For the past four years I have been a part of Art in Action. Every July I have packed up a fair chunk of my studio and decamped to a marquee in the gardens of Waterperry House in the Oxford countryside where, in the company of nine or so other printmakers, I’ve done my best to recreate my working day. For those who don’t know the event, it’s a four day immersion into art for the twenty five thousand or so visitors. In the demonstration tents, artists of pretty much every discipline you can think of (and some you wouldn’t – war artists, horologists, Egyptian tent makers anyone?), work and explain and exhibit. Then there’s a market place of craft makers and art suppliers. Yet more artists run practical classes of every kind for every age group. On top of all this there are talks, music, performance art, lectures, dance and children’s activities. You get the picture and it’s a pretty big and complex one…
How complex has entirely passed me by if I am honest. To be a demonstrator is such a full on roller coaster ride that the mere act of showing up with the right stuff in the right amounts, hanging an exhibition and then printing solidly for four days while being mobbed by a bright and fascinated crowd leaves very little room for anything else. I certainly never pondered the niceties of our marquee with its solid wood screens, floors and two fully operational printing presses, or the seamless arrangements for parking, sanitation and food. Nor the constant arrival of coffee (filter, not instant), tea and biscuits all day, the delicious demonstrator’s dinner on the Saturday night. Nor the small matter of managing the twenty five thousand or so visitors and their needs. And I certainly didn’t think, as I drove away, utterly exhausted but exhilarated, about the clearing up.
That’s all about to change. In 2015 I won’t be demonstrating; I’ve been asked to be the section head of printmaking in partnership with my other half, responsible for selecting artists, organising and running the tent and generally making sure that everything printmaking goes to plan. Now I’m seeing things from a different angle.
This whole massive, complex, slick event runs on goodwill and a passionate desire to share the work and creativity of artists. It is not run for profit and it is run entirely by hundreds of volunteers. There are just a couple of paid members of staff. Think about that: just a couple of people paid. Everyone else from the security guards to parking attendants, the sound engineers to the shuttle bus drivers, the loo cleaners to the nice people wearing ‘can I help you’ jackets are doing it for free. And they start working for free long before the event opens and go on long after it closes. And when Art in Action does finally come to an end, any money made is money ploughed into making next year better for everyone: artists, visitors and volunteers.
In this cynical old world such a mad plan shouldn’t work and yet it does, year after year, and it is hugely successful. I am entirely happy to be on the giving rather than the receiving end next year. The work has already started and I know I won’t be able to exhibit. That I’ll be twice as tired, that there will be lots of surprises, glitches and emergency lateral thinking to be done, but to be a part of something so optimistic, so unique, so fun and supportive to the arts is just too good an opportunity to miss. And I know I’m not alone in that: several hundred other people obviously think the same.
The deadline for applications to demonstrate at the show end on 5th December and must be made through the Art in Action website. Demonstrators are appointed by invitation only.