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Forty years of Art in Action: then and now

Art in Action: the last hurrah…

When the last marquees come down in the grounds of Waterperry Gardens this July it will mark the end of an era
Klaus Skovbo

"Free of the barriers"

In this its fortieth year, the unique festival Art in Action will come to rest.


When artists’ trails and open studios events are now so common, it is hard to grasp how original the idea of such a festival was when it began. The founder, Bernard Saunders, a sculptor, recognised that so many artists worked in isolation and that the public were removed from the process of making art and so conceived the idea of a place where artists and the public could meet, free of the barriers of studios or gallery spaces. The individual could simply watch the artist at work, ask questions, or marvel at the skill of the artisan.

In its initial year at Waterperry Gardens there were 51 artists demonstrating and 14,000 visitors. This has meanwhile grown to some 400 artists and more than 20,000 visitors over the four day period. Facilitating the smooth running of such a huge operation are more than 600 volunteers from the School of Economic Science which owns the grounds in which Art in Action takes place. Their voluntary work is done in the spirit of service and this too contributes much to the unique atmosphere of the event.

Rosalind Wyatt


The range of artists at the show is almost bewilderingly large. There are potters and painters, sculptors and glassblowers, weavers and feltmakers, printmakers and woodcarvers, musicians and storytellers, jewellers and metalworkers, cabinetmakers and calligraphers. Basically, it’s a kind of Valhalla of the arts.

As usual, there will be a myriad of classes in which both children and adults can participate. Bookings can be made online, but a proportion of the tickets are always available in the morning. There is food and drink for all possible tastes.

Even now, when it has been decided that the time has come for the show to end, exploration continues and new art forms are included. This year in addition to all of the above there will be space dedicated to digital art. Artists such as Christopher Antoniou, Klaus Skovbo and Sydney Padua will be showing how such art is used in the fields of animation, film, television and digital sculpting.

The overall layout has changed too. Incorporated into these changes next to the river is a space or ZenDo (a space to create, look, listen or simply enjoy) where there will be daily classes in the art of Zen brushwork also defined as the art of “being awakened through writing”. In the afternoons the space will be devoted to live shakuhachi music played by Mike McInerney and accompanied by simple Japanese tea. There will also be an opportunity to attempt Zen painting.

Bernard Saunders’ successor, Simon Buchanan expresses the sentiments of all who have been involved in the show when he writes, “Thank you for all the wonders you have shared, the joy you have given and the mysteries you have
illuminated over the last forty years”.

Art in Action takes place 14th-17th July


- Liz Tagert


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