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Grizedale Arts, Lawson Park Farm, Cumbria. Courtesy Grizedale Arts
There is a photograph on the website of Grizedale Arts, in the north of England, that depicts the organisation’s director, Adam Sutherland, in working overalls and mounted on a horse. In the photograph Sutherland wears an oversized commedia dell’arte-style head of the nineteenth-century critic, thinker, philanthropist and social reformer John Ruskin, while wielding a baton, of the type usually associated with mounted riot police. The baton carries the inscription ‘Fors Clavigera’, which was the name Ruskin gave to the monthly pamphlets he self-published from 1871 until 1884.1 During his lifetime, a period in which art and artists were gravitating towards new ideas of autonomy and art for art’s sake, Ruskin was concerned that art should remain firmly rooted within the society in which it was produced.2 Consequently he came to be seen as a reactionary — a kind of Victorian King Canute, attempting to turn back the incoming tide of self-referential modern art. However, for Grizedale Arts Ruskin provides an unlikely rhetorical figure through which neoconser-vative reconstructions of history, as well as neoliberal reconstructions of work and labour, can be challenged and re-imagined. More specifically, Grizedale Arts are keen to resuscitate Ruskin’s role as an activist in early workers’ education movements, or ‘Mechanics Institutes’, as they were called, where art played an integral role in a multi- disciplinary approach to learning and social improvement. In light of this, Grizedale Arts have been developing a series of collaborations with the Coniston Institute, a community centre in the village closest to Grizedale Arts’ base at Lawson Park Farm, a site overlooking Lake Coniston in one of the UK’s designated Areas of Outstanding Natural