Like many coastal towns in the UK, St Austell has suffered from changing holiday habits (even before the pandemic) and the decline of the fishing industry. A new artistic project aims to reverse his luck and that of the bee
“People used to call St Austell ‘St Awful’; instead we’re trying to make St Awesome.”
Artist Alex Murdin shares his ambitions for Whitegold, a cultural regeneration program that, under the umbrella of the Austell project, seeks to rejuvenate the coastal city through art.
Like many UK coastal towns, St Austell has seen changes in holiday habits and the decline of fishing and industry. Once known worldwide for its Chinese clay pits, which supplied the potters of Stoke-on-Trent, the quarries began to be abandoned in the last century and the Cornish town had a hard time.
However, following the success of cultural regeneration projects in other coastal towns, such as Margate in Kent, St Austell now looks to art, specifically pottery, to stimulate positive change.
But as Murdin put it, it’s not just about ‘putting some sculptures around St Austell and hoping that somehow the place will transform’. The local population has been invited to participate in the transformation.
Nowhere is the spirit of collective endeavor more evident than at Biddicks Court (lead image, above), where an uninspiring public space has been transformed by a mural made of 11,000 handcrafted tiles.
The Garden Route unfolds a colorful carpet for visitors arriving in St Austell by car. Image: James Darling
Some 800 local people helped make the giant mural of a Cornish black bee which, like St Austell himself, has been through difficult times.
“The Cornish black bee appears to be quite hardy [to colony collapse disorder]”Explained Simeon Featherstone of Parasite Ceramics, the ceramic practice that led the project. “He has shown himself to be brave, so it seemed like a good metaphor.”
As well as celebrating pollinators, the Austell Project has also sought to increase their numbers by planting wildflower meadows along the A391 in St Austell. The so-called Garden Route unfolds a colorful carpet for visitors arriving during the summer and is the first of its kind in Cornwall.
St Austell will present many more public works of art in 2021. Image: James Darling
More than a dozen more public works of art will be featured in St Austell in 2021, while a project to revive the art of Cornish brick-making will resume in an abandoned clay pit outside the city after a forced hiatus. due to the pandemic.
The Brickfield initiative teaches locals how to light bricks the old-fashioned way, and the fruits of their collective labor will be used to build a community building.
“St Austell can be a better place for everyone,” Murdin said, “and we are building that aspiration into a material under people’s feet.”
Lead Image: James Darling