Sir Nicholas Serota, chair of Arts Council England and Philip Hygate, chair of the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (NAAONB), signed a landmark Memorandum of Understanding last Friday (23rd September). It represents their commitments to working together to nurture new links between arts and cultural organisations, and England’s 34 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).

Working in partnership under this Memorandum of Understanding means both organisations deliver on their own priorities, underpinned by joint ambitions to see more people engaging with culture and landscape, promoting opportunities, prosperity and wellbeing for rural communities, and contributing to conversations around tackling the climate emergency.

For years, AONB teams around the country have commissioned or partnered on awe-inspiring art installations and activities, and the Memorandum symbolises a step change in their commitment to partnering with culture organisations to develop high-quality, ambitious art that will reach and move people and communities across England.

In South Devon AONB there is a strong Arts strand running through the Life on the Edge project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The team are working with National Portfolio holders Doorstep Arts as a cultural partner, to reach new audiences and engage under-served communities. Other  partners include Exeter University, Villages in Action, Beyond Face, Dementia Friendly parishes, Devon Young Carers, The Box, Plymouth National Marine Park and Play Torbay.  As well as community art events the team will be commissioning annual large scale events including a touring theatre production,  AONBee trail and carnivals. 

Recognising the value of arts and cultural partnerships, the Tamar Valley AONB helped to establish, and continues to work closely with, Drawn to the Valley, a group of over 130 artists who draw their inspiration from the Tamar Valley landscape.

The Tamar Valley AONB team and Plymouth University’s Peninsula Arts also collaborated with international artist, Adam Chodzko, through the Tamar Project; a cultural initiative aimed at reconnecting communities with the River Tamar, which explored new ways of using this significant waterway. ‘Ghost’, a unique hand-crafted 22-foot wooden kayak, was used to take individuals from the Tamar Valley on a journey along the river, and the resulting series of paintings can be seen today in the Tamar Valley Centre.

An upcoming collaboration with Devon artist Sam Aspden will see ‘History Map’ exhibited in spring 2023.  Made with involvement from the local community, the large-scale Plant Dyed Map will be hand dyed from sustainably foraged plants and minerals - each square of colour telling a story of the natural landscape and mining heritage of the Tamar Valley. 

The Partnership Board of Tamar Valley AONB and Partnership Committee of South Devon AONB have signaled their commitment to creating greater links with arts organisations by endorsing the AONB Network’s Art in the Landscape Strategy. We are excited to see how the project develops nationally and locally over the coming years and we will be building greater links with our local cultural organisations.

Sir Nicholas Serota, chair of Arts Council England said: “The natural environment has inspired artists and writers through the ages. Today, awareness of our environment feeds our imagination, greatly benefits our wellbeing, and broadens our understanding of the climate challenges we face.

“The signing represents further ambitions to deepen our appreciation and engagement with England’s rural landscapes, and their surrounding communities. Reflected through the Arts Council’s commitment to environmental responsibility, this Memorandum highlights the important, crucial connection between culture and the landscape.”

Philip Hygate, chair of the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty said: “England’s 34 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are deeply committed to working with art and culture organisations. We have seen that when AONB Partnerships and artists come together, the results add up to far more than the sum of their parts, creating experiences that will live long in people’s memories. This agreement with Arts Council England provides a framework for us to do more of this invaluable work and enable more people to develop a relationship with the landscapes on their own terms.”