TAITMAIL A tide of creativity

Art has never been subject to boundaries, and when politicians and educationalists define science and art as separate disciplines they’re missing the point. As anyone with a scintilla of imagination knows, art is nature, nature is science, science is art.

Affinities of art with nature have developed in the last century or so, perhaps starting with Monet and his plein-air Impressionist associates; then the American David Smith who moulded the land itself into contours; our own Andy Goldsworthy who makes land art out of natural materials in natural settings; Christo and his partner Jeanne-Claude who changed perception of great hunks of the natural world by covering them in plastic; Agnes Denes, the conceptual artist who founded the Environmental Art Movement; Olafur Eliasson who creates massive open air sculptures using light, water and air to make his changing pieces, often installing them in urban contexts.

So it’s barely a step at all for art to find itself next to climate change and the community, and this week the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation has gone a further yard by launching a research programme into how creative and cultural practice works with climate expertise and community engagement.

The CGF has issued an appeal for case studies of innovative work practices involving climate action. “We want to map the sector's key players and understand how community-led arts-climate initiatives make a difference” says its appeal statement. “We also want to understand how they're being financed and whether there's an opportunity gap for scaling”.

The survey suggests going back five years, presumably since when more notice has been taken of the importance of climate and nature and the symbiosis with artists, and record some sense of development. Our coastline is perhaps the most graphic illustration of where our ecosystem is changing, and there is one unique example they could look at, just launched.  It’s called, rather mundanely for the ambition of what it wants to achieve, Intertidal Allotment


It’s set on a bleak stretch of coast in North Kent and is the initiative of Cement Fields, a visual arts organisation which is working with the artist Andrew Merritt, half of the creative duo Something and Son, and is based on that most basic of cross-overs of nature with community, the garden allotment. It has a grant of £150,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund and will run until August 2025.

The “living artwork”, as it’s called, is a new community allotment on the north coast of the Isle of Sheppey, a 20-minute walk from Sheerness. Intertidal Allotment will emerge as a definitive work of art, but it is also a serious scientific research project monitored by The University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology. Out of it will come a modular structure that can be copied elsewhere, but it will be a living artwork involving the coastline, wildlife, plantlife and local people.

“There has been a surge in demand for allotments in recent times, with the waiting list in England almost doubling in the last 12 years, so we are asking, ‘What would it take to transpose this popular allotment form, with its egalitarian structure and architecture of reuse, onto the biodiverse intertidal zone of the seashore?’” says Merritt. “I’ve been looking into how allotments can be integrated into sea defences, exploring which edible plants and crustaceans could grow there and what biodiverse habitats they could support."

It’s never been tried before. As Merritt’s graphic shows, the structure will span the area of shore covered at high tide and bare at low ride – the intertidal zone - and because of the tidal movement the right conditions here can allow a biodiverse habitat to form and flourish, allowing algae, seaweeds, fungi, barnacles, limpets, mussels, crustacea, mosses and lichens to thrive. The concept includes public talks for the locals, walks around the site and allotments, a tradition based on self-build architecture and reuse of waste materials as well as nurturing produce that is being expanded here into the intertidal zone.

Cement Fields, an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation University of Kent support, is a well-established commissioning set-up that grew out of the Whitstable Bienniale, the visual art festival the has developed a reputation for developing experimental art. Cement Fields has been working with the Sheppey communities for years, and its mission is to explore “place and process” defined by the shifting landscapes of this part of the coast between Dartford and Whitstable. Its director is Jon Davis.

“Cement Fields collaborates with artists and communities along the Thames Estuary, to create ambitious innovative projects like Intertidal Allotment, which is locally embedded, nationally important and created in response to global challenges” he says. “Sustainable, place-based food production, biodiversity and mitigating the effects of climate change are some of the most critical challenges facing communities today, and we are excited to develop this project in North Kent, which we hope will have significant impact beyond our shoreline.” 

Images: Andrew Merritt’s visualisation of the Intertidal Allotment;

Andrew Merritt seen with a supposed market stall of Intertidal Allotment produce, by Nicol Vizioli


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