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‘School Fields for Mid-Sussex’: plants and the arts meet at the Millennium Seed Bank

19 July 2013

Photo by Susan Allan


Imagine a world renowned botanic garden displaying an art installation inspired by a famous sculptor and created by more than a thousand young people. This incredible vision has become a reality at Wakehurst Place, Kew through an innovative project: the ‘School Fields for Mid-Sussex’.

From 23 July to early September a crowd of 2000 small clay figures will be displayed next to the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place in Sussex. Approximately 1350 pupils aged between 2 and 19 years, some with profound and multiple learning difficulties, joined their forces to create this piece of collective art based on Antony Gormley’s ‘Field’.

Coming from four schools in Burgess Hill, Sussex, all pupils no matter their age or ability were able to shape the simple figure made from clay. This project was largely inspired by Antony Gormley’s work but had also strong links with the local area of the schools and the work of the Millennium Seed Bank. In particular the town of the schools, Burgess Hill, was founded on the pottery industry which used the clay soil of its surroundings, and one of the schools was actually built on the site of a pottery. Also, importantly, each child was given a handful of clay to mould into a figure and a seed or plant form to use to create an impression on their sculpture, making a connection with the MSB and with their own local green spaces.

Susan Allan, School & Family Co-ordinator at Wakehurst said “This is a wonderful project for us to host as it demonstrates many interesting links including those between the schools and the learning programme here; between the clay from the earth and the plants which grow in it and between the seeds and the Millennium Seed Bank.  Our visitors will hopefully be as intrigued by the hard work and creativity of the children as we are.”

And here is how the story went:

  • NADFAS (The National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies), a leading arts charity, and Jayne Rudge the teacher in charge of the project (based at Woodlands Meed school) came up with the idea of the art installation.
  • NADFAS approached Wakehurst Place to see if they would be willing to participate in a project which they were funding with 4 local schools in Burgess Hill, Sussex.  They approached Wakehurst as a venue as two of the schools already regularly visit Wakehurst, and the project team knew that Wakehurst would provide the perfect setting for the figures to be displayed.
  • At the same time the project coordinator approached Gormley and asked whether he would allow the use of his idea and they were delighted when he responded giving them the go ahead.
  • The children of the four Burgess Hill schools used clay and followed instructions similar to those used by Gormley during his projects in order to create their own individual sculptures. The figures were then fired to make them durable for outdoor conditions.
  • The collective art is now displayed at Wakehurst Place and at the end of the installation the figures will be distributed back to the schools encouraging an understanding and appreciation of the inclusive community that the schools promote.
This project is an excellent example of how plants and art can meet in a botanic garden. This project is also an example of how a botanic garden can become the stage to showcase a collective piece of work by young people of all ages and abilities. We hope this story will spark the creative minds of other gardens around the world who will see the potential of working through the arts with their local community.  

We encourage you to read more about Antony Gormley’s artwork ‘Field’ and you can also find out how to visit Wakehurst Place and experience firsthand this very special piece of art.

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