St Piran of Penhale Sands Community Art Workshop, Cornwall
Case Study Type:
Public Engagement Case Study
Sand dune system:
Penhale Dunes, Perranporth, Cornwall
Case Study Subject:
Community art workshops combining a guided walk on the dunes with painting workshops and culminating in an exhibition.
About The Dune System Engagement Intervention
Penhale Dunes is one of the two Dynamic Dunescapes sites in Cornwall. On the north coast, they face the Atlantic and span 620 hectares, making them the largest dune system in Cornwall. They are designated as both a Special Area of Conservation and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. They are also an important historical area as they have a history of mining activity and are a site of pilgrimage, as they contain St Piran’s Oratory, one of the oldest Christina buildings in Britain.
What was the issue/change you hoped to make?
To engage with and educate local community groups about sand dune ecology, local history and the aims of the Dynamic Dunescapes project, in a fun and creative way.
What was the suggested intervention?
To offer 5 free workshops, 3 to various community groups and 2 to the general public, which would start with an educational walk on Penhale dunes in the morning, providing subject matter for an artist-led earth pigment painting session in the afternoon.
What did you do and how?
We worked with environmental artist, Pete Ward, who had successfully applied for one of the small artist grants available through project funding. We invited various community groups and liaised with them to arrange a date for each workshop. We also put on two family friendly workshops for the general public, ticketing these using Eventbrite and capping the number at 30. We planned a route for the dune walk, which included typical dune features and encompassed St Piran’s Oratory and St Piran’s church and Celtic cross; important local heritage features. Suitable locations were found for the painting workshops. We asked a member of a local history and St Piran society to accompany us on the walk to provide local knowledge and storytelling.
Pete Ward used his links with a local gallery (Livingstone St Ives) to develop the idea of a post-workshop exhibition. The gallery owner kindly agreed to us using their building as a base for some of the workshops and to host an exhibition of some of the resultant paintings. This considerably increased the reach and length of time of engagement.
Who did you work with / how did you engage different groups?
The groups that participated were: Year 4 students from Perranporth Community School (primary), Year 8 students from Richard Lander School (secondary), Perranporth Art Group and two groups of general public.
Perranporth Art Group had several elderly participants who were unable to go out on the dunes, so to make the event accessible and inclusive we did a presentation at their regular meeting place one week, followed by a painting workshop at their next session the following week.
School groups were invited by writing to the head teacher and head of the art department.
The two public events were promoted online and via posters on the local Parish Council’s noticeboards. Bookings were made via Eventbrite.
We had support from Perran Sands holiday park, which borders the site, and Livingstone St Ives gallery in Perranporth, both of whom offered us a space to use for the workshops.
The exhibition was invigilated by a mixture of members of our team and volunteers (most from Perranporth Art Group) and was open to the public for three weeks. It was advertised on social media, in the local press and on BBC Radio Cornwall.
How was the intervention monitored?
We encouraged participants to fill in event feedback and EDI forms and also monitored feedback on social media pages. Some participants were informally interviewed and filmed during two of the workshops. We also kept count of number of participants and people visiting the exhibition and had a visitors’ comments book available.
What modifications, if any, did you make to your initial plan and why?
We paid the artist to do an extra workshop when we received confirmation from the secondary school group that they were able to participate.
On the day of the second public walk, weather conditions were very stormy with strong winds and rain, so we delayed the start of the walk and made it slightly shorter, also giving participants the option of just joining for the afternoon workshop.
It was not a definite part of our original plan to hold an exhibition of the work, however, the artist has a working relationship with the Livingstone St Ives gallery and was able to open up that opportunity. The gallery owner generously let us use the gallery for workshops and the final exhibition, which was a lovely culmination of the project and gave more opportunity for community engagement.
Highlight any issues/obstacles & how you overcame them?
The volunteer historian unfortunately developed COVID after the first workshop, but we were able to overcome this by using our existing knowledge and what we had learned from Chris at the first workshop to lead the discussion around stories of St Piran.
There was some uncertainty around being able to use the gallery as it was in a period of transition between different tenants. We identified potential alternative locations, but fortunately it worked out that we could use the gallery when we wanted.
How much did the intervention cost?
The artist was initially awarded £1,000 from our £10,000 artist grant budget. As more opportunities for engagement with other community groups arose, we increased the number of workshops delivered and adjusted the format of delivery to the art group, so our total spend was £1,400.
What size was the area of the intervention?
Perranporth Art Group members and Perranporth primary school were all local to the area. The secondary school pupils live in a roughly 10 mile radius and the public workshops attracted mostly residents of Cornwall of approximately the same radius.
Did the intervention work?
Yes. It engaged a wide section of the local community with a range of ages and gave many opportunities for engagement and explanation about Dynamic Dunescapes, sand dune heritage and ecosystems. The two public events ‘sold-out’ very quickly. Over 100 people attended the workshops and 265 came to see the exhibition. Andy was interviewed about the project and exhibition on BBC Radio Cornwall and Facebook and Instagram posts reached a large audience.
Feedback from the event
Messages from those that were involved:
Facebook comment: “I was lucky enough to be able to attend this event on Wednesday 9th February. It was such a great day, a brilliant dune walk led by Andy which was so informative and interesting. Then a true Cornishman told us all about the legend of St Piran, sorry I can't remember his name. In the afternoon we experienced the most amazing workshop led by Peter using pigments to paint what had inspired us on our dune walk. It was one of the best workshops I've ever attended and I've been to quite a lot! Thank you to all involved.”
School teacher: “Thanks very much for helping to make it such a lovely day. The class really enjoyed the whole experience, and you were all very knowledgeable, patient and good humoured.”