ArtScapers in North West Cambridge Development

Image of a map of the North West Cambridge Development containing words imagining, being curios, reflecting, co-creating, looking differentlyExploring change at the North West Cambridge Development

How can art and the work of artists help children relate to their city as it grows?

How can children help others to think creatively about these changes?

The NW edge of Cambridge is changing.  A new district is being built with homes and spaces for over 8,500 people to live, work and learn together. The public art programme, curated by Contemporary Arts Society and InSite Arts, has been inviting artists to investigate and respond to these changes through commissioned pieces and a residency and research programme since 2013.  The ArtScapers programme invites children and their communities to join in this process. Visit the Public Art website for a web-based resource for ArtScapers developed from this project and other opportunities to engage with the programme.

A partnership between CCI and Dr Esther Sayers, an artist educator and researcher from Goldsmiths University, the Artscapers programme began in 2016  when it worked with both Mayfield Primary School and the University Primary School. There were a series of creative workshops and events for children, their educators and their families:

What I really like about the project is that it gives the kids a sense of say over their environment…it was not like that for my generation. Its lovely being creative and doing a bit of art-I don’t do that any more - and thinking about what community means and how we can bring people together.
Parent feedback, Gravel Hill Open Day, July 2nd, 2016
Gabby Arenge from the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education researched alongside us during year 1 of the project, and reflects here and what it meant to be an artscaper for everyone involved.

Being an ArtScaper means to look at something and make your own ideas. Then, just think of the idea you thought of before and mix it up so you can make something even bigger and newer. Then just design it.. then just find stuff that might be used in the future and use that to help you build it.
Jared, 8, Mayfield Primary School

CCI artist Susanne Jasilek leads the planning and facilitating of the workshops in the programme. She reflects on her experiences in year one here.

Work from the programme has been re-imagined as an interactive resource and accompanying display materials. These have been shared through exhibitions and events including the 2016 University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas:


Artists Sidonie Roberts and Ruth Proctor made this short film of ArtScapers at the University Primary School. The children are exploring Ruth’s own work We are all under the same sky alongside Susanne Jasilek in a CCI workshop:

This short film shows a broom's eye view of our fantastical city resouce being playing with at the Gravel Hill Farm open day (July 2016):

Our year 2 programme will work again with Mayfield Primary School and the University of Cambridge Primary School but will also invite the community from Girton Primary School to join in.  It is continuing to build relationships and take inspiration from the processes, creative thinking, research and collaborative practices of the Habitation Artists involved in the Arts Programme. Regular updates are shared below. 

An everlasting tea party


Family playing

The Open Eddington day on Saturday 9th September was the first opportunity for everyone to visit this new development.  People came from far and wide – an estimated 4000 visited the site during the day.

ArtScapers had created a new resource for the day that invited playful ways to think about future worlds and communities. Based on work made by the children during our year 2 workshops, we were delighted to be able to share them with artists Winter and Horbelt, on site to open their extraordinary new tea house, whose work the children had explored.

artists Winter and Horbelt


Image showing the entity cards

Open eddington materials ready on a table

Based in the University Primary School, artist Susanne Jasilek had planned workshops and drop in invitations. There was also exhibition of work and films created in the project over the last two years. One hundred and fifty two people of all ages made with us, shaping a breathtaking collection of plasticene ‘entities for future worlds’ which they curated themselves into an exhibition that grew throughout the day. Many more enjoyed visiting this and hearing about the project. New communities were also planned on the huge site maps we offered.

Open eddington new community

Family paying with the cards

Family looking at the cards

Family curating

ArtScapers curating

Children playing

Can we get in it?


We want to engage ArtScapers with some of the site challenges and introduce them to members of the development team. Previous visitors have included the Operations Director and the Procurement Manager.

Alistair Dunsdon, Operations Project Manager with Ruth Sapsed with a storage unit

It was great that Alistair Dunsdon, Operations Project Manager was able to join both the recent workshops for the two classes from the University Primary School ArtScapers when they visited Gravel Hill. He came well equipped with props to illustrate how he stays safe on site – including boots, hat, glasses, and high vis jacket and he told the classes about was the extraordinary and elaborate underground waste system that is being installed. An example of the bin was there for the children as well as images of the specialist trucks and laser technology that will be used. The children were fascinated and as well as asking if they could get in one, their questions and comments included thoughtful observations about how far people might be prepared to carry rubbish from their front door and how the bin lorries will know when it is time to empty the underground storage units.

Alistair left with one of the model tea-houses made by the children to share with others in the team.

Alistair Dunsdon, Operations Project Manager wearing hat, glasses, and high vis jacket

Alistair Dunsdon, Operations Project Manager with one of the model tea-houses made by the children to share with others in the team

Maybe…what if…perhaps


Tea house on the grass

(by Gabby Arenge) I caught up with the ArtScapers project recently, joining the final workshop for the two classes from the University Primary School.  CCI artist Susanne Jasilek had planned a beautifully immersive session, inviting the children to think about the work of artists Winter / Hörbelt and their tea house for the new site.

tea house by Winter / Hörbelt

Artists Winter / Hörbelt and their tea house

I was struck again at how ArtScapers offers a place of possibility for everyone, grounded in the NW Cambridge community’s evolving reality. The most resounding element that struck me during the ArtScapers Tea House Construction session was the children’s use of the words “maybe,” “could,” “what if,” “what about,” “perhaps,” and “might.” These wondering words seemed evidence of their wandering minds and the potential for possibility, which are cultivated in the ArtScaper space. This strikes me as a critical mode of learning, one that is exploratory and open to risk, failure, problem solving, discovery, adaptation, and creativity. Students are allowed to ‘not know’ and instead engage in a process of discovery and experimentation, which inevitably leads to valuable learning. As some students reflected in the session, this exploration allowed them to discover the limits and potential of the materials they used to build their Tea Houses. They were also open to/able to test different ways of working collaboratively to construct a meaningful structure.

Children making their tea houses

Children making their tea houses

Because Susanne introduced the activity as an open-ended challenge, only showing examples of what could be, students were able to freely enter a world of creative discovery. The skills students cultivate in ArtScapers, as well as the actual project, seem deeply linked to the community growth and transformation happening at the NW Development site. This new space is full of ‘what ifs’ and the social, physical landscapes of the new site remain largely unknown and are open to possibility/definition/etc. And yet, there is also a deep connection to the creative transformation and sustainable development movement in which challenges for efficiency and resource conservation frame and structure the “possibility” for the development and community development in Cambridge.

Children making their tea houses

Children making their tea houses

It seems critical to have children involved in this transforming community site, not just because the processes for creative learning are a particularly relevant way to learn about sustainable development—and not even just because these children will cohabitate in this space in the future as they age and the community grows—but the combination, the creative learning, thought processes, and skills cultivated in ArtScapers are essential for children to successfully adapt and embrace this community. The NW Cambridge site will be transient and internationally diverse and full of cutting-edge, experimental technologies and spaces. The NW site is an experiment in itself and thus, it seems critical that children, the future inhabitants of this space, are adaptable, open to changes and possibilities and willing to contribute to the positive creative transformation and development of a new community.

Gabby Arenge was a masters student in the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education and researched the ArtScapers programme for her final thesis.  She writes about this process here.

It’s the future


(by Susanne Jasilek) It’s the future. The ArtScapers have arrived as explorers and prospectors at a site they do not know (actually this is the school) - a building shaped like a donut with space inside. They don’t know what it is - all they know is that it is over-populated and it’s going to be necessary to build extensions to accommodate them. As with previous ArtScapers projects - in this future we can no longer manufacture new materials or take anything further from the earth. We do have the technology though to upcycle old buildings - turn them on their head, cut them up, or place them one on top of another at odd angles.

Extra-ordinary and new ArtScaper architecture emerges from the discarded buildings. Functional buildings for plant making, palaces and one never ending paradise. Dazzling shapes and purposes are allotted to structures The children also think about practicalities and aesthetics. At the end the new individual extensions are place together creating a whole new future extension to this building. 

It's an explorer vehicle..these are for protection from lightening by FelixIt's an explorer vehicle..these are for protection from can be like a department or people can live in it that's why I've put washing lines here. By Felix

A hot air palace by KatharinaA hot air palace

A shiny sliver hot air balloon palace 
fashioned from pure silver. 
Giant garden. 
Free hot air balloon. 
Fly high with a hot air balloon of your own 
and land in a giant garden full of breathtaking flowers.
By Katharina

My building is called the grand olive by OliverMy building is called the grand olive. It can fit 22 children and 14 adults. By Oliver

By ThomasMy building is creating plants. There is a long water tunnel that transports water around to plant storage areas which are filled with plants. The two buildings send deliveries of plants to the shops or sell them. By Thomas

Having created a new architecture, I invite Artsacpers to think about communities and town planning. With their large maps of the North West Cambridge development site as the outline they plan this new place. These are not communities developed over hundreds of years. They are starting from scratch. I ask them to think about:

What is a community?
How can it be created?
What will it need?

These questions are pondered collaboratively - lively discussions take place, solutions are found and the maps are filled in with buildings and spaces for new societies. Beautiful imagery, playful additions, and stunning maps are made. Children stand back at the end and talk about them to the group. 

Archaeology of now


(by Susanne Jasilek) We have returned to the University of Cambridge Primary School this term, working again with the two classes we met last year to help artist Ruth Proctor make her film - We are all under the same sky. Our theme for our first workshop was Archaeology of now and I invited them to explore their own school - a new and contemporary environment -  as prospectors, inventors, explorers, ecologists, imaginators and artists. Could they imagine themselves arriving at this place for the first time with fresh eyes, as the archaeologists and prospectors of the future? We used specimen jars, small boxes, and all kinds of pots to collect the minutiae in the green area just outside the ring of the school building.  Viewed from afar this area seems quite straightforward - grass, wood chip, trees - but the children gathered a huge array of brilliantly diverse objects for drawing, analysis, inspection and naming, creating a new museum as they worked.

Having investigated the area outside the building circumference children took viewfinders to examine more clearly the structure of the building. I invited them to focus on details, perspective, shape, materials, noticing where the man-made and natural meet.

Their observational drawings became the working sketches for developing new ideas. Looking at the work of William Scott (1913 - 1989) and Aboriginal artists such as Ivan  John Mawurndjul and Samuel Namunjdja, our ArtScapers thought how to repeat, pattern, scale up or copy and add to the drawings they had made.

Ivan Namirrkki

Samuel Namunjdja

Willliam Scott

The work was really expressive and experimental and a wonderful gallery of work resulted for the school to view. Here’s just a few examples by Julius, Thomas and Monty.

I drew on the interests, research and processes of previous chosen contemporary artists in residence at the North West Cambridge Development site to shape this workshop and am looking forward to meeting the children again this week for our walk to the Gravel Hill site, an adjacent part of the Development Site, to explore new ideas and spaces.


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