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Event planning for Seeds of Change



6 November 2013

Dr Catherine Hunt from the Department of History of Art writes about an exciting joint public engagement project between the University of Bristol and Arnolfini

Dr Catherine Hunt from the Department of History of Art writes about an exciting joint public engagement project between the University of Bristol and Arnolfini.

Funded by the AHRC Cultural Engagement Fund pilot scheme, I have been employed over the last few months to organise a series of events relating to the Floating Ballast Seed Garden.The Garden is part of a larger project, Seeds of Change, which was developed by Brazilian artist, Maria Thereza Alvez.  Last year Arnolfini joined with the University of Bristol Botanic Garden and Bristol City Council to turn a disused grain barge into a floating garden.  The garden is planted with ballast flora, the product of seeds found in the ballast which was thrown overboard by the ships trading in Bristol's port over many centuries.

The specific purpose of my placement was to organise a series of boat tours to the Ballast Seed Garden between June and October 2013, but the role was also intended as a learning opportunity. Being partly based in Arnolfini was enormously valuable, and I was able to see at first hand the scope of the work involved in running a varied and leading-edge programme of events.  I also learnt about the focus on types of audience and feedback, and the challenge of multi-agency working.  In relation to the University of Bristol, I was struck by the range of public engagement events taking place, and the enthusiasm and expertise in this area.  I also spent time on the barge, helping out with weeding and planting, and learning from Nick Wray, the Curator of the University of Bristol Botanic Garden, the difference between the ballast seed plants and local and unwelcome weeds!

In putting together the programme of boat tours, my aim was to explore ideas which brought some new perspectives to the project while appealing to people with a range of interests and to different age groups.  There are so many interesting angles to this project that the challenge was to focus on a manageable number of events.  Travel and migration was one of the most obvious themes to explore, and so where best to begin than an event focusing on the trade routes in and out of Bristol Docks, led by a colleague, Dr Richard Stone, who is an expert on this subject.

I wanted to introduce an art historical dimension to the theme of migration and thought that Elizabeth Robles’ research into the work of Yinka Shonibare and Keith Piper would provide an interesting angle.  Both artists use their work to explore, amongst other things, their identity as black British artists, and Lizzie chose to focus on the use of ships in their work to make her talk particularly relevant to the concept of the Floating Ballast Seed Garden.  The movement of soil (directly referencing ballast) also connects with the emotional and psychological aspects of the migration of people, and so I thought it would be great to ask Dr Lucy Donkin to share some of her fascinating and sometimes bizarre anecdotes on this topic.

Food is a topic of great interest to many and so exploring the origins of some of our fruit and finding out just how exotic some of our more familiar species once were seemed an ideal activity for families.  Even better to sample some of the fruit in a smoothie!  So combining Roger Mellors’ knowledge of plants with Shane Jordan’s expertise as a chef seemed a great idea for a boat trip.  Participants tried a “strawberry dream” smoothie and a mystery green one.  Not many guessed that it included spinach and kiwi.

Music can also represent different cultures and concepts of travel, and I wanted to put together a family event which involved songs from the countries from which the ballast seeds had come and include some sea shanties to remind ourselves of the ships on which they came.  Gathering Voices used their expertise to bring this idea to fruition.  Another event in the autumn programme focused on the plants themselves and involved examining the structure and beauty of plants from both the perspective of photography and botanic illustration.

The final event of the season was a football-themed family event, which coincided with the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Football Association.  Dr Matthew Brown explored the origins of football in South America, appropriately creating a link between the World Cup in Brazil and the Brazilian artist, Maria Thereza Alves, who created the Floating Ballast Seed Garden.  Younger participants also designed a football kit as part of a competition.  The winning design is to be made up into the kit for the University's Deportivo Woodland Road team, to be unveiled in the near future! 

Dr Catherine Hunt, postdoctoral researcher, Department of History of Art

Further information

Watch Arnolfini's films about two of the events in this series:
We Are Family: Sea Shanties Boat Tour
The Marvellous World of Fruit Boat Tour

In 2012/13 a parallel programme Seeds of Change: Growing a Living History of Bristol was run by the Public Engagement team which involved growing 16 ballast seeds gardens in primary schools and community groups across Bristol.

For further information about the Seeds of Change project please contact CPE on email or tel: (0117) 3318313.

Photo credits: Arnolfini (top); Max McClure (bottom)