Visual Arts in Rural Communities (VARC) was set up in 2000 and became a registered charity in 2002. VARC is based at Highgreen in rural Northumberland and its mission is:
– To support and fund artists to live and make work in response to the rural landscape and its community.
– To foster, promote and advance an appreciation and understanding of contemporary art and enjoyment of creativity through exhibitions, events and participatory activities in the community and with visiting groups, local schools, and regional SEN and SEND schools.
– To co-operate with other charities and organisations, to work together to achieve aims and share knowledge.
The founder Leo Amery, a stained glass artist, explains what motivated him to set up the charity:
“…I moved from London to a very rural part of southwest France in 1986 when I was thirty. The aim was/is to get closer to Nature both as an inspiration for my work as an artist and for my development as a human being. The idea of VARC was to give artists a similar and rare opportunity to live and work in a very rural environment for a year-long residency so as to experience Nature through all its seasons. The engagement with the rural community is an inevitable consequence of such a move and VARC is the catalyst to encourage and facilitate this interaction.
My experience of helping to bring up our son, Joey, who is on the more challenging end of the autistic spectrum, led me to subsequently encourage VARC to have a focus on working with people with autism…”
In addition to the residency programme, VARC has instigated, fund raised and managed additional projects where artists have worked in relation to the local community. These have ranged from small community events to large projects that have involved artists’ commissions, local residents’ participation, regional public events and substantial publications. We have received financial support from Community Foundation, European funding through LEADER and Defra, Arts Council England, Northumberland National Park Authority (NNPA), Gillian Dickinson, High Sheriff of Northumberland awards and large and small trusts. We are proud to have worked with partners such as universities, NNPA, Kielder Art & Architecture, Crossings, CRISIS, FLOW, Pathways4All, Sangini, local schools and regional SEN and SEND schools. For the ENTWINED programme partners and funders see here. Through this work, opportunities have been made possible for many that would otherwise not have access to art and artists in a rural context.
We actively value and promote social inclusion. For example, in 2018, a Creative Case residency and research led to a pilot residency for a disabled artist. VARC is committed to equality and diversity, read our policy here. All residencies are advertised, promoted and open to all artists. We hold a Home Office Sponsors Licence and promote residencies internationally.
Our current programme ENTWINED: Rural. Land. Lives. Art. includes four one-month residencies as well as longer residencies in the attempt to offer more flexible opportunities for artists. VARC continues to assess and review its core programme and we welcome proposals and ideas for future partnership working.