Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

Thinking differently about diversity at Westonbirt

Posted: March 30, 2023 at 13:13 pm Author: Liz Bell

An exhibition of forest-inspired artwork by people whose minds work ‘differently’ is coming to Westonbirt in May 2023, as part of a project exploring the role and value of diversity in nature and in society.

Producer and writer Liz Bell explains the story behind the exhibition...

The tree collection at Westonbirt Arboretum is not only remarkably large, but also exceptionally diverse. And, unlike in many other botanic gardens, where collections tend to be grouped according to species, the trees here are displayed in a way that embraces and celebrates this diversity. The benefits of such rich variety extend far beyond the aesthetic – diverse forests support rich ecosystems in which hundreds of different types of plants and animals can thrive.

Thinking Differently About Diversity exhibition

We know that when it comes to forests, diversity is crucial – so could exploring the role and value of this diversity also help us to understand and appreciate our own differences? If a forest with a high degree of diversity is more resilient and abundant than one with only a single type of tree, surely a society with lots of variation in how its inhabitants perceive and interact with the world is richer and more creative than one in which everyone thinks alike?

It was from these questions that the idea for an exciting new arts project first emerged. In collaboration with the Barnwood Trust’s ‘Creating Change’ peer learning group and Forest of Dean-based arts charity Artspace Cinderford, the Learning & Participation team at Westonbirt developed a plan for a community engagement project to celebrate diversity through creative expression.

A series of artist-led workshops were held at Westonbirt and in community support groups and organisations across Gloucestershire, including the Independence Trust, Headway Gloucestershire, The Orchard Trust, Apple Orchard Carehome, Camphill Village Trust, and mindSCAPE, for people with experience of dementia, brain injury, learning disability, autism and/or ADHD.

Thinking Differently About Diversity exhibition

During these workshops, participants were invited to reflect on the role and value of diversity and supported to express themselves creatively using a range of artistic techniques. Images of the resulting artwork will be displayed as part of the upcoming exhibition in the Great Oak Hall at Westonbirt in May 2023, as well as in an online gallery and in a printed anthology.

We hope that this exhibition will inspire more people to think differently about diversity. After all, many of us who have been involved in its development and creation have experienced significant challenges related to our unique sensory, cognitive, and/or social differences. But in many cases, these difficulties are presented not by our differences themselves, but by the inflexibility, inequality, and inaccessibility of the world and the society in which we all live.

Thinking Differently About Diversity exhibition

Diversity can only flourish in an inclusive environment. The incredible diversity at Westonbirt is testament to the size and quality of the site, which is capable of supporting 2,500 tree species from around the world. Likewise, if we want to create a society in which every kind of mind can thrive, we need to accommodate diversity by changing the way we view, act towards, and talk about people who think ‘differently’.

The ‘Thinking Differently About Diversity’ exhibition will take place in the Great Oak Hall at Westonbirt, and will be open to all visitors to the arboretum between 1 and 10 May 2023.

More information is available here.

Liz Bell is part of the Barnwood Trust’s ‘Creating Change’ peer learning group and has been collaborating with Westonbirt and Artspace Cinderford to develop and deliver this project. She is also lead writer and producer at The ZIG/ZAG Project, which works in partnership with organisations in Gloucestershire and beyond to inspire curiosity about neurodiversity.