Fiona at Artlands

Fiona Boundy is curator and producer at Artlands North Kent, an organisation offering a programme of contemporary art commissions that take place in public spaces and explore north Kent’s identity. The pieces create connections, encourage innovation and respond to the region’s unique qualities – its landscapes, heritage and people.

Artlands is a not-for-profit organisation that was formed in 2009 in response to significant change and regeneration taking place throughout north Kent. It aims to deliver world-class, public realm commissions, which encourage ambition, excellence, risk and innovation and offer significant professional development opportunities for artists taking part. The organisation wants to engage new audiences in inspirational art projects and improve the quality of life for new and existing communities by providing opportunities to participate in outstanding cultural programmes. Artlands hopes to support economic development by bringing additional funding to north Kent, attracting businesses and tourists to the area, and providing opportunities for skills development and training. Artlands’ approach places an emphasis on collaboration and partnership working in order to share resources, knowledge and expertise.

Artlands, which is part of Greening the Gateway Kent and Medway and is accountable to Medway Council, has delivered three large-scale projects in the last two years, one each in Sittingbourne, Gravesend and Dartford, in collaboration with a number of authorities.

Last autumn in Sittingbourne, Artlands delivered Sleepers Awake by Heather and Ivan Morison, a magical and magnificent installation that saw a giant, illuminated floating “night sun” rise over newly developed Milton Creek Country Park every night at dusk.

The 20m helium-filled balloon, which omitted 45kw of light and could be seen up to 20 miles away, provoked a positive response from local, national and arts press. Much of the local press coverage acted as a catalyst for people walking or getting in their cars to try to find the night sun and then spending time gathered beneath it forming “nocturnal alliances”, just as the Morisons had envisaged.

The project not only promoted the park, a green heart for Sittingbourne complete with walking and cycling tracks, play areas and performance spaces, but also linked the town’s creek-side past with the present industrial landscape illuminated below the balloon. It acted as a beacon, heralding the future of the area, which will continue to embrace regeneration, change and evolution.

The Bearpit by Anna Best was another Artlands commission, based in and on Gravesend’s new Cyclopark, in 2012. Film screenings powered by bicycle, bike “blinging” and a mass ride from Gravesend town centre to the new park were some of the activities that took place before the project moved into a bespoke Bearpit yurt on the Cyclopark site, where discussions, musical performances and film screenings took place. Best collaborated with digital design company Mudlark to create a computer game influenced by the activities, the Cyclopark and Gravesend. Players take on the persona of a bear on a bicycle, traveling through a virtual manifestation of the Cyclopark landscape.

Architectural practice Studio Weave was commissioned by Artlands to create The Ecology of Colour at Ecology Island, Central Park, Dartford, in September 2012. Ecology Island is a dedicated space for the study of the ecological within urban environments and Studio Weave designed and created a bespoke timber building, hand-painted with natural plant dyes, that is part outdoor classroom, part dyeing workshop, part art-studio, part bird-watching hut, part tree house and part shelter. Community members engaged with the building by painting timbers, taking part in workshops inside it and making suggestions for continued future use.

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