Tate St Ives

Arwen Fitch

Press and Communications Manager, Tate St Ives

Tate St Ives

Porthmeor Beach St Ives Cornwall TR26 1TG United Kingdom


Cornwall, United Kingdom 

Art Fund Museum of the Year 2018


Friends and Neighbours: How Community Makes a Capital Project



St Ives, a small Cornish town on the southwest coast of England, is a unique location for a major art gallery. Its rich artistic history goes back over two centuries. 

Tate St Ives is part of the Tate family, with Tate Britain and Tate Modern in London and Tate Liverpool. The story of Tate St Ives begins with the outbreak of the second world war and the relocation from London to St Ives of British modernist artists Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, and their friend, the Russian constructivist artist Naum Gabo. They established West Cornwall as a new point of exchange for the international abstract avant-garde. For the next three decades, St Ives attracted many artists who shared an intellectual and aesthetic outlook that was international in scope but also deeply influenced by the physical forms and quality of light of their local surroundings. 


2019 Tate St Ives (C) Tate Photo Luke Hayes


On the edge of the ocean, the original Tate St Ives opened in 1993, created to celebrate the work of the twentieth century artists who lived and worked in the town. The gallery became a model for how museums connect to their location and community. It engaged and inspired local visitors, as well as attracting people from across the UK and the world. Such was its popularity that the original building soon lacked the necessary facilities and scale. In 2003/4 a new building project was conceived to extend and improve the original gallery. From the outset, the project became as much about how we work and engage with community as about the building. 

The building project was neither quick nor easy. For Tate St Ives, working in a dispersed, often economically deprived rural community, one of the key challenges is reaching out to locals and engendering a sense of their ownership of the gallery. The first idea, to build behind the gallery, on a car park, caused concern for a small town where parking is scarce. Negative feedback on the building plans in 2005 halted the planning process and started two years of intense community consultation. We created a community endorsed brief: no additional iconic build; work with the townscape and keep the parking.  In addition we ensured the gallery continued to engage with town and community.  This led to to our Community Liaison Group, establishing the community as gallery stakeholder. 

The brief included gallery programming, with a desire to see the story of St Ives and modern art year-round, ambitious temporary shows, engaging family and learning activities; and a unique Cornish context.

Alongside fundraising for the building, Tate St Ives received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the ambitious six-year St Ives Legacy Project. A multi-stranded scheme, it  included the Town Project, connecting local schools and families with their artistic heritage, the Look Group Project supporting discussion groups about visual art for communities across Cornwall, two curatorial internships, a Cultural Heritage Apprenticeship, and further training opportunities for staff, volunteers and the local sector.  



2019 Tate St Ives (C) Tate Photo Luke Hayes

Launched in October 2009, Look Groups are an innovative way of generating community-led learning across our rural region. Based on the idea of a book group, Look Groups are a network of informal groups throughout Cornwall whose members meet once a month to talk about art, artists and ideas, no prior knowledge about art required. Tate St Ives gave set-up support and each community runs its own group.  There have been between 10 - 21 groups operating at any one time. 

Tate St Ives has been contacted by people wanting to set up Look Groups around the world, and our online resources promote Look Groups as an open source model for adult learning.
The opportunity came to build next the gallery with a new project. In 2013 the original architects, Evans and Shalev, were commissioned for the refurbishment works to their building, adding two new learning spaces. 

Jamie Fobert Architects was commissioned to design a major extension to increase the art display space for visitors and to provide compact, efficient art handling and staff accommodation.  The coastal setting and vernacular of St Ives informed the design of the 1,325m2 new building. Entirely excavated into the hillside, the new gallery extends the existing gallery sequence in a continuous journey.

Since it launched in October 2017, Tate St Ives offers twice as much space for visitors to see art, with gallery area increased from 500 to 1,095m2. The gallery is now able to give a permanent presence to the twentieth century artists who lived and worked in the town, as well as bringing some of the worldrs"s most exciting contemporary art to Cornwall.

The visitorrs"s experience has been firmly placed at the heart of Tate St Ivesrs" thinking with a focus on a warm welcome, greater access to art and a strong sense of the unique location. With a larger more welcoming reception, artworks positioned in entrance areas, more comfortable facilities, an improved shop and a café reflecting a more relaxed Cornish ambience, the gallery presents a cohesive offer that successfully combines integrating the past with the present, giving local and international context, and creating an accessible visitor experience rooted in expert knowledge through art, archive and activity. These changes resulted in increased visitors, to an estimated 311,000 a year and benefits to the local economy, worth £10.5 million per annum over the next 10 years, equating to 197 Full Time Equivalent jobs in the wider tourist sector. 

The strength of our gallery lies not only in the scope and ambition of its programme, but also in its ongoing commitment to and engagement with its community. Having established and meaningfully retained key relationships through the process of its expansion, the gallery has become a vital cultural resource in the region and beyond. 

Art Fund Museum of the Year is awarded annually to a truly visionary organisation – one that readily rethinks established ways of working, and offers great quality and ingenuity in all its activities. The prize champions what museums do, encourages more people to visit and gets to the heart of what makes a truly outstanding public facility. The judges present the prize to the museum or gallery that has shown how their achievements of the preceding year stand out, demonstrated what makes their work innovative, and the impact on audiences.

Following the successful launch of the new Tate St Ives, the gallery entered the prestigious award for 2018 and won. 

Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund director and chair of the judges, said: ls"Tate St Ives tells the story of the artists who have lived and worked in Cornwall in an international context. The new extension to the gallery is deeply intelligent and breathtakingly beautiful, providing the perfect stage for a curatorial programme that is at once adventurous, inclusive and provocative. The judges admired an architect and gallery team who devoted some 12 years to this transformational change, consulting with the local community all the way.rs"

Since it re-opened, Tate St Ives has proven that positive engagement with local communities over a capital development can act as a catalyst for real change. A new, better museum has been created through an open, honest dialogue which responds to the aspirations and concerns of the people of St Ives.




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