Twenty years ago, I had a chance to observe how rotating grazing protocols conserved soil health in Wales. In 2021, as part of a collaborative virtual residency with Arts Cabinet, and the modeler Olivia Haas at Kings College, we identified patterns in how fire might be communicating important ecosystem information. Ecoart is an interdisciplinary, collaborative means to consider our ecosystems.

Let’s talk!

Publications by Aviva Rahmani

“Divining Chaos; the Autobiography of An Idea,” 
Order directly from New Village Press via New York University Press and Ordering in Europe
“Ecoart in Action”
Order directly from New Village Press via New York University Press and Ordering in Europe

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