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UK Museums Come Together To Shine A Light On The Threat To The Natural Environment

Today sees the launch of The Wild Escape, a new collaboration between 500 UK museums and artists designed to inspire hundreds of thousands of primary school children to visit museums and respond creatively to the threat to the UK’s natural environment.  

Led by Art Fund and supported by Arts Council England, it is the largest ever initiative of its kind to bring together the museum community. The Wild Escape will encourage children to create wildlife artworks based on animals featured in the museum collections – artworks which will then be brought to life in an “epic-scale artwork” to be created by BAFTA-winning games studio, PRELOADED. The grand unveiling of the final piece is scheduled, fittingly, for Earth Day 2023 on Saturday 22nd April.

This nationwide initiative will also partner with the WWF, RSPB, the National Trust and English Heritage, alongside an array of world-leading artists and respected environmentalists. Participating museums, galleries and historic houses are set to host a range of special activities for families with a focus on the environment and biodiversity crisis.

According to a report by the Environment Agency published in July 2022, England is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, with a quarter of mammals in England and almost a fifth of UK plants threatened with extinction. A third of British pollinator species are also in decline.

Similarly, The Natural History Museum’s Biodiversity Trends Explorer, published in 2021, revealed the UK has almost lost half of its wildlife and plant species since the 1970s as a result of human and land development.

With only 53% of the UK’s biodiversity left (placing it in the bottom 10%, globally) the importance of The Wild Escape in educating children and initiating a change in mindset is clear.

Speaking on the launch of The Wild Escape, Art Fund Director, Jenny Waldman, said:

“The Wild Escape aims to change children’s awareness and understanding of biodiversity loss. By being at the centre of a co-created epic-scale digital artwork, and thanks to the support of Arts Council England, The Wild Escape will show how the UK’s museums can encourage new forms of creativity, encouraging children to take ownership of one of the defining challenges of our lives. The risk to our precious wildlife.

“The Wild Escape is a first. We want to show how museums, by working together can bring a fresh angle to learning, especially to welcome children’s creative responses to our great collections. We want every child to learn from and enjoy what museums can offer whilst at the same time drawing attention to the threat of biodiversity loss in this country, one of the defining challenges of our lives.”

Emmie Kell, Director for Museums & Cultural Property, Arts Council England, adds:

“The Wild Escape is an ambitious project that shows how the collections housed in museums across the country can inspire positive action to help tackle the climate crisis through creativity. I am proud we are supporting it with one of the largest grants we have given to a museum project. I look forward to seeing the artwork created by school children across the country on Earth Day 2023.”

The Wild Escape is inspired by BBC One’s major forthcoming Wild Isles series presented by Sir David Attenborough. It is also working in partnership with BBC Bitesize, the free study resource for children, which will host films showing an artist making a work inspired by animals in the UK’s museum collections.

Examples of upcoming activity as part of The Wild Escape include:

Northern Ireland War Memorial – An Elephant Never Forgets

A series of creative workshops held in Belfast will enable five primary school classes to explore Sheila the Elephant’s Second World War adventure. Children will learn how elephants are cared for today in Belfast Zoo and be encouraged to create artworks through virtual workshops with a local artist, imagining the creature’s journey to a future habitat rich in biodiversity.

Mount Stuart Trust – Monster Moths

Children and families on the Isle of Bute, Scotland, will celebrate the wonderful world of moths with artist Monster Chetwynd and Mount Stuart Trust. Activities will see schools create zines and families launch moth kites on Earth Day 2023.

Cumberland House Natural History Museum – Habitation Animation

Cumberland House Natural History Museum in Portsmouth will host a series of puppetry workshops exploring habitats and adaptation. An animated film will show animals escaping into a world of greater biodiversity. Curators of Art and Natural History will engage children with key collection items showing the art of habitats and animals that live in them.

Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery

Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Gallery in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, will encourage school groups and general family visitors to choose an animal from the collection and create a four-panel comic imagining their chosen creature’s ‘escape’ to a habitat rich in life.

The Wild Escape is supported using public funding through Arts Council England National Lottery Project Grants, with additional support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Kusuma Trust, Foyle Foundation and a group of generous individuals and trusts. It is open to every primary school age child to take part whether in class, through a visit to their local museum or online, between January and July.

The Green Museums Summit will be held from 26th – 27th February 2024, and will feature inspiring ideas and case studies from those championing sustainability in museums and galleries. Click here to book your tickets now, to make sure you don’t miss out.

About the author – Tim Deakin

Tim Deakin is a journalist and editorial consultant working with a broad range of online publications.

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