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Making Waves

Location: Teignmouth, Devon, UK

Artist: Ray Smith


Making Waves is a major town centre lighting artwork completed in 1999 which was conceived and designed by Ray Smith for Teignmouth Town Council. It takes the form of a fluent wave form repeated throughout the 26 spans of the light work along four main streets of the town. The work uses the latest side-glow fibre optic technology in three of the four streets and non-neon light in the fourth. The multi-coloured fibre optic cables, suspended on near-invisible stainless steel catenary wires, trace a wave form through which colours gently shift and modulate. Their slow pulse follows a colour sequence in adjacent harmonies through the visible spectrum as the spectator moves down the street. Across Den Road, which leads straight to the sea front, with its festoon wave-form lighting, the non-neon spans feature static ropes of light with a continuously flowing wave of light running across the top strand. The work lights up at sundown from Easter through the summer season, for the November Jazz Festival, and for a month at Christmas.


In 1994 Teignmouth Town Council had decided to improve the town’s Christmas lights and began consultations with local trade organisations and the District and County Councils. The service from a local decorative lighting firm was felt to offer only a short term solution and was quickly dismissed as poor value for money, and the Town Council asked town artist Ray Smith for his views. In 1993, Ray had been engaged by Teignmouth Town Centre Steering Group to work on the refurbishment and pedestrianisation of the Teignmouth Triangles, two squares in the town centre forming Phase I of a town centre regeneration scheme to which the Steering Group had agreed to apply Teignbridge District Council’s Percent for Art policy. The artist’s brief for this commission indicated the possibility of a longer term role as town artist on successful completion of the Triangles project.

National Lottery Bid

The Town Council decided to pursue Ray Smith’s suggestions to link the festive lighting to the visual theme based on the importance of the sea in the history of the town which he had used for the Triangles. From this initial idea, a bid was developed to the then new funding source of the National Lottery Arts Fund, managed by the Arts Council of England. The bid was led by the Teignmouth Town Centre Lighting sub-committee of the Town Council, with support from Teignbridge District Council.

Ray produced a range of designs linked to the agreed visual theme, which were displayed during the Teignmouth Arts Festival in May 1996. Responses from the public were vital in refining the designs and provided essential public support to drive forward the Lottery bid. This was submitted in June the same year with a initial proposal for a switch-on in time for Christmas 1997. The Town Council committed its annual Christmas lights budget for four years to provide £32,000 as matching funding for the bid, and Teignbridge District Council’s expenditure on Phase I of the regeneration project, the Teignmouth Triangles, was also included.

A major National Lottery award of £269,790 was made in May 1997 by the Arts Council of England jointly to the Town Council and Teignbridge District Council, thus ensuring financial management and monitoring by the District Council on behalf of the Town Council. A formal agreement between the District and Town Councils was drawn up, with the District’s Principal Surveyor as Project Manager responsible for technical and financial aspects, and overall project co-ordination, community consultation and the end of project celebration in the hands of the District’s Arts Development Officer.

Local Consultation

Throughout 1997, development work continued on design and technical aspects of the lighting, and three prototype lighting spans – two types of non neon lighting and a side-glow fibre optic display – each supplied by a specialist company, were displayed over the Christmas season in 1997. A questionnaire was published in the local free paper, which produced a clear message that 74% of residents supported the overall scheme and indicated their strong preference for the fibre optic and the Flo-light non-neon prototype spans. In January 1998, Teignmouth Town Councillors conducted a town centre survey to validate these results, which led to the final specification for a scheme using two of these lighting systems. At the same time, business interests and occupiers of residential properties in the three streets were consulted to identify the implications of the scheme for them.

Tendering Process

As innovative technology was involved, Teignbridge District Council wanted to invite tenders against the three specialist elements – fibre optic lighting, non-neon lighting, and fixings/electrical work. However, the Arts Council required the whole scheme to go out to tender as one job; as a result, firms were quoting for work in unfamiliar technologies, and the prices came in well over budget. Following revision of the tender documents, tenders were subsequently invited for a principle contractor working with named specialist subcontractors who had been involved in developing the innovative technology with the artist. In late autumn 1998, Southern Electricity Contracting was awarded the contract, working with Newlink Ltd (fibre optics) and Gala Lights Ltd (non neon).

Before the tender could be accepted, all fixing points for the supporting power supply, catenery wires and fans had to be negotiated by Teignbridge District Council’s Principal Surveyor assisted by the Town Clerk. The exact location of fixing points was complicated by the fact that a number of town centre buildings are timber framed and not suitable for the loading required. Following satisfactory resolution of these details, SEC and its subcontractors were able to go ahead with manufacturing and installing the work. The lights were switched on by Easter 1999 and a number of technical problems with the equipment and its operation were resolved throughout the summer.

Public Opening

A community event was envisaged as part of the project to celebrate the formal switch-on of the lighting. A meeting held in autumn 1997 generated local enthusiasm for the event, which was originally planned for November 1998. A brief was sent out in May 1998 to a number of arts groups and the Wren Trust was appointed to managed a celebration on the theme of Over and Under the Waves involving workshops leading to a lantern procession, music, theatre and fireworks. In mid 1998, it became clear that the launch would need to be postponed to March 1999, and it was subsequently decided to move the event to 19 November 1999, when it would coincide with the first day of the Teignmouth Jazz Festival and would benefit from the darker nights.

A publicity and marketing campaign was activated in late summer 1999 aimed at local, regional and national audiences for the arts, travel and holidays and at technology interests. Supported by a familiarisation trip run by Teignbridge District Council, high quality colour images and a mass distributed postcard, the project attracted considerable press and media interest, and the work has become well known and is enjoyed, by local people.

Town Artist

Ray Smith was appointed as town artist for the Teignmouth Town Centre redevelopment for five years in 1995, on the basis that he would have the first option to undertake the lead artist role on Percent for Art Initiatives during that period. The appointment itself did not attract a retainer but the Percent for Art allocation from each project was the subject of negotiation with Ray and included his fee. He undertook three major commissions in the five year term.