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The Forest of Imagination took place in Bath this summer and attracted over 2,000 visitors. It was a 4 day contemporary arts, creativity and learning event organised and led by RSA Fellows and hosted by Bath Spa University. Over the past year I’ve blogged a number of times about the ArtSpace Bath and the Forest of Imagination (from now on Forest) project and I had been involved in many meetings, discussions and communications about it. That said, when the Forest launched I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What I discovered was a creative world full of surprises and learning.

foi picThe journey to the site began in the centre of Bath with graffitied paths creating the start of the pilgrimage, when I got to the top of Sion Hill and turned the corner to see the amazing tiger gate I was already sold! Once in the site, I’ll admit it, I got a bit lost, but this was part of the Forest’s allure – discovering places for yourself and learning through uncovering different areas both visual and sensory. The Forest was made up of four action packed days of performances, workshops, installations and exhibitions. It managed to engage new and inter-generational audiences in the city whilst helping to pave the way for a permanent contemporary arts centre in Bath.

The concept for the Forest being a place of learning and creativity speaks clearly to the RSA’s ‘Power to Create’ discussion and specifically the education and creativity area. It was appropriate therefore, that the whole Forest project was led and created by a group of Fellows in Bath, with backing from both the RSA Catalyst scheme and fundraising £10k through RSA kickstarter.

monOne of the main aspects that inspired me about the project is that it was truly collaborative with a wealth of Fellows involved, all with different skills and interests but coming together to be part of one project. The team included Andrew Grant RDI, the director of Grant Associates, the landscape architects who were responsible for the design of Forest. He said: “We… created an escape from the norm into an alternative world where imagination and creativity was in full flow and on full show." (See Andrew’s blog about the design process in Landscape Institute).

Forest also involved many partners, including Grant Associates, 5x5x5=creativity, Bath Spa University, Herman Miller Cares, RSA, Ideas of the Mind, Illuminate Bath, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Carpenter Oak and the House of Fairy Tales. The partners provided not only funding and venues, but also teams of artists, volunteers and students. It was an exemplary example of the benefits of partnership and volunteer working.

We… created an escape from the norm into an alternative world where imagination and creativity was in full flow and on full show."

We bought Fellows into the Forest by holding the RSA West Annual Conference on site and in tandem with the event. I think this helped to give conference an open and relaxed feel – with plenty of opportunity for Fellows to network and interact with the Forest. During the Conference we learnt more about the initial concept of the Forest, as ArtSpace Bath, its journey from concept to actuality and the projects that have sprung from this including Craneworks. We also heard about the RSA’s current strategic review and held a couple of participatory workshops; based around the Pass It On project and what Fellows would like to see in the future for the RSA West region.

— Creative Bath (@CreativeBath) July 15, 2014

I returned to the Forest one final time and witnessed the dismantling of the tiger gate (fortunately going to a new home at a local primary school). This event was temporary but its legacy will live on with many plans and possibilities for the future. The lead Fellow, Penny Hay, has spoken at the Globe’s Immersive Arts for Children conference and is already talking about next manifestations of the Forest with creative partners, collaborating with the School of Creative Arts in Plymouth and continuing the partnership working in Bath to create future events and installations – I look forward to seeing what emerges with interest.

Forest of Imagination -  Twitter, youtube.

Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter



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