Visual Arts in Rural Communities aims to promote the understanding and enjoyment of visual arts in rural communities through contact with artists, creative workshops and mounting exhibitions. At the same time VARC wants to provide an artist with a unique opportunity to develop his or her practice away from the constraints of city life.
VARC was set up in 2000 to fund a programme of twelve-month artist residencies in the community at Highgreen and this is still the charity's main focus. Artists have responded to the place with diverse and wonderful artwork; paintings, installation pieces, sculptures, photographs, drawings and land-based works.
An important part of the resident artist's remit is that they work on projects with local people and visiting groups. This takes many forms; open studio days, workshops, talks and participation in country shows are a few.
As well as managing the residency VARC has developed other ways in which to deliver its aims. It has initiated special projects such as "Gathering" in which VARC commissioned photographer Kate Bellis and sculptor Sally Matthews to make new work through spending time with hill farming families in Tarset. This resulted in a book and an exhibition which toured to Glasgow and London.
Last year VARC set up a small fund to support projects in Tarset, North Tyne and Redesdale that benefit a sector of these communities in some way whilst also creating an artwork that wouldn't otherwise get made. And this year VARC has a fund available to support the creation of new artwork inspired by the area and made by Northumberland-based artists.
VARC's programme is based at Highgreen Manor in Tarset owned by Cynthia and William Morrison-Bell. Highgreen is also the home to Highgreen Arts thus creating a hub of creativity in this rural and remote part of Northumberland. Visual Arts in Rural Communities celebrated its tenth year in 2010 with a special event and publication.
Further details, including news on the current artist in residence, special projects and the local projects fund are on the VARC website:
Photograph: Imi Maufe, interactive performance about colour association at Falstone Show using locally made Unison Colour's handmade artist's pastels in an unconventional way, 2008. Maufe created an artist's book from the material collected
Photograph: Susan Grant, 'Babel', 2005 brings together the individual and collective voices of local people and the energies of the Tarset community in a piece appropriately made for Highgreen Manor's old Battery Shed used to store the electricity to serve the Manor (now a derelict outbuilding). Susan used the original glass battery acid tanks and shelving as part of a piece that allowed visitors to experience recorded interview extracts with inhabitants of Highgreen about community living on the estate. In this confined space the piece really resonated with the captured sense of place and community.