By Andrew Grant, Director, Grant Associates
There is a new buzz in Bath around the strength and diversity of the city’s creative industries. Together these contribute more to the local economy than retail and tourism combined and yet it is still mostly a hidden world.
The Forest of Imagination concept grew out of a conversation between a number of organisations wanting to break the spell of Bath as nothing more than Jane Austen’s playground and to showcase our extraordinary creative talent from artists to technologists.
I was keen to have landscape architecture in that mix and in 2012 I became part of a core group wanting to deliver a new pop up event for the city. Working with 5x5x5=creativity, Herman Miller, Bath Spa University, RSA, Arts Council, Ideas of the Mind and a host of others we came up with a plan.
I saw the ‘Forest’ as the home of ‘Imagination’ – the invisible, creative spirit of Bath.
Our role was to deliver the setting and framework for the artists to respond to. The grounds of the Sion Hill Bath Spa University campus are a hidden delight. The Forest of Imagination worked with the existing fabric of mature trees, glades, grassy slopes and secret pathways to create a trail of experiences. Inspired by the Bower Bird nests of Asia, this glade became a lure for the people of Bath.
The experience was to be heightened by a variety of artworks embedded within the landscape and responding to the otherworldly and sometimes scary character of the forest. A Forest trail connected the outdoor grounds with the indoor galleries. Where possible, everything had to be made from reclaimed or waste material and needed to be both fun and have a strong environmental back story.
Challenges came thick and fast: a badger sett where we wanted the dome; the trees need urgent tree surgery; the hose pipe is too short; the plastic tiger would cost £750 and so on.
Enthusiasm and the spirit of collaboration can get you a long way and within five days we had transformed our landscape. Teams from the office working alongside students from Bath Spa University who organised the plants. Add special effects from Enlightened Lighting, including misting machines and you have the ingredients for a magical fantasy outdoor world.
So over one weekend in July, The Forest of Imagination successfully transformed part of Bath Spa University’s Sion Hill campus into an imagined, fantastical landscape. Over the weekend it attracted an unusual crowd from school groups and attendees of the South West RSA annual meeting, to artists, students, parents, and, most importantly, children of all ages. It was a fantastically rewarding, playful and sunny experience for all involved.
It struck me that the life and joy present in this little piece of Forest was an honest human response to our simple imagined landscape. We had created an escape from the norm into an alternative world where imagination and creativity was in full flow and on full show.