In July 2018 I enjoyed a very memorable cup of coffee at The Noble Tree in Torre which would go on to kickstart a central programme of work at Artizan.
Preparations were in full swing for our Summer Open exhibition which was due to be hosted on the high street in Torquay thanks to the support of Fleet Walk Shopping Centre and we were getting ready to welcome 250 artists to Torbay to exhibit for the Summer season. It was a huge opportunity not just for us, but for the representation of culture more broadly in Torbay; a high street location, with extensive footfall and enough space to share, we were determined to ensure it showcased our diverse arts, culture and heritage to town centre tourists.
I’d been introduced to Melanie Border, Coordinator of the English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark, and was off to meet with her to discuss how the space could be used to engage audiences with our UNESCO designation. What I’d thought would be a conversation about us taking some promotional materials and directing people to key Geopark sites, evolved into something far bigger which one year one is still celebrating our unique heritage which gained us the designation.
Our UNESCO status was not a new realisation for me at this time. I’d been aware of the Geopark for several years and knew how significant it was to Torbay; having a partner who is a geology graduate gave me little choice but to be aware of the bays significant scientific interest, and in 2016 we even visited the 7th International Conference on UNESCO Global Geoparks which Torbay hosted. More recently, I had seen Melanie speak passionately about the Geopark status alongside Donald Knaack (aka the Junkman) at the launch of the 2018 Cockington Scupture Trail. His interactive installation made entirely of recycled materials sent an environmental message to love mother earth through his unique style of percussion.
As we sat down for our coffee, Melanie told me about the upcoming “Global Junk Jam” which was on the horizon, a livestreamed event between worldwide global Geoparks with a performance conducted across sites by The Junkman himself. This would go onto be a huge success in October, connecting schools from 9 Geoparks across the globe. I told her a little about our work the Summer Open we were embarking on and how many of our artists were regularly engaging with different aspects of the Geopark albeit with different levels of understanding. It was as yet an untapped opportunity to connect the designation to our work but one we knew there was scope to explore.
And it just so happened that the English Riviera Geopark Organisation team already developing the exact tool for the job in the form of Associate Partners. This new network would invite a second tier of organisations to work with ERGO, be associated with the Geopark and run projects that would advocate for and educate on our UNESCO designation. I immediately saw the potential for Artizan; the opportunity to fly a banner for the Geopark, extend their message and potentially even mobilise our artists to do the same, it was a perfect fit for our ethos of celebrating Torbay.
One year on, and that coffee, along with a substantial amount of other work of course, and now we are literally flying a banner for the Geopark, or at least a swing board outside the gallery, and 13 Geopark Ambassador Artists are doing the same. Made up of thirteen creatives from the region, all of whom take inspiration from the landscapes and heritage recognised by the designation, these artists celebrate our significant home daily through their creativity and give visitors the chance to take away truly unique memories of their visit to the English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark.
Each artist is a wonderful representation of Torbay’s creative community and help to tie the heritage and culture recognised by the Geopark designation directly back to the geological significance of our coastal region. The opportunity for these artists to gain recognition for their work through this UNESCO badge whilst also acting as advocates and educating audiences on our Geopark home, is a great example of how ERGO and its partners work to celebrate this exciting status.
Most recently, alongside our Ambassador Artists, we had the honour of being involved in the revalidation visit, a process which occurs every four years to ensure standards across the network are maintained which would decide of Torbay retains its designation. Inspectors Professor Setsuya Nakada and Dr Manfred Kupetz, joined us for drinks at the gallery with our artists where we had the opportunity tell them more about the programme and how our artists are offering an accessible avenue to learn about the Geopark through art. For us, it was a really inspiring evening, to hear our artists talking proudly about their association and being excited to be out there promoting the designation through their practise.
The visit also provided the opportunity to screen our first Geopark Ambassador Artist interview with Chrystine Jones produced by The Shorely, a digital publication delivered by the Great Place Scheme. Working in pewter, Chrystine is one of the makers based at Cockington Court and her artistic journey began when she attended the 7th International Conference on Global Geoparks hosted in Torbay in 2016 and she found herself inspired by the geological significance of Torbay. Not only this, but we were delighted to see the inspectors presented with work by another Ambassador Artist, Beth Hill, as a parting gift from their visit.
And all this from one cup off coffee a little over a year ago. Being an Associate Partner of the English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark is an exciting opportunity for us to remind our audience that our culture lives and breathes around us in everything we do. The Global Geopark designation recognises the contribution that is made by the landscape, people and heritage of Torbay to our culture and our lives, and these are values that we are proud to share as a community focused arts hub. We cannot wait to see what the future holds for our Geopark Ambassador Artists and the work they’ll be able to do for Torbay under this banner!
We'll be hosting an Exhibition of Geopark Ambassador Artists’ work on display at Artizan Gallery until the end of August where visitors can also find out more about the English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark. For more information on the Geopark visit englishrivierageopark.org.uk or to find out more about the Ambassador Artists visit art-hub.co.uk/englishrivierageopark. If you'd like to know how your organisation can work with the Geopark Ambassador Artists, contact email@example.com.