About the project

Culture of the Countryside is a Heritage Lottery funded three-year programme aiming to encourage a better understanding of the culture and heritage of the East Anglian countryside through direct engagement with the Sainsbury Centre collections of art from around the world.

Schools and communities  interested in the rural context are being visited by teams of creative educators, artists and volunteers, who come from the University bringing a van, packed with objects from the Centre’s handling collections, which people can hold, study and respond to in various ways. Objects are used as a device for discussion,  to ask questions, to encourage curiosity, to challenge and consider values across cultures and between peoples.

By learning from art from another part of the world, the idea is that we develop an awareness of different stories, rituals, beliefs to enrich our native experience. We use deductions and comparisons from elsewhere to gain new insights together which are relevant to the countryside cultures of East Anglia. 

Following the initial observations and reflections, comes a phase of active interpretation. Through making, writing, acting out artistic and practical responses, the ideas of all participants can be expressed creatively and in a contemporary way.

Our projects reflect on different aspects of the environment and relate to experiences which differ from, or inform our local ways of life. 


Culture of the Countryside Project Working methods

Each project is carefully discussed from the beginning with all the lead partners present so that a wide range of ideas can be considered.  The main theme is often suggested by significant or remarkable features in the local environment, way of life, customs or folklore.  Sainsbury centre ‘world art’ objects appropriate for the theme are chosen, and illustrated with contextual images which come from their original environment and culture.  For each Culture of the Countryside project, an artist devises workshop activity alongside the main theme, and develops it into a practical activity

The character of the main project outcomes often reflect a combination of all the elements: the ‘world art’ objects, the local ideas and sources and the distinctive influences from the artists.

We are using the word culture to refer to patterns of human activity, often closely connected to people's immediate environment.



The project so far

We have worked so far with more than 70 schools and communities in Norfolk and Suffolk, from Hunstanton in the north to Ipswich in the south, using the Sainsbury Centre's world art handling collections as a starting point for discussion, learning and creativity. The objects, made in rural localities in other parts of the world, form the basis for reflection, study and art-based activities about customs and cultures.

Community involvement is a substantial element of the project. Working with scientists, musicians, farmers, geologists, museums, curators, basket makers, environmentalists, heritage groups, local specialists, dancers, fishermen and more to deepen local knowledge and understanding of culture through a wide range of workshops and projects. These projects have included festivals and temporary exhibitions such as, Mundesley Encounters (2009), The Cut (2009), Coast (2010), Wingfield Barns (2010) and Greyfriars Art Space (2010). Substantial collaborative  projects have developed with M.E.AL’s Social Enterprise programme, working with the long-term unemployed, looking at accessing museums and global and local rural cultures, NNAB (Norwich) with artist led workshops focusing on tactile, sculptural and basketry artwork, InCrops research based work with green businesses, scientists and artists developing greater cross disciplinary opportunities and projects which highlight farming such as study days and the Potato project, when a local donation of land to use for potato growing developed into using heavy horses, heritage potatoes and schools planting and harvesting.