Published: July 8, 2020 | Updated: July 8, 2020

Inaugural Dorset Arts Festival hailed as a great success and very welcome relief for exhibitors

By Andrew Diprose, editor

“A great success and a wonderful celebration of the wealth and variety of artistic talent we have here in Dorset.”

The verdict of organiser Simon Gudgeon after a brand new outdoor arts festival at Sculpture by the Lakes, near Dorchester, showcased the best artists and makers in Dorset.

The three-day Dorset Arts Festival went ahead from Friday July 3 to Sunday July 5, with approximately 1,800 visitors attending.

It was one of the first major events to be held in Dorset after lockdown.

More than 40 artists and crafters showcased their work with exhibitions and demonstrations.

They ranged from sculptors and woodturners to printmakers and textiles artists.

Visitors watched as paintings were created, pots were thrown, and jewellery was crafted along with a whole range of other arts and crafts.

Months in the planning, the event had hung in the balance during the coronavirus lockdown, until the government permitted outdoor attractions, such as Sculpture by the Lakes, to reopen again in June.

The decision to open outdoor markets also played an influence in the decision to proceed.

Redesigned with social distancing in mind, the festival was able to take full advantage of its outdoor location, with exhibitors and artists spread out across the 26-acre sculpture park.

Each worked from an individual temporary studio allowing attendees to observe their work from a safe distance.

A strict visitor cap and crowd control also helped ensure visitor, exhibitor and staff safety.

The event was organised by Simon and Monique Gudgeon, owners of Sculpture by the Lakes.

The park, near Dorchester, features more than 30 of Simon’s internationally recognised sculptures, installed within spectacular gardens maintained by his wife Monique and a team of gardeners.

The new festival represented a continuation of their long history of supporting and celebrating artists and makers from across the region and beyond.

Exhibitions are held across three gallery spaces at the sculpture park, along with workshops and events throughout the year.

Simon said: “Working as an artist alone in a studio all day can feel quite isolating at the best of times, but even more so over the past three months.

“Lockdown has seen all our lives change and so many of life’s pleasures placed temporarily on hold.

“That was why it felt really important to us to put on this event if we could do so safely – which we are delighted to say we have.

“We took all necessary precautions to safeguard the welfare of our staff and visitors, and we were very pleased to see our guests using their own judgement and common sense too, keeping a safe distance from others and using hand sanitiser liberally as they made their way around.

“They were exemplary.

“The feedback has been extraordinary, with many visitors expressing their thanks that we were able to push ahead with the event despite the challenges.

“It ended up being a great success and a wonderful celebration of the wealth and variety of artistic talent we have here in Dorset.

“I think for all of us it also felt like a very welcome way marker on the journey back to a more normal way of life.”

The festival was a relief to the artists who were exhibiting.

For many, such events are their main source of income.

For the past three months, the artists have relied on online shopping to sell their items but being able to exhibit their work face-to-face was welcomed by both the exhibitors and the visitors.

One of the exhibitors, Carla Taylor of The Mousehole Woolery, said: “I’ve been selling a few pieces online, but the past three months have been difficult for all artists across the UK.

“People like to see the art face-to-face before they decide to buy.

“Dorset Arts Festival enabled me and my fellow artists to exhibit our work to keen art lovers which we’ve all missed very much over the lockdown period.”

Jayne Tricker, who also exhibited at the festival, said: “The atmosphere was fantastic throughout.

“People were genuinely happy and excited to be there, and the park is so spacious and so beautiful that social distancing didn’t feel at all arduous.

“The artists and crafters gained an enormous amount from being here.

“There is so much joy to be had in sharing your skills and your work with others, and allowing them to see and understand the processes and the passions which, as an artist, you live and breathe day in and out.

“To share our work in that personal way after so many months was so uplifting.”