How nature almost reclaimed deserted Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Its 500 green acres, clipped and manicured, are as much an attraction for day trippers as the works of art dotted across them.

But when the people left, nature began to claim back the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

A glimpse inside, as its staff trickled back to work and began preparing it for reopening, revealed a vastly different landscape.

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“It actually looks quite spectacular in lockdown. It’s overgrown, the flowers are out and the bunnies have taken over,” said Hannah Pearson, marketing manager at the estate which in four decades has established itself as one of world’s most distinctive exhibition spaces.

Work continues behind the scenes at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Picture: Tony Johnson

Because it is a park, many would-be visitors had assumed during the nice weather last month that it was open for socially-distanced strolling.

“Sadly, that was not the case,” said Ms Pearson. “We’re a park but not a public park. We’re an accredited museum. So when the Prime Minister said public parks could open, it didn’t include us.”

Instead, many of the staff went on furlough, leaving just a handful to look after security and pursue grants for emergency funding from the Arts Council.

When the absentees returned, the seasons had changed.

Work continues behind the scenes at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Picture: Tony Johnson

“The grass was incredibly high, and we had to adjust the machinery to make it a bit more tenable,” said Will Poppleton, an operations worker on the estate.

“A lot of the wildlife has benefited from not having us mow everywhere. It’s most noticeable at the lakes – you can see a lot of avian activity. But it’s been a shame to see it so empty, particularly in the fine weather. We can’t wait for it to reopen.”

Andrew McCallum, the park’s operations manager, said as he dusted Damien Hirst’s unicorn sculpture, Myth, with a garden brush: “It’s been a paradise. It still is a paradise. But it could do with some water.”

Reopening will be in phases, with a likely limit on the number of car parking spaces and the extensive indoor galleries remaining shut for longest.

Work continues behind the scenes at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Picture: Tony Johnson

“People want to know the details and we’re pleased that we’re at last getting to the point when we can start telling them,” Ms Pearson said.

The financial implications will longer to assess, she added.

“This is our busiest time of the year, especially given the nice weather. The money we make in spring and summer carries us through to autumn, and we will need to consider the knock-on effect. We have a team looking at fund raising and what’s available to us.”

Reorganising exhibitions by artists whose commitments extend to galleries around the globe has been a juggling act, said Helen Pheby, head of the park’s curatorial programme.

Work continues behind the scenes at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Picture: Tony Johnson

“Bringing artworks from all over the world is a highly complex operation and we had to make immediate contingency plans,” she said. One huge granite sculpture was already on its way to Yorkshire from a park near Johannesburg.

“The situation has shown the need for creative thinking, adaptability and flexibility,” Ms Pheby said. “We have worked with artists, lenders and suppliers to rearrange projects and everyone has been really supportive and understanding.”

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Work continues behind the scenes at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Picture: Tony Johnson

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