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Forty Years of Art in Action

As summer approaches, preparations for the fortieth Art in Action (14th-17th July) have already been in full swing for many months

"I believe that the purpose of art is to uplift people"

Art in Action which takes place every July in the capacious grounds of Waterperry Gardens has grown into one of the biggest art festivals in Europe attracting 25,000 visitors over four days.


That said, Art in Action is not your typical art show. Conceived and initiated by Bernard Saunders, himself a sculptor and also steward of the Waterperry estate, its stated purpose was and is, to give the public the opportunity to see art being made. What happens is that more than 400 artists from a variety of disciplines come and set up their easels, potter’s wheels, printing presses and get down to the business of making things in front of a public audience. This is a process perhaps more common now in the form of the open studios movement throughout the country. What’s different about Art in Action though, is not only the scale of it (with artists from all over the world demonstrating their skills on the 80 acre site of Waterperry Gardens) but the spirit of it and integrity of the underlying idea.


Art in Action, is not primarily about profit. As Bernard Saunders put it, “I believe that the purpose of art is to uplift people”. So visitors to Art in Action will experience a unique environment in which to see art being made and to interact with artists as well as having the opportunity to buy. Run primarily by volunteers from the School of Economic Science, which owns Waterperry Gardens, the level of service and serene atmosphere are things which often draw comments from visitors.

Alongside the many artists demonstrating, there is also an extensive range of other events and activities, including concerts, talks, storytelling, and classes in a myriad of subjects for both adults and children.

If you attend the show you will find each major discipline such as pottery or glass in its own individual marquees. This year a new marquees will be added featuring digital art. Another marquee houses “The Marketplace” and here in this bustling tent, you will find more than 100 artists selling their work.

The show is well provided with food and drink; there are multiple stalls providing everything from snacks, to elegant lunches to artisan bread and cakes. Stepping away from the demonstrators’ tents, visitors can also wander into the 8 acres of ornamental gardens of Waterperry Gardens.

Responsibility for these gardens and the organisation of Art in Action has now passed from the hands of Bernard Saunders, who sadly died recently, to those of another sculptor, Simon Buchanan. He says, “The artists are picked as being at the top of their profession. Usually they will be a master of their art and hopefully by watching them at work and by asking them questions you will get a real insight into whatever you love and you might even be inspired to go and work in the arts.”


- Liz Tagert


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