Artistic commission opportunity

Northumberland National Park Authority is seeking creatives to design an exhibition celebrating the enduring legacy of the iconic Sycamore Gap tree.

The renowned tree was deliberately felled in an act of vandalism last September.  It was an act that attracted international attention and was the focus of a huge outpouring of grief worldwide.

Recently, the National Park announced that the tree’s trunk section, the largest rescued part of the felled tree, will find a new permanent home on public display at The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre.

Now the National Park is putting out a call to creatives to envision an exhibition to act as a fitting legacy for the much-missed tree.

Since the felling, Northumberland National Park Authority and the National Trust have been working alongside Historic England, and The Hadrian’s Wall Partnership to ensure the legacy of the tree reflects nature and people.

The response from the public was astonishing, with over 2,000 heartfelt messages pouring in from every corner of the country, and overseas, many of which were from artists and creative people with lots of great ideas. From these responses, three overarching themes emerged.

  • Helping nature thrive
  • Providing a place for reflection
  • Working with artists

The National Park’s commission responds to all three themes and will offer artists the coveted opportunity to write the next chapter in the story of the Sycamore Gap tree and create a powerful legacy for the tree.

The Park envisions the paid commission will take place in two phases. The first phase will see an anniversary exhibition created which will act as a public consultation. Phase two will see the artists create a permanent setting for the trunk at The Sill and will work with children from two schools and a local community group. The first school will be within a ten-mile radius of the Sycamore Gap site, and the other from wider Northumberland.

The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre was chosen as the site to display the trunk as it was known as the gateway to Sycamore Gap.  It was also suggested as a venue for a legacy by the public responses and is the closest visitor centre.  Its proximity to the site is what Tony Gates, Chief Executive of Northumberland National Park Authority, hopes will provide people with a lasting connection to the tree.

He said: “When the tree was illegally felled, the devastation people felt was palpable but as time went on, the public rallied and those strong feelings turned into fantastic ideas for how we could celebrate the tree. Now, looking forward with this commission we want artists and creatives to reflect the tree’s story, while listening to people’s views to create a place for them to come and have an ongoing connection with the tree.

“As this is such a unique commission, we welcome bids from people in all creative sectors working in any medium to put their ideas forward. The Sill was built with accessibility in mind, and it is wonderful that many people who perhaps couldn’t have physically visited the tree at Sycamore Gap, will be able to at The Sill, regardless of their needs and abilities.”

The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre was opened in 2017 by Northumberland National Park Authority. It is the first dedicated Landscape Discovery Centre in the UK, with the vision to encourage more and different people to enjoy and discover Northumberland’s exceptional landscapes.

This exhibition would not be possible without the support of the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland who are generously funding the programme in full and who will support partners in engaging the creatives for this important commission.

Rob Williamson, Chief Executive of the Community Foundation, said: “Like so many others, all of us at the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland were shocked and saddened by the felling of the Sycamore gap tree. Our trustees immediately wanted to offer backing for any initiative that would recognise and build a legacy for what had been lost. Investment in culture, education and environmental awareness are key areas where philanthropic support can make a difference. So, we are delighted to be fully funding this exhibition and creative commission working with the Northumberland National Park Authority. And – fittingly – the significant grant of £50,000 from the Community Foundation has been made possible through our North East Roots Fund which enables expats from the region who remain passionate about this place to give back, alongside the generous donors we work with here. I have no doubt they will all welcome this unique and lasting celebration of Sycamore gap.” 

Partners throughout the process, the National Trust own the land on which the Sycamore Gap tree once stood. The conservation charity recently announced that saplings and cuttings taken from the felled tree in September are starting to grow, and that their plan conservation experts are hopeful descendants of the tree will continue to grow into saplings.

Speaking about the commission, Andrew Poad, General Manager at the National Trust said: “It’s really important that the legacy of this tree lives on – and what better way than ensuring that such a key part of the tree can still be seen by people close to where it originally stood.

“We look forward to seeing the creative responses – and to ensuring that the memory and spirit of this famous tree lives on for many years to come.”

Northumberland National Park is encouraging creatives from any sector, who work in any medium to bid for the commission. Both the anniversary exhibition and permanent artwork produced will occupy a prominent position at The Sill: Landscape National Discovery Centre. The commission is paid with funding to £50,000 available which includes work with schools and public consultation.

The commission document can be viewed here: Artist Commission document