Art Invasion in Cumbria

Billed as an”art invasion”, Europe’s biggest and most adventurous outdoor arts festival, FRED, showcased the work of 80 artists in some 50 different locations across Cumbria. Becky Daniel, her friend Kate and their eleven year old daughters, Maya and Alice, headed north this autumn to investigate.

We stayed at Hawkshead Youth Hostel by Esthwaite Lake. From Coniston village, we followed a gushing stream along the Coppermines Valley track to find our first Outdoor Arts Project- Hefted by Charlie Wells.

Five towers of fluorescent painted rocks in the middle of a fast flowing stream made a shocking contrast to the mountainous backdrop. The cairns, reminiscent of golden Buddhist stupas, provoked us to contemplate the place of humans within nature- but our daughters just liked them because they were ‘weird’ and went off to have a lovely time paddling!

Next on our art hit list was a disused caravan at Faeryland Tea Rooms on the shores of Grasmere. Rick, the venue’s amiable owner, told us that the installation had really got people talking. A notice stuck inside the caravan door explained that, until recently, it had been inhabited by a mysterious man called Millican. Teresa Gillespie, the artist, filled the space with fragmented clues about the missing man’s life. You opened the door, climbed in and poked about the interior, piecing together evidence: a real hands-on experience, perfect for children.

Our third artistic adventure was at Far Sawrey, the village near Hill Top ‘Beatrix Potter’s home. We collected MP3 players and leaflets from the friendly folk at Sawrey Stores and set off along a lane that led across farm land to Moss Eccles Tarn. Local artist, Brian Eccleshall, uncovered a previously unknown sculpture trail. Strategically placed mundane objects made this guided walk absurdly tongue-in-cheek in the context of the art world but made us all laugh out loud.

FRED was a wholly positive and enjoyable trip. It gave us a good reason to encourage Maya and Alice to enjoy the great outdoors and walk up steep hills. We went to fantastic places we would otherwise have missed. It made us adults contemplate and have meaningful discussions! I only wish that we had had time to see more. We missed out on thousands of sand castles on St Bees beach, sculptures of famous buildings in Great Langdale made out of twigs and sheep pooh and a floating sauna on Ullswater. The immense and natural beauty of the autumnal landscape and the scope for bicycle rides and boating made this a really memorable feel-good weekend.
“FRED has been going for four years now,” said one of the team’s co-ordinators.”We choose works that are thought-provoking, funny, impressive, subtle, original, political, entertaining and more. We’re trying to reach out and show that contemporary art doesn’t have to be in a gallery.”

Steve Messam, the artist responsible for Beached said: “About 70 volunteers of all ages came from as far away as London, Bristol and Scotland to spend time building castles. The final piece was over 150 metres long with an estimated 3,500 sandcastles, each with a hand-made red flag. Everyone, without exception, thought the piece was stunning.”

The festival is a wonderful way to bring people together. Tens of thousands have been to see the art installations over the fortnight. Feedback from everyone we spoke to over the weekend, whether local, visitor or artist, was always very positive. What an inspiring idea -innovative outdoors art that makes you think, is free to attend and appeals to both young people and adults. I will certainly be making a date with FRED in next year’s diary.


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