The Bloomsbury paintings in Berwick Church – the only example of the complete decoration of the interior of an ancient rural parish church in the UK by 20th century artists of repute – are seriously deteriorating. In the church building itself the lack of facilities and flexible space at the impedes visitor engagement and severely limits the scope of the engagement which the church has as their ambition.
The project is to conserve the painted interior and undertake the extensive capital works to the church needed to stabilise the environment, protecting the paintings for future generations; and to launch a varied programme of onsite and digital activities to widen engagement and promote better understanding between faith and the arts.
Working with charities, young people, local groups, the community, vulnerable people and their carers, and through recruiting and training volunteers, the project will launch new programmes of activity to widen and deepen engagement with the paintings and the specific place for which they were created.
Working as Learning and Interpretation Officer I developed an Activity and Interpretation plan which sets out the path for the two years of funding as well as considering the sustainable future of the church. By building partnerships with Glyndebourne Opera, Tower Gallery and Charleston House, I aimed to join the dots between the cultural pearls of the West Sussex, forging new links and exciting potential for collaboration. Working carefully and closely with partners, the developed activities reflect both Berwick’s ambitions and add value to the collaborators’ programming and audience development. Placements, research and artistic commissions developed with University of Sussex and University of Brighton create new opportunities for academic development and working with a younger audience at a site which tends towards older visitors.
The Interpretation Plan was developed through research and consultation with the local community, church members and academic specialists. The site’s rich history and place in the South Downs landscape contribute to the understanding and experience of the art within the church. Being careful to maintain the quiet and reflective environment inside, the interpretative scheme has a light touch approach whilst providing ways in to the context, origin and readings of the paintings.