Henry Bainbridge, one of the leaders of the UK Hill Farming Initiative. Photograph Don McPhee, The Guardian. Henry Bainbridge, one of the leaders of the UK Hill Farming Initiative.
Photograph Don McPhee, The Guardian.

It is probable that more farmers have committed suicide because of despair and the perception that they have no hope of surviving in business than consumers have died for vCJD.
- David Richardson

The crisis in agriculture as a crisis of culture

Littoral is interested in opening up new critical territory for contemporary art practice in the context of agricultural and rural change, and supports organisations and artists interested in working on arts projects to do with agriculture, farming and other rural issues. Critics Roger Scruton and John Berger have pointed to the crisis in agriculture as evidence of a deeper crisis of culture, involving issues of national identity, cultural diversity, public health, animal welfare and bioethics, and public access to the countryside. Artists have always sought to work at the critical edges of culture in the unfixed margins of society, as a suitable place from which to re-image society, environment and culture. Agricultural change and the crisis in farming are important new areas for cultural practice and research, and provide a focus for future cultural debate, critical art practice, and aesthetic discourse.

Making the cultural arguments for farming

photograph Tessa Bunney Photograph by Tessa Bunney

European and Government policy on agriculture has, until recently, been largely dictated by economic arguments, corporate agendas, and industrial priorities. Although reform of the Common Agriculture Policy has introduced new environmental and social objectives for farming policy, little attention has been given to the social and economic impact that these changes are having upon rural communities. Public concern about food safety, animal welfare, genetically modified foods, the implications of biotechnology, and BSE in cattle, has raised ethical questions about industrial farming methods, and the use of toxic chemicals in agriculture. The Littoral Arts and Agriculture initiative is intended as a contribution to the public debate on these and other issues, and to the future of farming in Britain. Littoral proposes a national programme of public forums, artistsŐ projects, research, and exhibitions, to bring a convergence of arts, cultural and agricultural thinking to bear on the formulation of future policies in support of agriculture, rural communities and the countryside.

Agriculture: new audiences and partnerships for the arts

Littoral seeks to foreground the role of the arts in response to the crisis in farming, and to address the problems of social exclusion and cultural under-investment in rural communities. The trust commissions arts projects, exhibitions and publications dealing with issues in agriculture such as farming families and health, animal welfare, food and safety, and industrial farming practices and the countryside. We are interested in finding practical solutions to farming problems, and we encourage collaborations between artists and farming communities in support of rural initiatives for health, education, sustainable farming practice, farm diversification, and rural economic initiatives. Littoral encourages development of innovative art projects about agriculture, and employs digital artists, photographers, textile artists, architects, designers and net-art and audio artists on a wide range of research projects about farming and rural issues. Littoral also promotes collaborative opportunities for artists interested in working on longer term projects with agricultural research agencies such as the farmerŐs unions, farm auction centres, and farming and rural support organisations throughout the country.

The Arts and Agricultural Initiative

The initiative has five developmental strands, each of which seeks to open up new areas of research and practice relating to some of the problems encountered by different sectors of farming. The Arts and Agriculture Initiative is supported by the Arts Council of England, the Bowland Initiative, North West Arts Board, and the Hill Farming Initiative.

Bowland Initiative logo  New Audiences logo

  1. Regional Pilot projects, North West of England

    A number of regional projects are being developed in the North West of England to pilot a range of methodologies and partnerships with the farming community. These projects will involve a range of art and craft forms, including digital art, audio arts, and photography, to evolve practical solutions to farming problems, and to respond to the issue of social exclusion and cultural under-investment in rural areas.

    Digital Art and Farming: projects with farming support groups
    Internet and website projects in association with established farming and rural community groups in Lancashire; collaborations are being discussed with The Farmers Health Project, Lancashire Young Farmers Clubs, and rural ICT training networks.
    Cybermart: Internet art and farm auction house projects
    Littoral is exploring new web-based arts, economic and cultural projects with farming organisations. Proposals include Cybermart projects in collaboration with the farm auction houses, to develop rural on-line communications and e-commerce, and to provide a social support function for local farming communities.

  2. Reimaging the farming community and countryside

    Photograph Tessa Bunney Photograph Tessa Bunney

    Digital photographic research and documentation projects to generate new images and visual narratives about contemporary farming, to raise awareness of farming life among urban communities, and to question commonly held assumptions about the countryside. The projects will be exhibited locally in farm barns, and then toured to urban centres in Manchester.

    Rural women as innovators in the farming community
    Photograph Tessa Bunney Photograph Tessa Bunney

    Photographic/digital art documentation projects about the changing role of women on farms, where they are developing new farm businesses such as on-line marketing, website design, cheese making, toy making and rural tourism projects.

    Hill Farming Life
    We swop our lamb for nextdoors beef....
    We swop our lamb for nextdoors beef ... photograph by Tessa Bunney

    A photographic project and exhibition about hill farming life in the moorlands of Yorkshire and Lancashire, and documentation of the changes taking place in farming families and communities in the north of England. Joint project with the Culture Company Yorkshire, led by photographer Tessa Bunney.

    Collaborative digital art projects with farming organisations
    Digital photography, video and installation projects in unusual farming contexts such as cow sheds, farm barns, farm kitchens, developed in collaboration with farming families, aimed at communicating farming family traditions and values to urban audiences. Led by Manchester artist Nick Fry.
    Bio-interfaces, Digital arts and Farming projects
    Euro-Cow, digitally enhanced photograph by Jason Duggan Euro-Cow, digitally enhanced photograph by Jason Duggan

    A programme of digital imaging projects and art works developed in response to health issues in farming, with reference to biotechnology and agriculture, the impact of BSE, genetically modified foods, cloning of farm animals, and the technologies and aesthetics involved in artificial insemination programmes. Artist Jason Duggan.

  3. Talking back: Farming audio arts and radio projects

    A programme of community radio and digital audio arts projects about farming issues and rural communities is being developed in partnership with audio artists and community radio training organisations in Lancashire. These projects aim to extend audio arts and radio by documenting the cultural and oral traditions of rural communities, and to combat rural isolation by generating creative media skills and resources for farming communities.
    Farmcasting: Bowland Farm Radio
    Farm Radio A community radio and digital audio arts project for rural communities in Bowland, Lancashire. Community radio and digital audio artists are working with local farming groups to enable them to produce and broadcast audio arts and drama programmes about farming life, alongside programmes about local traditions, country music and songs, and vernacular traditions in Bowland. Broadcasts will take place in January and March 2001. A webcasting radio streaming project is being planned linking Lancashire farmers with farming and rural community groups in Canada, Australia, and Germany. With Radio Regen, Manchester.
    Listening In: Rural Audio Arts Soundscapes
    A series of audio arts workshops and recording projects documenting the diversity of local oral traditions and culture. Artist/musician Claire Mooney, is working with local groups to construct a sound landscape or audio installation featuring environments and communities in Bowland. Digital audio recording workshops in production skills are being provided for rural groups involved. A collaboration with, Radio Regen Manchester, the North West Sound Archive, Clitheroe, Lancashire Young Farmers Cubs, the Hill Farming Initiative, and the Bowland Initiative. Littoral is now working with regional arts and farming organisations to establish Arts and Agricultural Change projects in other parts of England and Wales

  4. Other Projects

    National Dairy Cow project
    Preliminary sketch for a Dairy Cow Museum by artist Radovan Kraguly
    Preliminary sketch for a Dairy Cow Museum by artist Radovan Kraguly

    A proposal to develop a National Dairy Cow Museum and study centre documenting the contribution of the dairy cow and the dairy farming sector to the national farming economy and rural culture. The project would gather together all the main art works, exhibitions projects, and photographic archives about the history of the dairy cow in Britain, and the iconography of the cow in advertising, television, the media, and art, and in the farming industry. The projected museum would combine the functions of a study centre and archive with an educational and research institute, and would bring together artists, farmers, scientists and architects in a new synthesis combining a working dairy farm, a cow museum, an art gallery, and a research centre dedicated to the dairy cow in Britain. The dairy cow project would provide an import educational experience for urban populations, and inform them about the links between good farming practice, animal welfare and public health. It is also designed to enable farming families build public support, and to continue to farm and earn a livelihood from dairy farming. A collaborative project with the national Farmers Union, the Campbell Driver Architectural practice, dairy farmers in Cheshire, and artist Radovan Kraguly.

    Farming and Fashion
    Hawaiian shirts for Bowland farmers, designed by digital artist Jason Duggan
    Hawaiian shirts for Bowland farmers designed by digital artist Jason Duggan

    Textile art and digital art projects developed in collaboration with Young Farmers clubs in Lancashire, the Textile Design Department of Manchester Metropolitan University, and farm auction houses in Lancashire. Designs for new "smart clothing" for farmers, combining weatherproof wear with various telecommunication functions and animal health sensors. Also a themed farming fashion wear project using images about farming issues for holiday clothing for young farmers.

    A better life for rural women: multicultural farm exchanges
    Farmer John Hartley barbecues Bowland beef for visitors from Somalia and Nigeria;  photograph Farmers Guardian, May 2000 Farmer John Hartley barbecues Bowland beef for visitors from Somalia and Nigeria; photograph Farmers Guardian, May 2000

    Food marketing and healthy living project being developed by African women from Manchester (AWAD) in collaboration with rural communities. African women from inner city Manchester are assisting farming families in the Forest of Bowland to develop new food products and marketing techniques, and to sell local lamb, dairy foods and countryside visitor services to ethnic minority groups in the urban centres of the North West. Asian, African Caribbean, and African families and community groups are encouraged to visit local farms, and to promote healthy living and eating for urban communities, and to share cultural events with the rural and farming community. A project funded by the Countryside Agency and the Arts Council of England (A4E programme).

    Digital Media and the Rural Economy
    A proposed conference and research programme about the economic, marketing and social potential of digital arts and media projects for farming communities. The Digital Media programme aims to bring together representatives from leading farming, community and development agencies with local authorities, universities and agricultural training agencies in Lancashire, and to meet experts from the field of digital art, telecommuni-cations and electronics, to discuss the impact of the new technologies on the rural communities and economy. The conference will focus on the potential of digital media and new communication technologies to creative economic, social and community benefits for farming communities, to combat social exclusion, and to support rural health, education and community development. Case studies documenting digital arts and media projects from Lancashire, and from elsewhere in Britain and Europe.

  5. National farming documentation initiative

    A UK-wide social documentation and cultural investment programme is planned, taking the 1930s US Farm Security Administration photo-graphic project as its inspiration and point of departure. The intention is to undertake a 5 year (2001-06) documentation and cultural research programme, employing artists, writers, photographers and sociologists to record and interpret the radical changes now taking place in British agriculture and the nation's farming communities. The project is planned as part social document, and part cultural advocacy on behalf of the small and marginal farming communities in Britain. It will also focus on surfacing creative strategies which could enable farming families to negotiate the current changes in farming.

  6. European Art and Agriculture Education Forum

    Littoral is collaborating with Landwirtschaft und Kunst (Kassel) on proposals for a European Arts and Agriculture summer school. The trust is in dialogue with a number of agricultural colleges and art schools, including the University of Kassel, Myerscough Agricultural College, Lancashire, Bishop Burton College, Humberside, and Pohjois Savon Agricultural College in Finland, on proposals for a European agriculture, arts and education forum and summer school.

  7. A Cultural Strategy for UK Farming families

    Littoral is currently working on a cultural strategy for the small and marginal farming families in the UK. This proposes to establish an extensive social documentation and cultural audit, and to create a five year arts and cultural investment strategy to mobilise the creative potential of the UK farming community, to help them to manage this crucial period of transition. The cultural strategy will aim at finding practical solutions to farming problems through new partnerships for farming families with the arts, media and cultural sectors, and to provide them with access to a wide range of arts, digital media and new technol-ogies. The programme will also develop arts and cultural projects in support of social inclusion and economic, health, community development and educational initiatives. The farming families cultural strategy is being developed in partnership with the Hill Farming Initiative and the Small and Family Farms Alliance, with the support of the NFU.