Offering a family-friendly programme of talks, networking and time for personal practice, the event takes place from 19 to 23 September in Devon’s Colehayes Park
During the Covid-19 pandemic, artist and photographer Natasha Caruana began to feel disconnected. Community is important to the mother of one, as is the knowledge that the creative journey can be a long one – particularly for women and caregivers. So, as Covid-19 restrictions began to lift, she resolved to try something new.
Taking place from 19 to 23 September, during National Happiness Week, Caruana designed her own creative retreat. Set in Devon’s Colehayes Park, the event offers a programme of talks, networking and time for personal practice, all centred around the themes of rest and recuperation.
“Obviously it’s a bit of a wacky idea, to go and book a stately home, a massive stately home, and 20 hectares of land,” Caruana laughs. “But I wanted to give artists a boost as they go into that back to school autumn time and that boost really comes from being connected, from getting into a new environment.”
Key to Caruana’s vision is the creation of a flexible and inclusive space for artists, somewhere both individuals and families can visit, without the need to choose between caregiving responsibilities and their practice. “I’ve had some major shows this year and I’ve been having to do it all with my daughter with me,” Caruana explains. “Because I’m breastfeeding, it’s not even a question that I would leave her, but I still wanted to be an artist. It’s not like suddenly you can switch off the artistic mind.”
The creative retreat, run by Caruana’s online artist community Work Show Grow, offers family-friendly accommodation and a “pick n mix” of workshops and events. This programme includes a discussion on migration, translations and the construction of narratives with Anya Lewin, associate professor at Plymouth University, and a guided woodland walk with Louise Fedotov-Clements, national curator of contemporary art at Forestry England. There will also be a workshop exploring creative ideas through play, and a multi-sensory session of swimming, forest bathing and image-making.
It is, Caruana acknowledges, a pretty packed programme. “But,” she says,”there’s definitely enough space for people to bring their own work, to use the workshop rooms, stick things up, talk to each other, do crits. It’s a time to think about new ideas and to think about works in progress as well.”
It can be hard, both as an artist and as a caregiver, to find time to seek out inspiration to create. Caruana hopes the retreat will offer this time in a marked and structured way. But also, that it will provide an opportunity for reinvigoration among like-minded people – that it will offer the work life balance and sense of community that is so important to her as an artist.
“Particularly with photography, often we’re really being challenged by the subjects we’re photographing, or maybe going through really difficult areas, telling those stories,” the artist says. “So learning to be mindful of yourself and trying to be happy with your work, I think is really important to help you continue. It’s such a long road and if you don’t enjoy the journey, then there’s no end result.”