Arts Project: Discover, Create & Celebrate

The creative engagement and artwork that took place in May 2023 in and around the Floodplain Meadows Partnership Conference grew from the success of the FMP 2021 Art Competition. This process highlighted the powerful capacity of the arts to engage, advocate and educate. In both the making and interacting with a creative process, a broader and deeper reach was possible.

The project was developed in consultation between the FMP (Emma Rothero and Olivia Nelson), the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (Chris Jarvis, Carly Smith-Huggins) local partners Thames Valley Wildflower Meadow Restoration Project (Catriona Bass) and an Oxfordshire-based artist (Alice Walker). This group met remotely from November 2022 to May 2023 to plan and develop all aspects of the project and how it would contribute to and support the aims and objectives of the Conference, Museum and Community Groups.

The purpose of the art workshops and resulting artwork was: to raise awareness of; to highlight the role and importance, needs and threats; to celebrate the heritage and ‘eco services’; to inspire and invite engagement and advocacy of floodplain meadows.

A range of different creative activities were planned to best meet the huge range of potential participants - diverse in age, artistic inclination, physical capability, and time available to participate. At the conference there was limited time available, but also already a great depth of knowledge and awareness of floodplain meadows. In the community groups there was also already interaction with an original floodplain meadow. So for these two groups the emphasis was on celebrating, sharing and expressing their own experience and understanding of these precious habitats to enable others to ‘see’ their beauty and importance.

For the families and other visitors to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History at the May half term drop-in sessions, it was the first time they had heard about floodplain meadows and an opportunity to learn about their role and importance. The activities at these sessions focused on the species that are found on a floodplain meadow, with opportunities to colour, craft and handle a range of flowers, animals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates. In studying the form, markings, colours and names of these species, an awareness is grown for the individual that will hopefully develop connections when they are out in nature. Some of these species were already familiar to the families - like the vibrant blue damselfly - but other, more rare species like Great Burnet and Devil’s-bit Scabious were a discovery.

Most of the children and many adults were thrilled to be able to touch and learn about species found in the floodplain meadows, and the fox and barn owl were firm favourites. Staff and volunteers shared the story of the meadows as the children and their carers crafted, coloured, stroked and investigated. Over 270 children participated over the two days, taking home pipe cleaner creatures, colouring sheets, parcel labels, stickers and postcards to remind and connect them to floodplain meadows.

The postcards - which were specially designed for these events - featured the 12 winning artworks from the 2021 Floodplain Meadows Partnership Art competition and included links to further information. Some collected and took home the whole set!

The Marvelous Meadow Artwork comprises of three woven panels - representing: earth (soil); meadow (plants) and water (river) - were beautifully begun by members of the Farmability group at Long Mead meadow, Eynsham; continued by attendees at the Floodplain Meadows Partnership conference and completed by children and families visiting the museum at half term. Children as young as three, many who had never tried weaving before, and even those who find sustained concentration on a task hard, were soon absorbed in the ancient art of interlacing layers of colourful yarn and chatting about meadows. Many parents, grandparents and carers heard for the first time about the heritage and eco services of floodplain meadows. The medium of weaving was chosen because it a wonderfully inclusive technique that a very wide range of people can participate with, as it can be done very easily without too much guidance or any previous experience. Participation could be as quick as a couple of minutes or as long as desired! It also lends itself well to collaboration - and indeed the weavings were contributed to by over one hundred people over the course of 5 days. Many who worked on the weaving said how calming and therapeutic they found it. Weaving is also a good visual representation of the mosaic of species found in a floodplain meadow which is often described as a ‘tapestry’.

The Marvelous Meadow Artwork was put on display during the summer and autumn of 2023 alongside other creations from sessions in Oxford’s Natural History Museum where it continued to tell the story of floodplain meadows.

Many thanks to Judith Purcell and the William Dean Trust for their generous support.

Quote from Carly Smith Huggins, Education Officer: Secondary (Art), Families & Young People , Oxford University Museum of Natural History

"Working with the Floodplain Meadows Partnership has been a really interesting and fun experience for the Museum. It introduced some of the staff members, including myself, to the concept of a floodplain meadow and why they are important, as well as how we can share this message through our collections. The Museum regularly works with researchers to showcase their work to Museum visitors, but what made this partnership exciting was the collaboration between Museum, researchers and an artist. It was excellent to have the opportunity to work with Alice Walker and have her create some craft activities for families that were directly related not only to floodplain meadows but also the Museum’s collections. It was great to engage visitors with a generally unknown habitat and highlighting the importance of this in a fun and creative way. The project was also supported by the different Museum teams with the Events team looking after the conference and the Public Engagement team helping with the half term family activities. This isn’t something we do often in the Museum so it was a great to see that was possible in the future."

Weaving a meadow © Olivia Nelson
'Marvellous Meadow' © Alice Walker