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Lead Artists on Design Teams

Case Study One: Tintagel Village Square

Completed summer 2006

PASW became involved through early discussions with Sue Richardson of North Cornwall Arts (NCA) on the principle of involving artists at planning stages. PASW subsequently commented on the briefs and elements of the funding bids, and assisted with the commissioning.

PASW asked the questions that follow. The answers came from Sue Richardson of North Cornwall Arts who co-ordinated the artist’s commission and Lead Artist Michael Fairfax.

The project, including its scale, the overall cost of development and the cost of Lead Artist involvement

Sue Richardson, North Cornwall Arts:

The Tintagel Regeneration Scheme was formulated as a response to the decline of the character and economies of the village. The overall project cost around £300,000 but most of this was for structural work, paving, roads, putting electricity cables underground etc.

Living Legends was the name given to the creative project and the lead artist’s brief included developing a uniquely inspiring theme and design for the village square, nature area and a circular trail. The location and quality of the work needed to be of importance to local people and also impact on the many visitors to the area, giving the project regional and national significance. The artist’s interventions were seen as being integral to the scheme rather than a one off piece of sculpture.

The budget

Lead artist’s fees for 42 days consultation and design: £10,500.

Artist’s fees for other work: £7,000.

Materials’ budget and installation: approx. £108,000.

Touchstones Trail, which included design, making and installation: £8,000.

Arts Council England, South West and English Heritage for outreach work: £10,000.

Creative Partnerships for the Tintagel Giant, including production of the book: £10,000.

NCA project management: £11,600.

NCA raised an additional £5,000 for the opening celebrations which included a music commission, procession etc. Another £1,400 was raised for a community walk in May 2006 with the artists to celebrate the installation of the Touchstones and reproduction of 8 Touchstone postcards.

The site

An old disused site formerly owned by Fry’s Bus Company and a nature area and circular trail from Tintagel Village to the cliffs and back.

Why a Lead Artist approach and the selection process

In 2001, Sue Richardson from North Cornwall Arts was approached by Cornwall County Council in connection with a funding bid to Objective 1 for the regeneration scheme in Tintagel. The County Council was keen to find a way for artists to be involved. North Cornwall Arts put forward a proposal, which identified the need for a lead artist. When the project began, North Cornwall Arts was approached to manage the arts elements and identified the need to appoint a lead artist from the outset. Unfortunately this did not happen early enough. The rigorous recruitment process was lengthy due to lack of suitable applicants from Cornwall on the first round. It was decided to advertise further afield which meant the whole process took over 2 months. However this attention to detail ensured an artist, Michael Fairfax was appointed, who had the necessary qualities to undertake the complex and diverse work.

The issues/constraints of the project and site

Michael Fairfax:

Blimey now you are talking. Issues: Local politics, not to be underestimated, cash constraints as per norm, health and safety.

North Cornwall Arts:

The site was narrow and long with ownership issues for an access route to the car park beyond. These could not be resolved in the timeframe, which meant that the access had to be accommodated across the square.

The work on the Touchstones Trail was delayed until March 2006 because some of the sites were owned by National Trust and it was discovered that they needed to give approval after Michael’s first designs were drawn up. We were surprised permission had not been obtained by the project manager in advance.

The solutions

Michael Fairfax:

Believe in what you are doing and make sure you understand the needs of the site for the community and users, which is this case was not predominately the community.

Make sure you have a good team who can present your ideas and philosophy when you (The Lead Artist) are not present.

Be prepared to compromise on design because of cost on certain elements but don’t compromise on the overall design aesthetic or else the place won’t hold together visually and materially.

North Cornwall Arts:

Village Square

Michael resolved the problem with his design. He created a tranquil and imaginative space with seating defining the car access route. The boundary wall was turned into a feature with words from the Tintagel poem.


Michael had to redesign the touchstones to meet with the National Trust’s approval and we had to have an archaeologist to supervise the installation. English Heritage also supervised their sites.

The difference a Lead Artist made

North Cornwall Arts:

Michael Fairfax, the lead artist and Amanda White, the writer in residence made a huge difference to the whole project as well as the design team. They inspired the professionals on the project team and members of the Tintagel Forum with their ideas and connected with the wider community through different activities, re-engaging local people who began to see a positive way forward through the artist's involvement with the Tintagel Forum meetings.

The staff and students at the local primary school gained much more insight into what was happening in their village, when the artists came to work with them. The head also became very involved and was invited to join the Tintagel Forum. Through their involvement the artists were able to instil a real sense of ownership into the project. They teased out local history, sayings and information which they were able to incorporate into elements of the design and words for the poem.

Michael brought many of these influences and ideas together to form a central theme for the square. The slate paving detail is based on the ancient game of Nine Men’s Morris discovered carved on a wall at Tintagel Castle. Laid in a herringbone style, the design echoes the distinctive local slate hedges and in the seating area board games can be played on the slate square tables.

Other features include a ‘wall of words’ that links to the words on the Touchstones along the new trail and there is a listening post connecting to the sound cairn down by the nature area.

Michael sought out local artists and craftspeople and enjoyed working with Charlie Tapper who contributed a great deal to several features, including the sound cairn in the nature area, the listening post at the school and the Touchstones Trail. He also appreciated the fine craftsmanship of Alistair Guy who produced the oak seating features to Michael’s design.

The lessons

Michael Fairfax:

Have a good team.

Make sure in meetings that everyone understands what has been said.

Be strong.

Understand the requirements of the site. Some things appeared which were not in the design. How did that happen? Can a local authority planner override a design strategy without consultation? Certainly the artists would not have been able to do so. As an example, the banner holders were an elegantly designed oak structure to go with the oak in the seating. On the eve of the opening we discovered that huge blue metal monstrosities were in place. What was strange about this was that the county planner had been hugely supportive and understanding of the ethos of the whole project and this seemed out of character.

North Cornwall Arts:


There were, as always, constraints on the main budget, which impacted on the amount of time allocated to the lead artist for the design and implementation work let alone any community and education work.

The latter was overcome to a certain extent, as North Cornwall Arts was able to dovetail other agencies’ work in the village into the overall Living Legends scheme. The additional funding from Arts Council England, South West and the English Heritage outreach project enabled the community to be involved in banner design, photographic workshops, intergenerational workshops and a community walk.

The artists were able to visit local groups and businesses, adding real community value. The Tintagel Giant project with the local primary school enabled local children, the staff and parents to contribute to the artists’ ideas and the wider project.

Communication and creativity

Having a lead artist who has the necessary skills to communicate with a wide cross section of people from all walks of life is essential in such a small community. Michael displayed these qualities admirably along with an ability to come up with ideas that respond to a place with sensitivity and creativity.

Michael’s designs for the banner holders and supports for the shelter were changed due to cost implications. The decision to use metal and steel was made by the project manager who was also under pressure to complete/rectify other non-arts elements. The project was already running late and the June deadline had passed. These changes have been a major cause for concern not only with Michael but also with the Forum. Lack of communication here is evident. If Michael had had more time to oversee the fabrication and installation, these problems may not have arisen.

North Cornwall Arts:

The Legend Lives On!

Several initiatives have evolved out of the Living Legends regeneration project in Tintagel.

1. BBC Radio 4 recently aired their programme on the Tintagel Giant and Sarah Blunt the programme producer has informed us that it has been entered for the Prix Europa, held in Berlin. The Prix Europa is an international competition and festival for radio and TV programmes which have been produced in Europe by European producers. Successful entries must show what moves people in their societies and bear an unmistakable cultural imprint of their place of origin, yet also reach people of other cultures. The Tintagel Giant programme was one of only two selected from a year’s input by Radio 4.

2. English Heritage used the Touchstones Trail as a focus for their Heritage Open Days event in September 2006.

3. Sarah Butler, a freelance arts project manager working mainly in the field of literature development discovered Living Legends through the North Cornwall Arts website. She has been given a bursary by the National Association of Literature Development (NALD) to do some research in the area of regeneration and literature development. Tintagel will be one of several case studies of successful projects which have used literature in a regeneration context. The project will inform planning of Sarah’s own work in London and will feature on NALD’s website as examples of good practice.

Contact details

Michael Fairfax

[email protected]

North Cornwall Arts has closed. Please direct enquiries to ixia, [email protected]