Big Things on the Beach

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Background and Future Plans

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Big Things on the Beach is registered in Scotland as a charitable company limited by guarantee (SCO 035107). The charitable purpose of Big Things is:

  • To advance the education of the public by promoting and developing the artistic taste, knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the arts primarily in the area of Portobello Beach and particularly through the commissioning and promotion of public art, that is, art exhibited in public.
  • To advance the education of the public by providing seminars, conferences and practical training on matters related to the creation and exhibition of public art.

This purpose is commonly paraphrased as "To promote the use of Portobello Beach and environs as a site for the creation and display of public art". The educational role of Big Things on the Beach is summarised as "Engage, Educate, Empower".

At the core of our activity is a wish to generate creative relationships between contemporary artists and local people which contribute to improving the quality of life for local people and visitors to Portobello. The principal areas of activity we want to develop are:

  • Continue to commission an annual programme of temporary artworks/interventions in a range of media.

  • Promote and support the implementation of the Portobello Promenade Public Art Plan.

  • Further develop the capacity of Portobello people to engage with artists and to commission public art.

  • Contribute to the professional training of artists interested in working in the public sphere

  • Develop/participate in local, regional, national and international networks to facilitate communications and exchanges between communities and artists who share our interests.

Background and context

Big Things on the Beach was formed in 2003 and formally constituted in 2004 by a group of Portobello residents who share a desire to contribute to the quality of life of Portobello Beach as an asset for local people, for short term visitors and for the City of Edinburgh.

Between 2004 and 2009 Big Things on the Beach commissioned three substantial, temporary artworks, curated a Garden Gallery exhibition and launched an unsuccessful National Lottery Living Landmarks bid for Re-Apier, a contemporary replacement for an earlier Edwardian pier. We also developed and ran, over two years, a Public Art Commissioning Course for local people which generated 30 "graduates" most of whom have continued to be involved in the organisation.

In 2009-10 Big Things on the Beach is implementing a substantial year long project, Imagine Porty Prom, with funding from the Scottish Arts Council and the City of Edinburgh Council. The aim of this project is to develop a comprehensive public art plan for Portobello Promenade in the context of the City’s proposal for an Edinburgh Promenade along the 17km of its northern shoreline. For this project, Big Things on the Beach has employed a full time Public Art Participation Worker, supported by an intern and has opened temporary premises, the Portobello Public Art House, in an empty public house on Portobello Promenade. Imagine Porty Prom invites the public to generate and respond to ideas about the future of Portobello Promenade, to engage with three artists’ commissions and to participate in place making workshops and large scale, Imagine Porty Prom events.

Looking forward, Big Things on the Beach identifies a number of key environmental factors that will influence our ability to realise our aspirations:

  • The extent of the City of Edinburgh Council’s ability and willingness to implement it’s Edinburgh Promenade proposals.

  • The policy of Creative Scotland towards support for public art practice by local authorities and others and the approach the organisation takes towards implementing its remit for promoting greater participation in the arts.

  • The profile of public art in relation to schools and lifelong education.

  • The willingness of charitable trusts, corporations, developers and other non-government bodies to fund public art developments.

  • The level of local support for the initiative of Big Things on the Beach.

Big Things on the Beach

Big Things on the Beach is composed of up to 15 Trustees who share responsibility for the governance of the charity. All Trustees are Portobello residents and are actively involved in the operations of Big Things on the Beach. New Trustees join the trust at the invitation of existing Trustees. Trustees appoint a Chairperson, Treasurer and Secretary from their membership to manage the trust’s activities on a day to day basis. Trustees meet bi-monthly. The trust forms sub-groups, led by Trustees, to implement specific elements of its programme. Current sub-groups are the Commissioning Group, which manages the process of selecting artists and the Imagine Porty Prom Management Group. Big Things employs a full time Public Art Participation Worker and an intern for the duration of the Imagine Porty Prom project. Volunteers are recruited as required to support the professional staff. The Imagine Porty Prom project occupies temporary premises, the Portobello Public Art House on Portobello Promenade, until September 2010.

Big Things on the Beach has managed a succession of projects since 2004. Annual turnover has varied with the projects undertaken.

  • 2004-5: £28k
  • 2005-6: £13k
  • 2006-7: £38k
  • 2007-8: £13k
  • 2008-9: £29k
  • 2009-10: £137k

Funders have included; the Scottish Arts Council, the City of Edinburgh Council; the Gulbenkian Foundation and private donors.

Artistic policy

The primary interest of Big Things on the Beach is to encourage the development of creative relationships between local people and contemporary artists; we show the work generated through these relationships as a form of engagement with our wider community and to encourage further participation. These relationships have been expressed to date through;

  • Involvement in commissioning artists to create work in Portobello.

  • Hosting artists and their work for public presentation in a Garden Gallery.

  • Collaborations between artists and local people in the development of artistic concepts and in the making of work.

  • Joint exploration of artistic thinking through artists’ talks and other educational opportunities.

From the inception of Big Things on the Beach, Trustees have expressed a commitment to achieving and maintaining a high level of quality in both our artistic and community engagement activities. In the course of our commissioning experience we have begun to develop a clearer understanding of the criteria we apply to the selection of artists to work in our community. These include

  • Artistic track record of site-specific work.

  • Experience, ideas, confidence and ability to deal with people in the community - willingness to engage with people and work collaboratively when required.

  • Interest in the local context, creating works that explore a sense of place.

  • Ability to deliver the project in the required timescale and budget & consideration of practicalities at chosen site.

Community involvement

The trustees of Big Things on the Beach are committed to enabling as many members of the community as possible to participate in the processes of generating public art for the Promenade. We summarise our approach as Engage, Educate, Empower.

Engage: We systematically seek to engage local people with our activities by:

  • Communicating information widely in the area and beyond, including hand delivery of invitations to launches, artists talks etc.

  • Holding celebratory events which are both adult and child friendly.

  • Making open invitations to newly interested people to participate in elements of our artist selection processes.

  • Placing as much information as possible about our activities on our website.

  • Making use of social networking technologies to engage with new audiences.

Educate: We aim to provide members of the public with opportunities to reflect on and explore their ideas and responses to public art by:

  • Providing accessible interpretative material in relation to artworks.

  • Encouraging discussion at the site of artworks and in the Public Art House.

  • Encouraging people to express their responses to artworks in writing, sound recordings and drawings and displaying these in the Public Art House as a basis for discussion with others.

  • Developing and delivering courses for the general public.

  • Staging artists’ talks, workshops and other participatory events.

Empower: We aim to make it possible for increasing numbers of local people to be involved in the decision making process that accompany the creation of artwork in Portobello by:

  • Participating informally in the process of artist selection.

  • Becoming a member of the Commissioning Group with responsibility for determining artist briefs and choosing artists to create work in Portobello.

  • Becoming a Trustee of Big Things on the Beach with shared responsibility for all aspects of commissioning artists.

Starting Points

Big Things on the Beach approaches 2010/11 with a number of foundations in place:

  • A track record of presenting contemporary art in public space and a developed understanding of the logistics involved.

  • A history of competent relationships with funders.

  • Positive experience of employing professional staff to deliver our initiatives.

  • Recognition from the City Council and the local Neighbourhood Partnerships as contributors to their objectives for the community.

  • A positive and growing profile in the community as positive contributors to the quality of life in Portobello.

  • A developing profile amongst artists as competent and interesting commissioners of contemporary art.

  • A positive media profile.

Strategic approach

A recent assessment by the Trustees of Big Things on the Beach concluded that our dependence on short term project funding and the absence of obvious sources of development funding for public arts initiatives both in the City of Edinburgh and nationally makes it difficult for us to form a detailed development strategy which we can reasonably hope to deliver in any specific period of time. The only realistic strategy open to Big Things on the Beach in this context to attempt to create development opportunities and to grasp the opportunities offered by other developments. Whilst we would like to be able to plan our programme on a 3-5 year timeline, we think that, in the current context, it is better for us to continue to plan our activities on a year by year basis.

The two principal opportunities that present themselves currently are;

  • The City of Edinburgh Council’s Edinburgh Waterfront Promenade project, scheduled to be implemented between 2009 and 2037. This involves the creation of a continuous walkway/cycleway from Joppa to Cramond. The design brief for the Waterfront Promenade, includes public art as "an essential element in ensuring that the Promenade has a definable character…" The brief identifies the potential for major artworks to be installed at major destination points, for artworks to be installed into the infrastructure of the Promenade and for temporary installations at significant periods, such as during the Edinburgh Festival. The brief also states that "the contribution of existing local communities to advancing art needs to be taken into account". Big Things on the Beach’s Imagine Porty Prom project has been developed in collaboration with the City Development Department’s Waterfront Development Team and is part funded by the City of Edinburgh Council. We anticipate that the final Portobello Promenade Public Art Plan will include proposals for an ongoing role for Big Things on the Beach in relation to community engagement in the Council’s Waterfront Promenade programme in Portobello.

  • The establishment of Creative Scotland in 2010. Andrew Dixon, the incoming Chief Executive of Creative Scotland says, "Creative Scotland will be unique as an organisation that invests in talent and in ideas. Scotland is blessed with innovative, passionate creative professionals; our ambition is to instil the same passion for creativity in every home in Scotland". The role of Creative Scotland will be to:

    • Identify, support and develop quality and excellence in the arts and culture.

    • Promote understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the arts and culture.

    • Encourage as many people as possible to access and participate in the arts and culture.

    • Realise the value and benefits of the arts and culture.

    • Encourage and support creative endeavours that contribute to an understanding of Scotland’s national culture.

    • Promote and support commercial activity focused on the application of creative skills.

This prospectus engages with the aims and objectives of Big Things on the Beach and we will seek to build on the relationship we have developed with the Scottish Arts Council to seek support from the new organization.


During 2010/11 we would like to:

  • Work with the City Council and others towards the appointment of a lead artist to develop the Portobello Public Art Plan.

  • Develop a substantial, artist led, participatory project that reflects the history and culture of Portobello (e.g. a combination of ceramic/glass/mosaic and street art) and which projects the forward looking, progressive character of today’s residents.

  • Develop a further programme of education/capacity building for the local community in commissioning public art.

  • Develop a programme of involvement in public art for children and young people in conjunction with local schools.

  • Explore the potential for us to contribute to the professional development of artists wishing to work in the public realm.

Lead artist

The appointment of a lead artist for Portobello Promenade is likely to be the principal recommendation of RKL’s report for the Imagine Porty Prom project. As a community we would like to retain as much of the artistic direction of the development of Portobello Promenade, including participating fully in the appointment of a lead artist, through a mechanism similar to the current Imagine Porty Prom Management Group.

Participatory project

Public feedback to our previous projects and to the current Imagine Porty Prom initiative suggest that local people have a preference for public art that is high quality, that is significant in scale, that makes a long term/permanent contribution to the experience of Portobello, that provides opportunities for participation in the process of making and that is environmentally responsive and responsible.

During this year we would like to initiate a project of this kind which also engages with the City Council’s Edinburgh Promenade project by drawing peoples’ attention to the "line" of the Promenade and its connections to other parts of Edinburgh and the wider Forth Region. We have not yet decided on the form this should take but we are considering the possibilities offered by the sea wall as a site for work in a variety of forms which offer different possibilities for public participation. Any project would be developed in conjunction with the approach of a lead artist to ensure that it is coherent with an overall conception of Portobello Promenade.

Community Capacity Building

Our Public Art Commissioning Course was developed and delivered from 2007-9. Several "graduates" of the course have subsequently become Trustees of Big Things on the Beach or have been active in our Commissioning Group. Since 2009 we have supplemented the course with occasional Artists’ Talks or other opportunities to develop our understanding of contemporary Public Art Practice. We feel that there would be interest in the community if we were to offer further basic training in commissioning and those of us who have developed experience in the feeling are aware that we could benefit from greater exposure to current thinking and practice in the field. In addition, the material from our initial course has been collated and we have made a proposal to the Scottish Arts Council that would make it more widely available, possibly via the PARS website. However, we have not yet been able to progress this idea.

In the course of exploring this aspect of our development we have had initial conversations with key people at the Edinburgh College of Art and the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop. In the course of these we have identified areas of professional development for artists which are also relevant to building the capacity of community commissioners and we have explored the possibility of partnership activities in which Big Things on the Beach provides real life, "laboratory" opportunities for students to engage with community in public art practice.

During 2011 we would like to deliver a basic course for up to 20 people leading to the commissioning of a temporary artwork and to develop and deliver an advanced course for a similar number in conjunction with the development of the Public Art Plan.


We anticipate that we will need the support of professional staff throughout the year:

  • One full time (or full time equivalent)
    • To assist in the development and resourcing of the year’s programme.
    • To continue to promote public participation and engagement in public art, particularly with regard to permanent installations and the Public Art Plan.
    • To curate a substantial participatory project.
  • One half time (or half time equivalent)
    • To develop and deliver educational activities.


The current Public Art House will not be available to Big Things on the Beach beyond September 2010. In the next year, rather than try to find somewhere of equivalent size, we would like to take smaller premises as an administrative base and a point of public contact and to hire other local premises for running courses, indoor exhibitions, workshops etc. on an ad hoc basis.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 December 2011 19:41  

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Big Things on the Beach is a public art trust in Portobello, a seaside suburb close to the city centre of Edinburgh, Scotland. It was formed by a group of residents in 2003 to explore the potential of the seafront as a site for engagement with public artworks by both emerging and established artists.

Since 2004 we have commissioned artists to create substantial temporary artworks, trained ourselves and others in the process of commissioning public artworks through international site visits and guest lectures and successfully raised funding to these ends.

Our current project - The Big Welcome - is supported by Creative Scotland, Portobello & Craigmillar Neighbourhood Partnership and Edinburgh City Libraries