The Ash Project 2017-2018

The Ash Project combines a major new commission by internationally recognised artists Ackroyd and Harvey with a wide ranging cultural and community engagement programme, an online archive and a plan for landscape restoration. The project celebrated the cultural, natural and social history of the ash tree.

The commission was complimented by a two year programme of public engagement which ran from February 2017 – October 2018, including artists’ walks, schools programme, a publicly generated Ash Archive exhibition at galleries in Canterbury, Margate, Chatham, Folkestone and Sevenoaks, green wood working and public programmes at University of Kent, Salt Festival, Folkestone Triennial and Whitstable Biennale. The programme involved communities in actively documenting the contemporary and historic importance of the ash tree in Kent.  The project was delivered in a very active collaboration with all of our partners, the research and scientific community of the Kent Downs and over 50 artists who contributed their amazing work, time and thinking.

We helped secure funding for a new full colour, hard-back book ‘Ash’ by Archie Miles that records ash trees across the landscapes of Britain, it features many references to The Ash Project and includes a forward by Dame Judy Dench.

Through the project we have to developed a considered approach to a landscape recovery through replacement planting. This is a plan for the Kent Downs and Kent more widely and it is an approach that we hope will be shared through the Woodland Trust across the UK.

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The Ash Project Infographic

Evaluation Approach

We hosted a large number of events and they were delivered through a  network of partners across the county of Kent. We felt we needed a simple evaluation approach that provided a logical framework for all events.

Our framework responded to a set of Key Evaluation Questions and set out linkages between activities, expected outputs and outcomes across all elements of the project. The evaluation plan was prepared with the understanding that a mosaic approach is the best way to gather information across a range of events. We also worked with Kate Measures Heritage Insider to provide evaluation “Critical Friend”  support to the project and to lead a Project Learning Review with the board at the end of the project.

Project Aims and were they met?

Employing arts and culture as an engagement tool for environmental messages has clearly sparked fresh debate.  It has reinvigorated people about their local environment and provided a focal point for them to talk in an impassioned way about their own personal connection to it in ways that traditional science communication sometimes struggle.  By involving artists, creative practitioners and an impressive range of stakeholders, the project has ‘reframed’ a scientific issue to provoke an emotional response to Kent’s natural heritage and in particular, ash trees.

The project explored ash dieback through the production and sharing of very high quality artistic outputs regardless of the intended audience; from arts based programme for children and a striking installation in the landscape for anyone who encounters it to an absorbing temporary exhibition for gallery visitors.

A robust partnership agreement and strong focus on the vision of the project provided a solid foundation for the project’s success despite the challenges of working across a county wide area brought challenges. Bringing in specialist skills, for example, in art commissioning coupled with good project management has enabled Kent Down’s The Ash Project to create a model for future projects both in terms of the running of the project and its outputs and outcomes.

Author: Kate Measures from Heritage Insider

What worked well

  • We have nurtured and grown the project from the germ of an idea to something that feels more like a root system with our environment and creativity at its heart and a broad canopy of reach above it
  • We achieved what we hoped it would; to create an extraordinary and enduring record of ash
  • From the start the project has raised awareness of ash dieback and we have witnessed it start to tackle misconceptions
  • Working with artists has enabled us to create a complex set of responses to ash dieback. It is important to us that these are non-authoritative and does not seek to provide all the answers to the problem
  • The way that the project has worked has provided an opportunity for local people to access and respond to ash dieback in a way in which just traditional scientific approaches may have struggled. It has created conversation and an appreciation of what is being lost
  • The project has increased the visibility of environmental arts practice in Kent and we hope that it will be a strategic stepping stone to other things; new projects, new partnerships
  • We have left a legacy of a permanent art work as a marker in the landscape which will continue to provoke and engage people
  • It feels like we have set in motion a ‘ripple’ effect that will have far reaching and sometimes unknown effects.

Author: Kate Measures from Heritage Insider

Things we would have liked the project to achieve

  • The original concept was conceived as a national project but was funded as a Kent based one so we feel there is still massive potential to extend the benefit of working in this way across the rest of the country
  • The ash archive was an amazing part of the project but with further resources it could have extended its reach and created a truly evocative ‘gallery of ash’
  • Engagement with primary schools was creative and impactful. We had hoped that the project might offer more opportunities for secondary student engagement, but this was practically difficult at times given timetable constraints and need for students to be able to travel to take part in the project
  • Given more time, there are a number of ‘schools of thought’ on the subject of ash dieback that could have been further explored to spark interesting debate
  • Funding for the core activities of the project ceased at the end of the project so not every part of the project has a truly sustainable legacy
  • It was beyond the scope of the project but it would have been perfect to have been able to leave more of a living legacy of areas of ash regeneration (and maybe decline and regeneration) in the landscape. A living artwork on a landscape scale! 
  • The question remains of what next and how can we keep the momentum that the project has built?

Author: Kate Measures from Heritage Insider

Project legacy and outcomes

Employing arts and culture as an engagement tool for environmental messages has clearly sparked fresh debate.  It has reinvigorated people about their local environment and provided a focal point for them to talk in an impassioned way about their own personal connection to it in ways that traditional science communication sometimes struggles.  By involving artists, creative practitioners and an impressive range of stakeholders, the project has ‘reframed’ a scientific issue to provoke an emotional response to Kent’s natural heritage and in particular, ash trees. The project has explored ash dieback through the production and sharing of very high quality artistic outputs regardless of the intended audience; from arts based programme for children and a striking installation in the landscape for anyone who encounters it to an absorbing temporary exhibition for gallery visitors.

A robust partnership agreement and strong focus on the vision of the project provided a solid foundation for the project’s success despite the challenges of working across a county wide area brought challenges.  Bringing in specialist skills, for example, in art commissioning coupled with good project management has enabled Kent Ash project to create a model for future projects both in terms of the running of the project and its outputs and outcomes. Partners now have the challenge of harnessing the lessons learnt and good practice from the Kent Ash project to engage more and a wider range of people in Kent in this and other environmental issues.  Furthermore, there is strong potential for expansion of this impactful project to other areas.

Author: Kate Measures from Heritage Insider

Ash to Ash, White Horse Wood. Photo: John Miller