From its artists’ hubs to its filming locations, Cornwall is a destination steeped in heritage, creativity and culture. Watch theatre productions in sub-tropical gardens and cliff-top amphitheatres, capture the seascapes on camera or canvas, and step foot in stunning scenery that’s inspired literary greats and starred in blockbuster films and TV series.
The most popular destination to get to the heart of all things arty is St Ives, where you can visit world-class galleries or get hands-on with painting and pottery workshops. Artists have flocked to the town since the 1930s, when they took over the net lofts deserted by fishermen when the pilchard reserves dried up. Inspired by the magical light, wild landscapes and bohemian lifestyle, the likes of Barbara Hepworth, Bernard Leach, Terry Frost and Peter Lanyon laid their roots here.
Testimony to the town’s immense art legacy is a littering of galleries including the Tate St Ives, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Leach Pottery. In 2017 the iconic Tate St Ives re-opened following a huge expansion; two new major exhibitions for 2019 include the first major retrospective exhibition in the UK of the Cairo-born artist Anna Boghiguian, and drawings and installations by Nigerian-born contemporary artist Otobong Nkanga. Not only can you view local landscapes via the exhibitions or from the rooftop garden, you can also take a family art adventure or join an artist-led workshop to create your own souvenir of the scenery.
While you’re in town don’t limit yourself to the big-name galleries – there are dozens of lesser known galleries and studios to seek out, such as Back Road Artworks in the Downalong area, where you can meet a community of artists and makers creating multi-media artwork. If you want to get in touch with your own creative side, sign up for a ‘sketch and stroll’ with the St Ives School of Painting, join in all sorts of art and craft activities at the Barnoon Workshop, or learn to throw a pot under the tutelage of a local expert at St Ives Pottery.
A 15-minute drive from St Ives will take you to the unique Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, where art and nature merge seamlessly via interactive art exhibits installed in beautiful gardens overlooking Mounts Bay. As well as the underground elliptical domed chamber and camera obscura, new features include a wrap-around viewing structure boasting stunning views to St Michael’s Mount, a series of contemporary sculptures and regular creative workshops including print making and pinhole camera photography.
Testimony to the town’s immense art legacy is a littering of galleries including the Tate St Ives, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Leach Pottery
Nearby Penzance and Newlyn are two more locations under the artistic spotlight. On the back of the famous Newlyn School art colony of the 1880s, and later, the Forbes School of Painting, the Newlyn School of Art was founded here in 2011, and provides painting, sculpture and drawing courses with some of Cornwall’s most respected artists. You can see an extensive exhibition of original Newlyn School art at the Penlee House Gallery and Museum in Penzance, while the more modern Newlyn Art Gallery and its sibling, The Exchange, feature ambitious contemporary projects by today’s local artists. 2019 sees Turner prizewinner Lubaina Himid being featured at the Newlyn Art Gallery, while The Exchange is displaying work by Colombian artist Abel Rodriguez, as well as a major solo exhibition by Simon Faithfull.
As well as these arty hotspots that will introduce you to some of the region’s most notable artists and venues, the allure of the county’s art scene also lies in the smaller galleries in more remote locations, and the wave of independent designer-makers inspired by the diverse landscapes. Make a pit stop in the old mining village of St Just, home of one of Cornwall’s leading artists, Kurt Jackson, and witness his documentation of the seasons and scenery at the Jackson Foundation Gallery.
Stained-glass artist Dreya Wharry is another of Cornwall’s many independent artists whose creations echo Cornwall’s natural environment. Wharry’s bespoke glasswork is inspired by the ocean and can be found in a growing number of boutique galleries including The Picture House in Padstow, The Create Gallery at Bedruthan Hotel, Mawgan Porth, and The Square Gallery in St Mawes.
With a huge proliferation of art festivals, makers guilds and craft fairs cropping up across the county, you don’t have to hunt high and low to unearth – and commission – artists like Wharry. Organisations such as the Newquay Makers Guild and the Cornwall Crafts Association are brilliant starting blocks for finding unique pieces by talented local artists. One of the biggest art events is the nine-day Open Studios in May, when hundreds of artists across the county throw open the doors to their unusual workspaces, from historic chapels to coastal cottages. Follow the iconic ‘O’ signs scattered across Cornwall to venues where you can meet the creators, sign up for workshops and get your hands on unique sculptures, glasswork, ceramics, paintings and textiles.
The allure of the county’s art scene also lies in the smaller galleries in more remote locations, where there is a wave of independent designer-makers inspired by the diverse landscapes
Another celebration to be flagged on any art lovers’ calendar is the St Ives September Festival – a two-week spread of theatre productions, art exhibitions, literary events and live music, celebrating the region’s diverse creative bounty. 2019 will also see the inaugural Isles of Scilly Arts and Culture festival (Creative Scilly), taking place in May and featuring a mix of local and national artists, writers, outdoor film and musical performances. After a recent study confirmed the Isles’ of Scilly status as the darkest district in the UK, a new observatory is also opening on the island of St Martin’s, so make sure you incorporate a visit to gaze at the sparkly night sky.
One of Cornwall’s biggest music festivals is Boardmasters which attracts 50,000 music fans to Watergate Bay near Newquay. The 2019 event, which runs from August 7 to August 11, sees Florence and The Machine as the headline act and the line-up also features Grime stars Giggs and Dizzee Rascal, Jorja Smith, Franz Ferdinand, Wilkinson b2b Sub Focus, DJ EZ, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Ocean Wisdom, Lewis Capaldi, Pete Murray, Lady Leshurr, Flava D, Dimension, Bradley Zero, Self Esteem and Boy Azooga.
Meanwhile Falmouth’s three-day Arts Alive festival brings the spotlight to the South Coast art community in June, bringing together the art, theatre and music that underpin the creative culture of this harbour town. Stroll through Falmouth in any season to discover a string of galleries and creative enterprises: the historic venue of The Poly shows classic and contemporary films and exhibitions, while the prestigious Falmouth Art Gallery grants free entry to collections by major British artists including Victorian painters, British Impressionists and leading maritime artists.
Home of one of the UK’s leading creative universities (which is its own microcosm of multi-media arts, hosting music nights and literati gatherings), it’s little wonder that Falmouth has become so popular on the art and literary scene. Make a beeline for Beerwolf Books if you want to browse wall-to-wall books, meet book- and beer-loving folk, listen to bands, and perhaps bump into the town’s resident authors such as Emily Barr.
One of Cornwall’s biggest music festivals is Boardmasters which attracts 50,000 music fans to Watergate Bay near Newquay