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Arts Council England and National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty sign landmark Memorandum of Understanding

Red, white, blue, yellow and green globe shaped lights among the trees (suspended on rails just above the wooldand leaf covered floor ), lighting up the dark wooded area with a mesmerising colourful glow.

The Power of Art experimental research installation by Squidsoup, Cotswolds, 2022. ©Russell Sach

Sir Nicholas Serota, chair of Arts Council England and Philip Hygate, chair of the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (NAAONB), have today signed a landmark Memorandum of Understanding. 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 the Cotswolds, we are delighted to be collaborating with Squidsoup on The Power of Art – an experimental light installation – exploring technology, energy, and a sense of place.

The Power of Art is being funded by Stockton International Riverside Festival, and Arts Council England. Working with industry partner, Cleevely, this experiment will explore ways to power large scale light works off-grid with renewable energy. Cleevely have provided electric car batteries which have reached end-of-life status in vehicles, but could still have a use elsewhere.

Power has always been a precious commodity, and in 2022, events made this point clearer than it has been for decades. This project explores ways for renewable energy to be harnessed to power digital artworks like these, and in so doing, freeing them from previous constraints.

The Power of Art has been temporarily installed in a secret woodland location in the Cotswolds. Fifty illuminated orbs are powered by energy harvested through solar panels charging two second hand electric car batteries. The trial, testing the sustainability of the saved energy, uses a twelve minute performance cycle of pulses and glows set to a soundtrack, in order to see how long the work can sustain itself, to explore the feasibility of larger energy-saving installations, and to assess the reduction of power leakage in the conversion from kilowatt to dc voltage.

The Board of the Cotswolds National Landscape has signalled its 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 this work develops nationally and locally over the coming years and we will be building greater links with our local cultural organisations.

The signing is hosted by Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership at Samphire Hoe Nature Reserve, as part of AONB’s Salt + EARTH: Festival of Landscape, Seascape and the Environment. The festival will see artists, creatives and scientists explore everything from geography to geology, sounds to sculptures, food to Deep Time. The festival is an exemplar of how when art, science and landscape come together, our understanding is deepened, but more importantly, our enjoyment and curiosity is fired.

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.

“Today’s 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.”