Report: Andy Barrett & Kate Stoddart Development Talks

Artist Andy Barrett and Curator Kate Stoddart were amongst the latest contributors to our ongoing Quality and Innovation Programme. Both focused on our Past Inspired strand with talks drawing upon examples from their wealth of working with heritage and contemporary artists.


On 4th June, Andy Barrett talked about projects undertaken with his theatre company, Excavate (formerly known as Hanby & Barrett). Excavate is a participatory community theatre company, working with and alongside people of all ages and backgrounds to tell stories about the places where they live, work and love. Drawn from the diverse histories and memories they investigate, they produce projects where arts and heritage meet; projects that embrace theatre, film, music, text, and web based platforms. One project that Andy spoke about united four villages in Nottinghamshire that had previously lost their sense of community. By talking to local historians and finding out what makes a country village tick they were able to uncover hidden stories and histories. They staggered the performances over a period of four weeks, which helped to attract increasing audiences each night. One of the audience members commented;

 “If I had known it was going to be like that, I would’ve been in it! When is this going to happen again?”

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(Image of Andy Barrett at Fydell House Boston)

Andy also spoke about another project entitled “The Cries of Silent Men”. This community play took place at a heritage site in a tiny village, and told the story of a group of monks who lived at the now ruined abbey just after the dissolution. In order to make this play happen in such an isolated area, Andy stressed the community involvement in the piece, which aimed to unite the youngest and oldest members of the area. There were no auditions held – his philosophy being that anybody who wants to participate can take part, and by writing the play Andy can respond to whatever situation, for example the number of actors available. The historic location enabled participants to make a direct connection with the village’s heritage and bring it back to life.

On the 2nd July, Kate Stoddart gave a presentation about the growing popularity of pairing the past and the present through the arts. Kate is a freelance Curator who has worked with a number of heritage organisations, such as Chatsworth, Nottingham Castle and the National Trust.

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(Images of Kate Stoddart at Wykes Manor, credit to Electric Egg)

Throughout her examples she put forward the case for using artists’ intelligence to think differently – artists are able to look at the past and do something fresh. They can also play a role in creating spaces and opportunities in heritage venues where it can be ok to touch and to play. For example, Kate was involved in a project which sought to attract a new audience to Tattershall Castle, a National Trust property in Lincolnshire. Bikers would regularly drive passed the castle on their way to the coast and the property staff wanted to make them stop and experience the Castle.  Kate worked with Tattershall to recruit artists who were able to respond to the architecture of the building as well as the biker identity, thus playing upon the idea of bikers as ‘Knights of the Road‘.

The culmination of this project was ‘The Alternative Village Fete’, which included steampunk artists and a biker beauty pageant in the grounds of the castle and brought in a wide range of new and returning visitors.

Another project, at Kedleston Hall, artist Susie Macmurray drew upon themes of trade and spun gold cloth present in the Hall’s collection to create a contemporary installation. While 51% of people loved it, the other 49% didn’t. Many people didn’t understand why it was there and some of the volunteers who were the primary source of interpretation felt the same way – highlighting the need to interpret artworks for visitors to heritage spaces. Kate emphasised that the aim of such projects is to encourage a dialogue. Instead of leaving feeling like it was ‘nice’, visitors should be challenged by artworks to think about a story, object or location in a new way. The most successful projects seemed to be those that could be understood by their audiences with small steps, which encourage us to take a different perspective or offer a playful twist on the familiar rather than a single large leap into the unknown.

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(Images of Kate Stoddart at Wykes Manor, Electric Egg)

The talk and delicious cream tea offered by Wykes Manor was followed by an interactive workshop about contemporary art and historic sites. These sessions discussed various contemporary artworks that participants either did or didn’t like and explored the reasons why artists and organisations choose to work together.

If this has sparked your interest, head along to another of our forthcoming talks from artists and arts professionals. Nathan Curry, Co-creative director at physical theatre company Tangled Feet, will be delivering a workshop on narrative development following Tangled Feet’s production of Burntwater this August. Keep an eye out for a date and location!