After expressing my interest in Grizedale's initiatives I was invited to spend a week there working in exchange for accomodation and food. This kind of invitation and form of hosting seems to offer a good alternative to unpaid labour, and is something that visual arts organisations working in the rural and community context tend to be quite good at. After all, gaining a taster experience of an organisation and its working practices within a relatively short period of time would be all but impossible otherwise. Also, keeping these organisations open to wider interest like this seems to benefit their organisation in imparting an understanding of what is happening there; the folk at Grizedale seemed to be particularly open to my responses and reactions which was nice. Having not researched Lawson Park that much before my arrival, I was completely overwhelmed by the outstanding architecture which seemed to speak cleverly about parts of Grizedale's ethos: functionality, aesthetic sensibility, intelligent design and a distinct preference for functionality over nostalgia or romanticism (I was amused by the windows that had to be designed so that people could not look in at the horror of a modern interior amidst the rolling hills of the lake district). Needless to say, spending a week in Lawson park was like living in pure luxury – a space designed perfectly for living, working, productivity and social exchange, picturesque scenery and lots of delicious food. I spent time working on various different aspects of productivity that make Grizedale flow: editing website texts, doing a workshop on film-making with local youth group run by Maria, weeding, cooking and baking. The most interesting part was finding out about the different dynamics occuring between the organisation and its funders, its audiences, and local reception. We discussed problematics such as knowledge dissemination and organisations' intentions as well as general art-world quandarys. It was quite eye-opening actually, as well as bringing my attention to the wider issues involved with tourism in the area and the local economy's reliance on (and pandering to?) this trade. I suppose an organisation like Grizedale brings a new kind of tourism to the lakes: international artists, arts and culture professionals and an online global presence. Grizedale seemed to have a lot of fruitful relationships with other cultural organisers and arts people locally and the addition of the honesty shop in Coniston town centre could help to build more relationships with locals and tourists. I just wonder whether the locals read Grizedale's working practices as different, or superior, to their own; I would like to think that a generally friendly and accepting attitude to the lifestyles of local people (not just those relocated wealthy retirees) would make room for a mutual understanding between working people within the vicinity of Grizedale Arts and the organisation itself. This will allow Grizedale to get away with more critical, complex and thought-provoking initiatives. Despite the slug infestations and unrelenting Cumbrian rain rain rain, this was a week well spent and I hope to keep in touch with Grizedale.
By Claire Briegel