Tate St Ives – winning over the community to deliver a £20m extension

By Adrian Murphy: Main Image: The skylights of the new Tate St Ives gallery can be see to the left of Barnoon Cemetary, which is home to the grave of local artist Alfred Wallis. Photograph by Hufton+Crow

In October the final piece in the Tate St Ives redevelopment jigsaw was opened to the public and represented a heroic effort to expand the gallery space but keep it in the town, and encompassed years of public consultation, planning meetings and funding drives.

Here we talk to chief executive Mark Osterfield about why the gallery and its extensions are so important to the idyllic Cornish coastal town, what it now offers locals, the wider Cornish community, artists and tourists and we also find out from Tamsin Daniel, Commissioning & Project Development Officer, Culture Team (Economic Development), Cornwall Council, how the land to facilitate the redevelopment was secured

In October the final piece in the Tate St Ives redevelopment jigsaw was opened to the public and represented a heroic effort to expand the gallery space but keep it in the town, and encompassed years of public consultation, planning meetings and funding drives.

Here we talk to chief executive Mark Osterfield about why the gallery and its extensions are so important to the idyllic Cornish coastal town, what it now offers locals, the wider Cornish community, artists and tourists and we also find out from Tamsin Daniel, Commissioning & Project Development Officer, Culture Team (Economic Development), Cornwall Council, how the land to facilitate the redevelopment was secured

When a museum capital project is completed, usually to a fitting fanfare, all the struggles and strife that beset the project can seem inconsequential. That certainly seems to be the case for Tate St Ives, which in October opened up a new gallery space cut into the hard Blue Elvan coastal rock of the seaside town that, along with a reconfiguration and redesign of its existing building, offers an additional 600 sq m of exhibition space.

The expansion plans were first announced in 2005 as the original building, completed in 1993 and predating Tate Modern by a year, was limited in size for both visitors, which were expected to be 70,000 a year but had grown by the turn of the century to 200,000 plus each year, and the collection.

Tate St Ives was built following the Tate’s acquisition of the Barbara Hepworth Studio and Garden in 1980 as there was a general consensus that the story of Hepworth and what became known as the St Ives School of post First World War artists in the town such as Patrick Heron, Bernard Leach and Ben Nicholson, and those before them, should be told in detail.

However, there was great opposition to the expansion of art gallery, built on the site of a former gasworks overlooking Porthmeor Beach and the Atlantic Ocean. Especially when one of the sites mooted was a car park to the rear of the existing building. And one of the ideas to accommodate the project was to build a new gallery in another part of the county that would have split the cultural organisation in two.

It’s a massive investment and there has to be a good reason for doing it and I’m convinced we have done the right thing

Mark Osterfield, Executive Director

“I was in the first meeting when we looked at the fact that Tate St Ives has exceeded all of our expectations on visitor numbers, which put a lot of pressure on its programme, collections and visitor expectations,” says Tamsin Daniel, Commissioning & Project Development Officer, Culture Team (Economic Development), Cornwall Council. “When the Tate first came to Cornwall Council and we became part of the working group to ascertain what the options were, we looked at building on Barnoon Car park. This land would have been ideal as it was above and behind the original Tate Gallery but other options were less appealing. Another option was moving the whole building up to Hayle because we were completing major redevelopment around Hayle Harbour and could have offered a clean site there.”

But the idea of having a split site would have been too expensive and the whole idea of Tate St Ives telling the story of the town’s artists would have been lost if half of the organisation was in another town.

An aerial view of Tate St Ives with the new gallery and collections care area to the middle and right of the photograph

Daniel says that it was then that the Tate’s chief executive Mark Osterfield undertook an ‘amazing’ piece of public consultation between 2006-2008 and went out and met with possibly every single community group in St Ives, attended all the town council meetings and created a working group with the most vociferous voices against the Tate expansion. “He showed them the constraints the building had and why it needed to expand. He and his team essentially turned those people’s views around and they then began to support it.”

Luckily news came out in 2008 that Devon and Cornwall Housing Association was looking to redevelop a row of sheltered accommodation, which is located next to the Tate, and wanted to finance their plans by selling half the land.

Cornwall Council along with St Ives Town Council thought this could be the solution as the town did not want more luxury flats being built, says Daniel, and the gallery did not need more sea views as it had plenty in the existing building. So Cornwall Council bought the land for £1.5m for from Devon and Cornwall Housing, which ensured that it would have enough money to redevelop the front of the site as part of its social housing project. This paved the way for the recent redevelopment and also led to a new community liaison group, continuing the work of the community consultation, which met six times a year and then in the two years leading up to the reopening the group met once a month to discuss issues regarding the project. It was formed of a selection of people mainly from St Ives from local councillors to representatives of local neighbours as well as charities and community groups.

The opening exhibition in the new gallery space is Rebecca Warren's All that Heaven Allows

The project was split into two halves: one to refurbish and the create new visitor facilities and learning spaces within the existing building with original architects Evans and Shalev and one to create the new collection care suite, loading bay and a new art gallery, which was completed by Jamie Fobert Architects.

“It’s a massive investment and there has to be a good reason for doing it and I’m convinced we have done the right thing,” says Mark Osterfield, Executive Director, who came to work for Cornwall County Council (as it was known then) as project director on the extension in 2005 and then transferred to work for Tate in 2006 becoming executive director in 2007. “I think it’s exceeded all our expectations.”

“What we have managed to do with this refurbishment is to really make it fit for purpose,” he says. “Jamie Fobert Architects work on the extension has created this beautiful new gallery space, which is actually a single space that doubles the size of our galleries. At 483 sq m the new gallery’s rectangular space can be divided up into six rooms. There are six huge roof lights within this space, which means the space is well-lit and can be reconfigured in an number of ways.

The new building has also allowed for the creation of a landscaped roof garden with wildflowers and a path that takes visitors down to the sea. Alongside that Fobert has designed a collections care suite, which is an important art handling facility for the gallery and includes a new art lift that is as large as the art lift at Tate Britain and a new loading bay and collection care area where curators can bring in a wide range of art work and do any preparation that needs doing before putting them on display.

The redevelopment has meant that Tate St Ives can now be more ambitious with its programming and expand its exhibition and educational capabilities. Previously the gallery found it difficult to tell both the story of modern art in St Ives and at the same time engage in international modern and contemporary exhibitions. The old gallery constraints meant the curatorial team could only show one part of this story at a time and also meant that the gallery had to close for two weeks three times a year as new exhibitions were built.

The new building also includes a landscaped roof garden and a path that takes visitors down to the sea

These constraints led to the redevelopment project setting out three main targets. The first was to create more space and the right support facilities for the gallery to show the best of modern and contemporary art and tell the story of modern art in St Ives consecutively; the second was about offering the wealth of art to as wide an audience as possible through its learning and visitor experience team. And thirdly it wanted to be more sustainable.

As part of the first target Tate St Ives has not only extended its gallery space but also its educational facilities. “What we have done with this project is extend the original education space into a back of house room and created the St Ives Studio, which is a dedicated resource area that allows people to look at the archives and understand the story of modern art. Then we have converted the old courtyard and the space above it into the Foyle Studio and the Clore Sky Studio above with a support area for the preparation of events. We have really thought both about the art and what people can see but also giving them opportunity to engage with each other, to engage in learning and to engage in creative activity.”

The gallery has become more sustainable in turn by creating the new loading facilities, which means it can stay open all year round even when creating new exhibitions, which will also make it more financially sustainable. The gallery anticipates that with the extension it will generate at least another 50,000 visits a year, seeing visitor figures exceed 300,000 annually.

“And on the back of that it will help us in financial terms to run our gallery and museum ourselves. We have also had investment from Cornwall Council and also the Coastal Communities Fund who are interested in Tate St Ives fortunes because it is estimated that those extra visits and what we are doing will generate about £105m into the local economy over the following ten years. This will equate to nearly 200 full-time jobs in the wider tourist sector. So there’s a real return on it both for the gallery and the wider community.”

Tate St Ives has been an important component of the town's regeneration and it is estimated that over the next ten years it will generate £105m to the local economy

The old lift will now be used to deliver goods to the shop and café and the old gallery space is now dedicated to a year round display entitled Modern Art and St Ives. This exhibition has been scheduled to last for three years and features works by artists who worked and lived in St Ives including Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Heron and Alfred Wallis.” There are also works on display by Picasso and Mondrian, which wouldn’t have been in the display before to show how modernism was developing internationally. “Curator Sara Matson describes it as a platform for people to come and explore what this history really means, so it’s very much about not having a closed door but asking questions and opening up a debate around those particular works.”

The new wing will be where Tate St Ives will display its three seasons of exhibitions over the next year. The first show is All that Heaven Allows (which runs until 7 January) by leading contemporary British Artist, Rebecca Warren. She has created a new exhibition with recent works including sculptures and collages using neon, brass and clay. “What I love about the new layout is that as you walk through the spine of the existing building, which tells the history of modern art in St Ives you begin to get glimpses of what Rebecca has done in the new wing. And you can see how she comes out of the history of modernism but is also a contemporary artist creating a new vision for the future. That is very much what this project is about: celebrating the history but also looking ahead and saying ‘well, what’s to come? How are we thinking now? How are we responding to the world now?’ Both here in Cornwall and on a global stage.”

There are six huge sky lights within the new gallery space, which means it is well-lit and can be reconfigured in an number of ways. Photograph by Dennis Gilbert

The second exhibition Virginia Woolf an exhibition inspired by her writings (10 February – 29 April 2018), is led by curator Laura Smith and is looking at the art of women both living and dead through the lens of Virginia Woolf’s writings. Then in the summer there will be a retrospective of the artist Patrick Heron who was involved in the original creation of Tate St Ives and is an artist who not only lived and worked in Cornwall but was also involved in the international art scene.

“We are very much thinking about the present and the past but always with a fresh view, exploring and experimenting and developing new ideas around some of these histories. People in Cornwall are completely engaged in the world and it has this incredible history from the Industrial Revolution onwards, and an amazing diaspora of people working around the world. Barbara Hepworth ended up living here but she also created the single form that sits on the plaza outside the United Nations in New York and that was made in St Ives. So the art is locally imbedded with a vision that is international.”

Osterfield says that Tate St Ives is one of the first gallery regeneration projects in the country that demonstrated the impact and the benefits of culture on the local economy. As the building project began the gallery was generating about £11m a year to the local economy and that was on the back of encouraging visitors to come to the town and spend money on hotels and accommodation, and also eating out and shopping in local establishments.

“I think the effect that cultural regeneration has on a place is now generally recognised, for example, if you look at the City of Culture initiative and look at Hull at the moment, I’m sure in a year’s time there will be lots of reports on the fact that the city has benefitted hugely from this cultural initiative. And I think that will be on a financial level but you shouldn’t underestimate how much the kind of thing we are doing here adds to a sense of pride in a particular location.”

Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden are part of a wider cultural community in the town and there are other cultural initiatives such as The Leach Pottery and Porthmeor Studios that together form a solid base for art and learning. “We have a really proud history and see that as a platform to encourage future investment but also to encourage individuals to feel proud and aspirational about what they can do with their lives whether in culture or in another field.”

This is where Tate St Ives has been excelling in recent years through its learning and community engagement programme. One initiative, Super Sunday, opens the gallery doors to families and brings in artists who respond to current exhibitions by giving families creative activities that enables them to better understand and engage with the displays. Also, in the past four years the gallery has run a programme called the St Ives Legacy Project which was supported by HLF to run a series of activities over the years leading up to the gallery reopening to help it further engage with the community.

The view from the Clore Sky Studio, which is one of the new learning spaces created by the redevelopment

Two key elements of this were St Ives Town Project and the Look Group Project. St Ives Town Project has involved St Ives Senior School and the feeder schools in the area and has seen the establishment of a new assistant curator role with Kay Dalton working with artists and placing them in the schools on a residency that then leads to the children in those schools developing work that responds to some aspect of the St Ives’ modern art story. “They have generated art in their schools and it’s about reaching out to them and their parents and families and showing both the relevance of this history to them. This is because it’s actually their heritage and we want to encourage them to develop links with us so that they then come back into the gallery. So now that we have the new learning spaces, The Foyle Studio and The Clore Sky Studio we will have activities in those spaces that will allow those families to engage with us. It’s reaching out in order to dissolve any barriers we have with these people and make them aware of us and recognise that the gallery is for them, too.”

The Look Group Project was an initiative that was first explored in 2009 and was based on the idea of book groups, where people come together to talk about books, and the Tate St Ives team thought it would be a good idea for people come together to talk about art. HLF liked the idea and agreed to support another assistant curator who then worked with setting up groups across the county.

“This was to address another big issue that we faced being at one end of a county that’s a hundred miles long. If you are living in Bude, it’s not that easy to get to St Ives. But in Bude you can get together with a group of other people who are interested in art and have discussions connecting back to St Ives and modernism as well as other topics. Some of the Look Groups have ended up putting on their own exhibitions, they discuss their own work as well, you don’t have to be an artist but quite a few people are really interested or are engaged in creative pursuits.”

There are 14 groups across the county that have been taking part and they have given feedback to the gallery and influenced some of the material that will feature in the St Ives studios. “We have had debates with them and their interests on that what they’ve pursued in terms of their discussions has influenced how we are presenting that story of St Ives and modern art. It’s about recognising that we are Tate St Ives but we are also on one level Tate Cornwall, we serve Cornwall and I think that’s why Cornwall Council are very keen to support us.”

One of the incentives that has come out of these projects is the launch of a Locals Pass, which will for a minimal sum give Cornish residents unlimited entry to the gallery over a 12-month period.

Broad Community Programmes

The desire to better facilitate the needs of the community has also led to the gallery working with consultancy firm David Bonnett Associates on its accessibility through the plans for the gallery. It has run activities, for example, with people who have a visual impairment and are hard of hearing or deaf. These have included touch tours, where people can touch selected artworks or have them described to them.

“A lot of our programming is quite broad community programmes but with a very strong awareness that different individuals have very different needs. Our staff are aware of this and are trained on how to respond to individual needs, so while there are activities directed at people with particular disabilities, other activities are more universal but can be sensitive to individuals.”

One of the most important aspects of Tate St Ives is its work with young people, which has seen many initiatives provide creative experiences for children. At the reopening of the gallery this autumn some of the artists displaying their work have involved in past projects at the gallery when they were children.

“We are constantly needing to look forward and for the launch in the Sky Clore Studio we commissioned two artists to create an installation responding to all this work. They created a modernist carpet called The Six Pillars of Modernism using the six pillars in this space. On each of the pillars they have explored the theme about modernism. Our first connection with the artists was through a group called Young Tate (which is now Tate Collective).”

Tate Collective, which is the gallery’s current young people’s group, meets once a month to design programmes through a public platform called U Studio and put on events and performances. The group helped organise an extended four-year programme called Circuit during the gallery’s closure and in September 2016 put on an event called Circuit SWITCH, which was designed by young people and saw a series of performances at venues across the town.

Circuit, which is funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, is a partnership with 18 museums across the country. “It was about really responding to young people and what their needs and interests were. This also saw them involved in designing programmes for us and give them a sense of ownership and then help us to have a programme that is responsive to other young people. I think there is a big shift in the sector moving away from the idea that you have the expert curator who puts on a show and people come and respond, to this idea that people have their own interests, skills and knowledge and it’s about creating opportunities for them to make their own programme, which is really beneficial.”

At Last!

Osterfield says that this is the key to the redevelopment: offering a space where people’s potential can be recognised and allowed to flourish. He says that a week before the opening 100 staff were given a tour of the new spaces and he asked them to give him one word to describe it. One member of staff who had worked with the gallery for many years said ‘I’ll give you two: At last!’

“Ten years ago we were saying that we recognised there was a need for us to show the Modern Art of St Ives in a really in depth way and there was a need for us to have more space to show contemporary and modern art exhibitions, a need for us to have these learning spaces – it was all very clear. I feel like over a number of years we have made a lot of promises about what we would deliver with this project and this was the first moment when it became clear that we had delivered what we had promised. People are now really excited and inspired about being part of this.”

Osterfield says in the current world we live in, having civic spaces where people can come to learn, enjoy, relax and express themselves is more important than ever and he feels that the new Tate St Ives has achieved that and can now be more influential in nurturing the aspirations of future generations.