Art gives renewable energy to our actions

It’s a bright fluttery day in Exeter. I’m in a meadow watching the fresh-faced artist Helen Morse Palmer with a mallet knocking the stem of a red windmill into the ground. 1500 of these mills catch gusts of a breeze like prayer wheels.

Tck tck tck tck tck tck


There is a wow factor to this installation that’s been created with children from 5 schools in Exeter. You can see it from vistas all across the city and up close, there is a friendly, celebratory air that reminds me of childhood trips to the beach.

Surrounded, as it is, by redbrick 1930s council houses, it certainly adds something delightful to the location, and it has become a landmark moment in my memory.


15 years has past, and my recollection of that enchanting day is fairly strong, unusually bright in the fog of other events and experiences. Perhaps this is one of art’s most potent impacts.

What leaps out for me in my memory is the red, I recall the mills like giant poppies. I still have a sense of the wooden stems and plastic blades standing at waist height and my wandering, grass underfoot to the heart of the swirl of them and looking out at the city that is still new to me.

I noticed the wind; a mostly invisible force and source of much of the beauty in this piece. Here, in my present place in time, I often hear people say that ‘one of the reasons we as a society don’t value or even understand the role of energy in our lives is because we can’t see it’. There, the me in the past can clearly see the subtle, volatile and impetuous character of the wind as it tickles past. I can see humanity’s ingenuity and playfulness and I can see the awesome power of a community working together to create something beautiful.

“Encounters with art can make a lasting mark in memory. They evolve in the mind and resolve into meaning. It seems to me that many actions in life have a root in that which has meaning to the person. The memory of a work of art, piece of music or act of theatre, can continue to give us energy and impetus long after the event. Perhaps art is a source of renewable energy for the soul”

Time has past, tck tck tck tck tck,

I set up an arts and energy programme in 2013; moved to action no doubt by memories like this one.  10 years working in the sustainable energy industry and I know that art engages my heart and mind far more effectively than any report dressed up as it may be in emotive, press-worthy language.

My hope is that our communities and artists can find ways to work together to harness the power of beauty in our transition to a low carbon future. I hope that our arts and energy programme will help to share these arts products further afield and maybe there will be more landmark moments for more of us on our difficult journey.

And you?

  1. What are your first memories of energy?
  2. What works of art have left an indelible mark?
  3. Have any of these experiences inspired you to do something?

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