World-renowned for sand, surf and summer holidays, Cornwall also enjoys a fantastically thriving, international arts scene which can happily be enjoyed whatever the weather.
Crossing the county with an eye on the arts, we’ve picked the greatest places for a cultural getaway...
In the tourist haven of central St Ives sits the oasis of artistic calm, the Tate. Part of the striking family of Tate galleries in London and Liverpool, Tate St Ives exhibits work by modern and contemporary British artists. And where it houses them is pretty special.
On the site of an old gas works, just behind the sandy stretch of Porthmeor Beach, is a striking white modernist building, with a distinctive circular facade, facing the sea and glinting in the south west sun.
The gallery does not have a permanent exhibition, but rather presents special exhibitions which change three times a year, so it’s worth checking in advance what you’re likely to see.
There are a range of workshops and activities for children and when your feet are tired from standing and staring, grab a seat in the café. There are lovely views from here over the old town and the beach, and both the café and the gallery shop encourage an emphasis on local art, landscape and... delicious food!
Held every autumn in various venues, The Cornwall Film Festival (or CFF) was established in 2002 by a group of Cornish filmmakers keen to raise the profile and develop an audience for films made in Cornwall. It screens new Cornish films and also hosts special events, screenings, competitions and educational programmes all year round.
The Cornish film industry has been supported by movie guru Mark Kermode and, these days, is important enough to have its own moniker, ‘Oggywood’ (‘oggy’ is slang for pasty...see what they did there?).
Cornish films often celebrate or concentrate on the beautiful landscape of their county and the Cornish lifestyle. You can volunteer, join a film club, or simply sit back and enjoy with a bag of popcorn, or perhaps a Cornish ice-cream!
The Minack Theatre is one of the most famous outdoor performance venues in the world. Clinging to a cliff-edge high about the Atlantic, the roman-reminiscent theatre of curves and columns has been delighting audiences since the 1930s.
It was the brainchild of Rowena Cade, a remarkable woman, who, together with her gardener and inspired by a local outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, moved tonnes of rock and earth on her land to create the Minack’s terraces.
Today, a year-round programme of drama, comedy, musicals and opera is performed for audiences from all over the UK and far beyond; the theatre welcomes more than 200,000 visitors every year.
Learn more about Rowena and the founding of the Minack, stroll in the sub-tropical gardens, treat the kids in a theatre workshop, or simply drink in the astounding views in this most south-westerly point in Britain.
It’s easy to fill a day here; just around the corner is the magnificent Porthcurno beach, the fascinating Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, and the ancient and beautiful St Levan church.
The Exchange is a large, modern arts space in central Penzance converted from a former telephone exchange. Boasting a big T-shaped gallery, used as an artists’ and curators’ project space, The Exchange shows off large-scale works and forms a fantastic venue for live performances, film screenings and community events.
The building itself is a dramatic draw with its distinctive glass facade running the length of the front and showcasing a light display which illuminates the glass. Opened in 2007, The Exchange is an off-shoot of the Newlyn Art Gallery, across town. Also worth a visit, it concentrates more on painting and drawing.
It’s worth the climb up from town to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden at Trewyn Studio on scenic Banoon Hill. A huge part of St Ives cultural make-up and of British modernism, sculptor Barbara Hepworth was one of the few women artists to really make a mark on the international arts map.
Hepworth moved with her young family to St Ives upon the outbreak of the Second World War and was an important figure in the St Ives artists’ colony. She bought Trewyn Studio in 1949 which now, following her wishes, acts as a museum to her life’s work, and was placed in the care of the Tate Gallery. “Finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic”, she famously wrote, “Here was a studio, a yard and garden where I could work in open air and space.”
You can view her iconic, sweeping bronze, stone and wood sculptures both inside the studio and outside in her garden. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Barbara started creating perhaps her most famous, and certainly her most monumental, pieces from bronze.
Living in the garden which Hepworth created and, for the most part, glinting through greenery in positions she placed herself, this space offers a very personal insight into one of Britain’s most important artists.
A couple of miles to the west of the wonderfully, ethereal sounding Lostwithiel, and close to the gritty expanse of Bodmin Moor, is The Stone Carving Workshop. And what an oasis it is! Tucked away in tranquil woodland, the idea is that you get completely immersed in your work, away from the hustle and bustle of ordinary life.
If you’ve always fancied fashioning a scary gargoyle for above the porch, sculpting your own Michelangelo’s David, or carving a more simple decoration, the workshop caters to all levels of skill and styles. And, when you’ve exhausted your artistic side, the workshop is only four miles from the fabulous Eden Project.
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