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Lead Artists on Design Teams

Durlston Castle, Dorset


Lead Artist: Lulu Quinn

Durlston Castle is a unique and major heritage, interpretation and refurbishment project in Swanage, Dorset, made possible through a significant Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) bid. Durlston Castle and Country Park holds a key position along the spectacular Jurassic Coast.

Public Art South West (PASW) became involved in the project through early discussions and research with officers at Dorset County Council (DCC), around the principles of inviting an artist onto the project and planning team. PASW were subsequently invited onto the steering panel, which put together a brief, a funding bid for artist’s fees, shortlisting and artist recruitment and early steering of the ensuing work.

PASW asked the questions that follow. The answers came from Cleo Evans, Arts Officer at Dorset County Council (DCC), who led the bids, brief and work programme of the residency, and has written this case study for Public Art Online. There are some additional comments from other DCC Officers.

This initial feedback came in the summer of 2006 after the first artist residency period.

An up to date reflection as of Summer 2009 is provided further on in the case study by lead artist Lulu Quinn, and also additional follow up thoughts from Cleo Evans, which together bring the project up to date and review its outcomes.

"The presence of the artist Lulu Quinn has had a profound effect on the design of the Durlston Castle redevelopment. Lulu very quickly grasped the ethos behind the project and, as a member of the Design Group, she has helped shape everyone's thinking through her articulation of the fundamental way in which art can deliver both the interpretation of complex science and a fundamental sense of well-being associated with awe and wonder of the natural world. I think it is fair to say that without this artistic input we would not have been able to deliver the world-class product that we now believe we have."
Malcolm Turnbull Head of Policy for the Environment and Leader of the Project.

The Project

This Project aimed to support an artist to work as an integral part of the Design and Architectural Team in the redevelopment of Durlston Castle, Swanage, and its grounds.

With the support of the Regional Development Agency (SWRDA), Dorset County Council had designated Durlston Castle as its potential gateway interpretation centre for the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, and the arts were selected to play a key role in this development.

The Site, Scale and Overall Cost of Development

The coast of Dorset and East Devon stretching from Studland to Exmouth was designated a World Heritage Site in December 2001. It is the only natural World Heritage Site in England. Dorset County Council plays an extensive part in the management and maintenance of this site.

The South West of England Regional Development Agency (SWRDA) purchased the lease on Durlston Castle, Swanage in 2003. A Joint Venture agreement was drawn up with Dorset County Council and the authority bid for Heritage Lottery Funding for the eventual complete renovation of the Castle and its grounds with a view to it becoming a flagship Gateway Centre.  Interpretation of the heritage of the site was enhanced by the work of local, regional, national and international artists, to enable the historical and the contemporary to link together to mark this area of outstanding beauty. The total cost of the project was in the region of £6,000,000.

Cost of Lead Artist involvement

Lulu Quinn, the appointed artist was initially contracted for 25 days to work on Part One of the HLF bid. The funding came from Arts Council England South West via a Grants for the Arts bid. The artist fees were £250 per day and £50 expenses per day.

At a Friends of Durlston Consultative Group meeting the Friends agreed to underwrite an extension to Lulu Quinn's contract - up to a maximum of £1,500. They hoped that this could be matched from other sources and that it would enable the artist to continue working closely with the Park Ranger's on park interpretation. This did get matched by a further grant of £7,500 funding from ACESW to pay for Lulu to be involved in Part Two of the HLF bid.

Why a Lead Artist Approach and the Selection Process?

A lead artist can bring an innovative approach to the design and interpretational aspects of a project. Lulu Quinn brought in the 'what if' factor and challenged perceptions of what could happen. Lulu was fisrt appointed and subsequently became part of the interview panel to select the architect Long and Kentish. She came to all the design meetings, worked with groups such as the Rangers, who were initially sceptical but have since seen the value of her input, as well as continually feeding in ideas and possibilities throughout the process.

The selection process involved shortlisting 4 artists, who were invited to work up and present a Broad Stage proposal. For this they were paid a fee of £750. The fee included a site visit where the Project Team presented the important historical, environmental, artistic, and geological context of the site - set within the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. This informed their Broad Stage proposals that outlined how they would work as part of the architectural design team, and also gave a very broad outline of concept design.

The Broad Stage was presented to a panel with representatives from PASW (Public Art South West), Dorset County Council, World Heritage Team and Durlston Country Park Wardens. During the interview, they were asked questions that related directly to the brief. In addition, they were given the opportunity to talk further about the nature of their own practice and its relevance to the project. They were also able to ask the interview panel any questions that they had about the project as a whole.

The Issues/Constraints of the Project and Site

  • People on the design team were initially a little sceptical about the involvement of an artist.
  • The site is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  • Parts of the Castle are designated as Listed.
  • It was a multi partnership team, which has many positives, but is also sometimes complicated, due to the diverse range of viewpoints.

The Solutions

The appointment of the artist helped to identify, fuse and develop all the various strands essential to the development process. She was a catalyst for the differing viewpoints and helped to pull them together, as well as presenting new visions.

The team very quickly came to respect the artist and her ideas. In addition to her skills and vision, her ability to empathise with and share a similar philosophy was crucial, as it enabled her to fit within and adjust to the dynamics of the team.  It may be that this is more relevant to the role of the artist than others on a design team.

Team members may not have experience of working with artists and may well have apprehensions and a limited view of what an artist does and what they can offer. Often there may be a preconception that artists only paint pictures or make sculptures and, unless they have had the opportunity of working in this way, it is an assumption that is often present. Happily, the design team at Durlston, even though some were cautious, were very open-minded and could soon see the benefits of a team member with a different outlook.

It was also very important to involve the main team leaders in the artist selection process in order to integrate the artist as fully as possible.

The Difference a Lead Artist on the Design Team Made to the Project

"We found Lulu's contribution to the design process to be very useful and stimulating. Her artistic perspective added to the creative process and made an important contribution in identifying the nature of the visitor experience we are trying to provide. As interpretive planners and designers we would welcome the opportunity to collaborate more frequently with artists such as Lulu Quinn."'Imagemakers'  the Interpretation Consultants that conducted the Interpretation research and Action Plan

“Though initially sceptical about the involvement of an artist in the Durlston Project Design team, Lulu Quinn's contribution has proved a real catalyst in directing our thinking. By identifying the fundamental elemental aspects of the Site, some of her thoughts and feelings have become 'shorthand' or 'catch phrases' for how we are now approaching the project, " Awe and Wonder" and "bringing the "Outside In" springing immediately to mind. The Ranger team and Friends of Durlston would value her continued involvement particular in the development of  the concepts of some imaginative subliminal interpretation and site sympathetic artworks to the extent of the Friend's offering to underwrite some of the funding needed to make this possible.”
Robin Ploughman - Senior Ranger at Durlston Castle Country Park

“Lulu's involvement from the early stages of the project ensured a clarity of thought and the provision of a number of clear themes or perhaps more appropriately emotions/essences of a reused Durlston Castle, these have remained critical to the design, interpretation and project development throughout the progress of the work to develop and confirm the project scope and details. They have also provided clear 'themes' to come back to at times of uncertainty.”
Martin Cooke, Business Manager of Durlston Castle

"The presence of the artist Lulu Quinn has had a profound effect on the design of the Durlston Castle redevelopment. Lulu very quickly grasped the ethos behind the project and, as a member of the Design Group, she has helped shape everyone's thinking through her articulation of the fundamental way in which art can deliver both the interpretation of complex science and a fundamental sense of well-being associated with awe and wonder of the natural world. I think it is fair to say that without this artistic input we would not have been able to deliver the world-class product that we now believe we have."
Malcolm Turnbull Head of Policy for the Environment and Leader of the Project.

"Lulu has been a real asset to the Durlston project, both generally as an artist, and particularly because of who she is in general, it has been very helpful to have a mind and imagination at work outside the box of the usual design team concerns. The rest of us are familiar (perhaps too familiar) with the procedures and categories of information which must be addressed for any public funding application.  On behalf of our clients we are anxious to be sure that the required informational content is part of the project. This can sometimes result in proposals which are too evenly spread across the subject range, or too verbal. The presence of an artist ensures that we think non-verbally and that we concentrate on what is truly unique about the particular situation.

It has been a particular delight to work with Lulu. She is both intelligent and inspired. She is able to make radical suggestions which encapsulate the intentions of the project. At the same time, she is able to appreciate the developing architectural proposal, and make suggestions to support and advance the project, rather than undermining it. Her proposed art wall dealing with the all-important issue of diversity at Durlston promises to transcend the limitations of literal interpretation.

I hope very much that as the detail develops at stage 2 she will be available to work in increasing detail on some of her proposals. Without her, the clear focus could easily be obscured in the development process"
MJ Long of Long and Kentish Architect Practice

"I spoke to Malcolm Turnbull yesterday and he said he has now got to stage that he cannot conceive of doing a project like Durlston without artist involvement"
Paul Leivers - Head of Service of Libraries and Arts, Dorset County Council

The Lessons (2006)

The importance of selecting the right artist who can relate to the ethos of the project. The successful appointment of Lulu Quinn had a very positive effect on this project.

Hindsight has shown it would have been beneficial to contract the artist for a few more days than were originally budgeted for. For future projects it is strongly recommended to add in a contingency to the funding application.

Durlston Project Update: July 2008


Dorset County Council, the Durlston team and a wide range of project partners are celebrating the news that the Heritage Lottery Fund has confirmed £3.1m of funding towards the £5.5m Durlston Project. Being successful with a Heritage Lottery bid of this scale and complexity is a major achievement, and the culmination of four years careful planning and hard work.”
Hamish Murray.  Project Leader

Update Summer 2008, Cleo Evans, Dorset County Council Arts Officer

Martin Cooke the Project Manager said 'The arts and cultural elements of the Stage 1 and 2 bids were critical parts of the application. The opportunities for arts and cultural uses at Durlston are already recognised but I'm sure new ideas and proposals will come forward as the project develops'.

There have been difficulties this year in keeping the artist and Dorset County Council Arts Officer in the picture. The project group split up into smaller groups and focussed on various areas; some purely contractual, for example the engineering reports.

But there was also an Interpretation Group, the process of which both Lulu Quinn and Cleo Evans (DCC Arts Officer) felt a little removed from. However Lulu Quinn was able to develop the 'Diversity' project, with the Architect,which the Project Team and people such as the Jurassic Coast Team have been excited and very supportive of.

The whole process of having the artist on board from the beginning has very much helped to embed the arts as an important part of the whole centre and the experience that visitors gain. From the initial point of getting the artist on board there have been many arts events and an arts and science residency (a scientist working with an artist on new research). There has also been a successful capital Arts Council funding bid for an artist studio (for international, national, regional and local artist residencies and collaboration). This bid has also helped to resource Lulu Quinn's 'Diversity' wall installation for the castle.

Other developments included in mid July 2008 Andy Goldsworthy  carrying out a site visit for one week, and this was privately funded by the Fine Foundation.

We were also able to commission another artist, Gary Breeze, to create a work, which will aid wayfinding and connections from the car park to the Castle.

The entire project has had the very positive effect of placing  the arts as a central and critical aspect to project design and development. However, because the main team has changed, so has the emphasis on utilising an artist’s skills to bring the 'what if' factor and challenge the teams ideas, particularly on interpretation. This has been disappointing. Constant advocacy is needed especially as teams change and fragment, in order to keep everyone open to additional and new ways of working.

It would have been desirable to get the artist back on board for the final part of the development but that would have required further funding again.

© Cleo Evans, Dorset County Council Arts Officer, 2006 - Updated 2009.

Note from PASW:

There have also been some real issues over contracting.  Trying to fit an artist’s commission contract within the structure of the whole procurement mechanism has been fraught at times. The commissioners and the artist have been able to find a solution through sometimes intense negotiations and work on all sides, but this is an issue for local authorities, used to a procurement culture, to solve if they wish to embrace and integrate creative commissions within their services.

Lead Artist Reflections

Lulu Quinn Summer 2008

How do you begin to work with a site, which has a status of outstanding natural beauty, a National Nature Reserve and is an entrance to the Jurassic coast?  In my case you stand back and listen. The Durlston castle project has involved so many specialists and local experts that at times the artist becomes a mere shadow. The project has drawn in international experts and local volunteers who care passionately about the site; it is a hidden secret on the English Coast and is about to open its doors.

So what is it the artist can do? That was a constant question within the design team.  A natural reaction is to explode with ideas, but the amount of topics that were drawn on for possible interpretation began to turn the project into a naturalist’s supermarket. Working closely with the architect MJ Long from Long and Kentish architects I began to realise that a light touch would be essential to draw out what was already there.  The process was extremely lengthy with a constant review process with new exhibition designers coming and going. On each review, ideas would be scaled down, sharpened and focused. These also included new discussions on my role, some felt I was there to provide the “Wow” factor, but others agreed with me that this element already naturally existed. For me the notion of interpretation became more meaningful through the process of raising questions rather than the delivery of answers. Out of this, came two projects working with transparent glass, text and light that explored new possibilities of interpretation for Durlston.

Diversity is to be sited on three walls in the café with 38 glass panels covering over 25 sq meters and containing the names of over 2,576 species including, 4 reptiles, 5 amphibians, 21 snails, 23 earthworms, 32 ferns, sedge and horsetails, 33 mammals, 38 butterflies, 56 grasses, 75 fungi, 93 trees, 263 birds, 322 micro moths, 402 insects 460 moths and 431 flowers that can be found on the site. All of the names have the same size text so that the value of “man” is identical to that of a “lice”. Diversity is a visual poem on the diversity of species, some common and some quite mysterious. Diversity aims to provide the public at a glance the enormous scale of species to be found at Durlston. By using many names that may not be familiar to many people the work will provide a focus for thought and reflection. The names include common and Latin names and mark a moment in time at Durlston Country Park when all of these species were known to inhabit the site. It is this rich diversity that marks Durlston as a unique site in the UK.

When funding of the Diversity project was confirmed it was imperative to bring on board representatives from Public Art South West to guide the Council though the procurement process for commissioning an artist. It is important for commissioners to differentiate between artists’ commissions and building contracts as there can be some confusion and the viability of projects depends on the use of contracts, which provide clear terms, and conditions that are relevant to the artistic practice.

Lulu Quinn 2009