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The Wild Escape was a new, UK-wide mass participation art project from national charity, Art Fund. Its purpose was to connect families and schools creatively with museums and galleries whilst discovering more about our UK’s native wildlife.

Family activities and school workshops for children aged 7-11 explored wildlife in works of art, artefacts and natural environments and imagined the creatures they discovered escaping back to their natural wild habitats, raising awareness of the biodiversity of their area and, as a national project, the wider UK. It was also an opportunity for museums and galleries to work in association with a range of wildlife and conservation partners such as the WWF and RSPB.

The Wild Escape coincided with the BBC’s Wild Isles programme, a major new natural history series, presented by Sir David Attenborough, revealing a previously unseen wild side of the UK.

The Wild Escape then culminated in a large-scale national participative event on Earth Day 2023, where the things children made in museums, in the classroom or online were brought together in a collective work of art, unveiled during a weekend of activities for all ages.

Get Wild About Surrey was our way of bringing The Wild Escape to Surrey’s children and families.

Six Surrey museums steered the initiative: Bourne Hall, Chertsey, Museum of Military Medicine, Rural Life Living Museum, Surrey Heath and Haslemere Museum as the lead, with support from Surrey Museums Partnership.

Together, they developed wild-themed school workshops and family crafts, a countywide trail of Easter activities in the wider group of museums and galleries, and a celebration festival on Earth Day at Haslemere Museum. Through a series of events and working with a range of other Surrey organizations, Get Wild About Surrey raised awareness of the diversity of habitats across the county, inspired by wildlife in museum collections.

What Did They Do?

Schools workshop – Flight of the Bee: Bee Mapping sculpture

Artist Diana Burch worked with over 400 school children to create striking 3D wire sculptures of bee flights when pollinating flowers. These sessions were combined with historic bee artefacts and a bee talk. The beautiful pollen-shaped spheres are being added to schools’ green spaces or gardens as children learn about growing wild gardens to attract more wildlife. This creative element was a powerful artistic response to combine with the knowledge of bees for children to understand the significance of pollinators and value the uniqueness of bees in our county. It also raised awareness of the natural history collections within our museums.

Bee Flight Sculptures created with schools and Artist, Diana Burch.  Photo c. Jess, HYPE team, Haslemere Museum

Creative Family activities
The museums created individual Creature Craft activities exploring Surrey wildlife from habitats local to their sites and with a link to their museum collections. Habitats included Surrey’s heathland, wetland, woodland, and urban environments.

Countywide Family Crafts
‘Get Wild About Surrey’ family crafts over Easter enabled other Surrey museums, galleries, heritage, library and arts colleagues with wildlife links in their collections to join in and broaden the reach of the project to communities around Surrey.

Organizations ran Creature Craft activities linking local wildlife and their museum collections, designed to raise awareness of environment, the human impact on habitat and caring for the future of our natural world. Families explored animals in the collections and were encouraged to get creative in helping those creatures spring to life and ‘escape’ from the object or artwork to return to its natural habitat, thus discovering more about the collections as well as the area’s wildlife.

Families enjoyed clay sculpting, felting, creating wildflower prints, hammering copper owl feathers, sewing nightjar finger puppets, spotting hidden animals, making origami creatures and even hearing legends from the Swan Queen. All the while discovering the perfect habitat for snakes, squirrels, otters, swans, nightjars, fish, badgers, bats, bees and more.

Earth Day Celebration Festival at Haslemere Educational Museum
Museums, artists, school children and families came together in a wonderful festival on Earth Day, hosted by Haslemere Educational Museum as the lead partner. This was part of a nationwide celebration where artwork created throughout The Wild Escape from all organizations across the UK became part of one single artistic response – a visually vibrant virtual world of the creatures created by children and families involved.

Over 250 visiting family members at the Get Wild About Surrey Earth Day Festival were able to enjoy all the Surrey museums and their Creature Craft activities, meeting environmental and wildlife organisations, learning about microplastics, seeing British wildlife Lego models, finding out about honey-making and beehives, trying bee-sculpture craft, pond dipping and woodland walks with tree identification.

A variety of talks also ran throughout the day with guests from Wildlife Aid Foundation, RHS Wisley, Sussex Ornithological Society, Haslemere Natural History Society, Haslemere’s resident beekeeper and the Education Officer. Talk themes were the “I Do One Thing” initiative, Changing Biodiversity of the Local Area, How Garden Plant Diversity Helps Sustain a Healthy Planet, Birds of the Heathlands, Honey Bee Watch: A Citizen Science Project and How Humans are Learning to Co-exist with a Changing Diversity of Wildlife, including large carnivores such as bears.

Families enjoying Get Wild About Surrey craft activities on Earth Day. Photo c. Jess, HYPE team, Haslemere Museum

What Next?

It was important to create something special to continue the conversations around caring for our natural environment. Something to encourage curiosity and respect of our wildlife. Something to be shared countywide.

With that in mind, Surrey chainsaw artist, Ella Fielding was commissioned to create a beautiful totem pole sculpture of the wildlife in the project as the focal point of a travelling exhibition, along with a short film from Surrey film-maker Jarod Parker to capture Ella’s artistic process. The aim is to inspire those who see, touch, smell (!) and play with the sculpture to feel a connection with the natural world through the natural materials they’ve been carved from.

The accompanying exhibition shares each partner’s individual creative project and a selection of Surrey’s incredible wildlife to raise awareness of the amazing creatures around us, while demonstrating how working together with small changes can make a world of difference.

Visitors will discover something new about Surrey museums and Surrey wildlife and are hopefully inspired to do one thing to make a change.

Dates and places to see the totem pole and Travelling Exhibition will be on Haslemere Educational Museum’s website from September. In the meantime, enjoy finding out more about Ella Fielding’s work via the link to her website  Gallery – Ella Fielding – Ella Fielding Gallery – Sculptor / Chainsaw Artist and keep an eye out for our short film about the process of the totem pole creation.

Participating Organizations :  Ash Museum, Bourne Hall Museum, Chertsey Museum,  East Surrey Museum, Egham Museum, Elmbridge Museum, Guildford Heritage Services, Haslemere Educational Museum, Haslemere Natural History Society,The Hockey Museum, The Lightbox, The Museum of Military Medicine, RHS Wisley, RSPB, Rural Life Living Museum, The Sime Gallery, Surrey Heath Museum, Surrey Heritage, Surrey Museums Partnership, Sussex Ornithological Society, Watts Gallery Artists’ Village, The Wildlife Aid Foundation and creative artists Diana Burch, Benta Hickley, Ella Fielding and Jarod Parker.

Thank yous!  The Wild Escape was made possible through lead support from Arts Council England’s National Lottery Project Grants, with additional support from Art Fund.