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The Peterhead Creative Communities Project

Location: Peterhead, UK

Artists: Sans façon (artist Tristan Surtees and architect Charles Blanc), DEP Landscape Initiatives (Stephen Bridge), Jean Bei Ning, Ginny Hutchison, Stephen Healy, Janet McEwan.


In January 2005, Aberdeenshire Council appointed Sans façon as lead artist-team to work at an early, outline stage of planning for Peterhead’s current phase of regeneration, within a scheme called The Peterhead Creative Communities Project. The involvement of artists at such an early stage of planning is relatively unusual – however, this is increasingly considered to be ‘best practice’.

Having drawn up some open-ended proposals with landscape architect Stephen Bridge, Sans façon undertook a number of highly creative projects that engaged the town’s communities in some of their ideas. Sans façon also masterminded a conference that introduced key players at Aberdeenshire Council to international thinking about public art practice and presented examples of what artists have achieved within other industrial locations.

In September 2006, Sans façon was appointed onto the design team for the next phase of the regeneration programme.


Peterhead is an industrial town on the north east coast of Scotland with a population of 19,000. Its economy has been based largely on fishing, and on oil and gas – industries that are facing major challenges – and the harbour now shows signs of a downturn in marine trade. Other sources of employment have become uncertain, too, and there are concerns about drug and alcohol dependency and poor educational attainment.

Now that the waterside is less dominated by industry it has considerable potential in terms of development. However, as Chris White, Buchan Area Manager of Aberdeenshire Council explains: ‘like many commercial fishing ports, Peterhead will never appeal as a great tourist destination’. Yet the town has many very positive attributes. The main shopping area has not been taken over by the usual chains and the town has a distinct identity and a strong sense of self-reliance.

In 1998, Aberdeenshire Towns Partnership (ATP) – comprising Aberdeenshire Council, Communities Scotland and Scottish Enterprise Grampian – began to plan the regeneration of Peterhead.


Supported by The European Regional Development Fund, ATP provided £2m for a granite paving scheme and other improvements designed by Scott Associates, and a bronze sculpture called Fisher Jessie (a historical depiction of a woman and child) by Andy Scott. These works were completed in 2002. In a related scheme in 2002-3, artist Wilma Eaton worked with local schoolchildren to create drawings of public art works that were later fabricated by Scott Associates and sited in The Pends – the narrow lanes that adjoin the main street.

In 2004, Peterhead was awarded approximately £300,000 under the EU Interreg IIIb scheme and entered the RevitHar (Revitalisation of Harbour Towns) programme. This initiative, involving towns in Germany, The Netherlands and Scotland, gives support to help reconnect harbour towns with their neglected waterfronts.

In November that year, Saskia Gibbon, Arts Development Officer at Aberdeenshire Council, secured £12,300 from a new scheme, PROJECT: engaging artists in the built environment, funded by CABE and Arts & Business, and administered by PASW. The PROJECT grant, together with the support and advice of Alistair Snow, scheme manager at PROJECT, enabled her to set up The Peterhead Creative Communities Project, an initiative that ensured that artists could be engaged to work on RevitHar-related plans for the town at a very early stage.

Within a period of just six years, therefore, Aberdeenshire Council ‘moved from traditional street scaping to integrated art and design. We became interested in art of the place rather than placing art. And we had a gradual recognition about what artists could do within the regeneration process’ (Chris White).

Project process

In the first instance, artist Janet McEwan was commissioned to conduct a number of workshops, drop-in sessions and consultations with local people that were related to initial ideas for the regeneration of Peterhead.

Then, in winter 2004, Saskia Gibbon wrote the brief for an artist/ facilitator who would ‘take the lead role in creating a vision and structure for a community-driven arts regeneration project’. Advertisements were placed in a-n magazine and aberdeenshirearts website, and information was circulated via Scottish Arts Council and local networks. Saskia Gibbon, Alistair Snow and Senior Arts Officer Lorraine Grant drew up a shortlist of artists; a panel, including a representative from a local arts business, interviewed the shortlisted artists and Sans façon was appointed.

Sans façon is a Glasgow-based partnership between artist Tristan Surtees and architect Charles Blanc. At the interview, they talked about what they wanted to do in Peterhead in terms of an experiment: ‘we presented an approach, rather than preconceived ideas. We proposed looking at the project in much the same way as we would with a public art project, working from a sensitivity to Peterhead as a place. We didn’t come with specific solutions or grand projects which are easy to get people behind’. From the outset, Sans façon felt that Peterhead was ‘a pretty good place. It would be about being sensitive about what you keep.’


It was felt that Sans façon would benefit from working with a landscape architect and Glasgow-based Stephen Bridge of DEP Landscape Initiatives was appointed. Stephen Bridge came with considerable experience of working with artists, including the planning of a major public art scheme in Aberdeen.

Between January and May 2005, Sans façon and Stephen Bridge made visits to Peterhead and drew up an outline proposal document for sites in the town. Guided by a public consultation exercise conducted by the council in 2003, their report focuses on three main approach roads, the town centre, a community centre and a semi-wild area by the harbour. Of their collaboration, Stephen Bridge says: ‘Working with artists brings out more of a debate and Sans façon questioned my ideas. In that respect, it was a good team effort.'

However, Sans façon and Stephen Bridge agree that they did not work together with the dynamism that they had hoped for. Sans façon put forward the idea that ‘either DEP should have appointed us or the other way round’, suggesting that this could have led to a better engagement with each other.

Their proposals were well received, however, 'particularly by local politicians who started to think more about imagery and the visual impact of the town' (Saskia Gibbon).

Tristan Surtees and Charles Blanc went on to test aspects of the proposals through creative projects in the town, and masterminded an international conference accompanied by artists’ commissions.


In summer 2005, Sans façon arranged for the local transport services team to stop the traffic in Kirk Street, a central residential area. Sans façon then drew out the proposed changes directly onto the ground in blue chalk. People came out of their houses and passers-by were stopped in their tracks, and the duo was asked questions about what they were doing. As Sans façon explains: ‘we talked about the plans and told people they could get more information in the council offices. It provoked intrigue and discussion. Also, we broke down barriers about what an artist does. We were human faces’.

Chris White, too, was delighted with the responses to the chalk drawing: ‘there was excellent coverage with big pictures in three local papers. All my background is based around reading plans and the public just aren’t interested in that type of information – but they are interested in stuff happening outside their front door.’

A second project in Kirk Street involved cleaning up the outside of an empty shop – an intervention that was consistent with their ‘light touch’ recommendations for the area. They then displayed outline plans for the area on the window, using vinyl lettering. The duo also interviewed a retired carpenter, a fishmonger and a councillor about the history of the area, seeking to ‘identify people who would be willing to undertake guided walks around the town, giving their own idiosyncratic take’. However, they found that ‘people became shy, perhaps because they didn’t want their version to become the only one.’


The council had planned to organise a seminar in relation to the regeneration of Peterhead and Sans façon persuaded the council to convene a conference instead. Called Perceptions - People - Place: The Art of Regeneration, it was mainly funded by the Scottish Arts Council and took place in March 2006. Its aim was to ‘look at how public art can affect the development of a community and how a small, rural town such as Peterhead can be ambitious and aspire to something different’ (press release). International speakers addressed an audience that included architects, landscape designers, artists, roads and highway engineers, planners and town co-ordinators. Of the 100 delegates, approximately 40 were from Aberdeenshire and 60 were from outside.

A presentation by Michael Schwarze-Rodrian, a German landscape planner, about his projects in the Ruhr Valley in Germany, had a particularly strong impact, and as a direct consequence there is now enthusiasm for the idea of creating an artwork that draws attention to Peterhead’s power station. Sans façon says: ‘the conference was a massive step forward. It has given new vigour to the whole process. We’ve found that people at the council are much more receptive to possibilities’. Christine Gore, director of Planning and Environmental Services, was also delighted: ‘the conference was amazing and its timing was perfect. It attracted high-profile people from all over Europe and everyone engaged very fully with Peterhead as a place. It was an empowering experience for me.’

Map and artists' commissions

Sans façon produced a map which was distributed at the conference, called ‘an Introduction to Peterhead through some of its hearsay’, which drew on the interviews Sans façon had conducted with local people. The council’s arts team also asked Sans façon to curate commissions by three artists, to feature alongside the conference: ‘we put the artists forward, were involved in selecting them, worked with the artists on developing their proposals and helped them realise the works’. Ginny Hutchison transformed a dark alley in Kirk Street by applying gold leaf to the walls, ‘to create a suntrap, whilst drawing attention to architectural features’ (press release). Stephen Healy designed an animated neon light depicting a whale in motion; this was sited at a fishmonger’s in the harbour area and evoked the long-distance whaling expeditions of the past. Jean Bei Ning made films and a sound work that featured local people and their stories; one of his films was projected onto the town’s historic ice factory and his other works were exhibited in various parts of the town. Saskia Gibbon secured funding from Scottish Arts Council for the three commissions and undertook project management.


Sans façon’s fee for the first phase of work, including expenses, was £9,000; the fee for their work in connection with the conference was £4,500. The budget for the map was £1,000, including the artists’ fee and printing costs, and the three commissioned artworks cost £7,000 in total. Funding for the conference came from PROJECT: engaging artists in the built environment (£1,800; a contribution towards Sans façon's fee), Scottish Arts Council (£7,000), Aberdeenshire Council (£6,000) and ATP/ Interreg RevitHar project (£11,000).

Key issues

  • Appointment of the artist-team and the landscape architect

    The project could perhaps have benefited from the involvement of the artist in the appointment of the landscape architect, or vice versa. Sans façon argues that this ‘would have allowed greater coherence and synergy between the two practices’.

  • Multiple effects of funding support

    Saskia Gibbon stressed that PROJECT’s support has benefited the project in a number of ways: ‘we were the only project in Scotland to receive this funding in the first round and we went up a notch or two. People in the public art sector started to notice what Peterhead was doing. And the profile of the arts development team at the council increased.’

  • The conference as a positive educator

    The conference was an extremely effective way of communicating current public art thinking to Aberdeenshire’s council officers, and key people have become project champions. Christine Gore, for example, now feels ‘equipped to have informed discussions’ with potential partners.


Tristan Surtees and Charles Blanc, Sans façon; Tel: 0141 243 2507; Emails:

[email protected] [email protected]

Stephen Bridge, DEP Landscape Initiatives; Tel: 0141 314 0016; Email: [email protected]

Saskia Gibbon, Arts Development Officer, Aberdeenshire Council; Tel: 01261 815 989; Email: [email protected]

Lorraine Grant, Senior Arts Officer (Strategy & Development), Aberdeenshire Council; Tel: 01224 664873; Email: [email protected]

Chris White, Buchan Area Manager, Aberdeenshire Council, Aberdeenshire Towns Partnership; Tel:01779 483 200; Email: [email protected]

© Copyright Angela Kingston, 2006