Planning approval for Dream: The Big Art Project in St.Helens

  • Published 10 September 2008

Planning approval has been granted by St.Helens Council tonight (Tuesday 9 September 2008) for a spectacular new landmark artwork chosen by a group of local ex-miners. It is commissioned by St.Helens Council as part of The Big Art Project, an ambitious public art initiative from Channel 4 supported by Arts Council England, the national development agency for the arts and The Art Fund, the UK's leading independent art charity.

Titled Dream, the 20 metres high sculpture by internationally renowned artist Jaume Plensa is to be sited on top of the former Sutton Manor Colliery, located close to Junction 7 of the M62. The work is intended to become a gateway feature for both Merseyside and Greater Manchester at the heart of the Northwest, and to symbolise the remarkable regeneration of the whole region. It will launch, subject to project progress, in Spring 2009.

Dream takes the form of the head of a girl with eyes closed, seemingly in a dream-like state. It is the artist’s response to the brief and to subsequent conversations with the ex-miners and members of the wider local community who wanted a piece that looked to a brighter future and created a beautiful and contemplative space for future generations, not least their own grandchildren, at the top of the former spoil heap. It is to be fabricated in pre-cast concrete, with a white, almost luminescent finish using a white marble/concrete aggregate mix in marked contrast to the black of the coal that still lies below.

The progress of St.Helens’ Dream is being filmed for a Channel 4 series to be broadcast in 2009. The Big Art Project seeks to inspire and create new works of public art, commissioned by communities, as well as debating the importance of art in the built environment.

The Big Art Project in St.Helens is being delivered by St.Helens Council, in partnership with the national funders. A focus group comprising ex-miners from Sutton Manor has played a pivotal role in the whole development of the project, which is being curated by Liverpool Biennial and is supported by the Forestry Commission, the Northwest Coalfield Communities Regeneration Programme and the European Regional Development Fund via the Merseyside Objective 1 Programme.

After a research period involving visits to look at other work and presentations on the wide spectrum of practitioners working in the public sphere, the local ex-miners group agreed unanimously on inviting Plensa to undertake this new commission for St.Helens, under the guidance of Laurie Peake, Programme Director (Public Art), from Liverpool Biennial. Construction is scheduled to begin now that planning permission has been secured.

The whole process is also running in tandem with an extensive local community involvement and arts development programme - dubbed “Big Art’s Little Art” - that is intended to form the basis of a significant Big Art Project legacy initiative.

Born in Barcelona, Jaume Plensa has exhibited all over the world and completed major commissions in Canada, Israel, Japan, France, Germany, and the United States. His most famous work is the dramatic “Crown Fountain” in the centre of Chicago. Jaume’s public artworks in the UK include a laser beam light sculpture at the Baltic Arts Centre in Gateshead and, most recently, a spectacular new sculpted and illuminated glass dome for BBC Broadcasting House.

Cllr. Brian Spencer, the Leader of St.Helens Council stated: “As both Council Leader and someone who worked down Sutton Manor Colliery myself, I am delighted that planning permission has been received for this spectacular new artwork, which is intended to symbolise the positive post-industrial transformation that St.Helens has undergone in recent years. It is a testament to the nature and scale of our forward-looking ambition that an artist of the international standing of Jaume Plensa is undertaking this commission. This landmark new artwork aims to not only put St.Helens on the map, but also to have a major positive impact on the rest of Merseyside and the North West in terms of the significant economic and cultural benefits it will bring”.

Jan Younghusband, Commissioning Editor, Arts and Performance at Channel 4, said: “We are all delighted to see Jaume Plensa’s brilliant proposal for this historic site in St Helens. It is an exciting time for Gary and the team in St.Helens and for the progress of The Big Art Project, which seeks to encourage the general public to commission for their communities.”

Alan Davey, Chief Executive, Arts Council England, added: "We hope the Big Art Project will help to revolutionise the way art gets created in unexpected public places, by inspiring communities to get involved in the process and planners to work with them. The enthusiasm of the miners in St Helens shows exactly how art can create a sense of belonging and pride in the places where we live, and improve our quality of life. We're excited for them and for the rest of the Big Art groups up and down the country."

David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund, the charity helping to fund the work of art, said: “What is most exciting about the Big Art Project is that it demonstrates that everyone can be inspired and moved by art and, given the chance, be the commissioner of great works. The hard work and commitment shown by the local community in bringing Dream to St Helens has been a powerful testimony to their love and ambition for art. It’s wonderful that plans have now been given the seal of approval by the Council.”

The Big Art Project began filming in 2005 when people across the country were invited to nominate sites they felt would benefit from an art installation. More than 1,400 nominations were received, from which seven sites were selected across the UK: Beckton, Belfast, Burnley, Cardigan, the Isle of Mull, Sheffield and St.Helens. For the past three years the Big Art Project has been working with communities in these seven locations, with each site offering a unique story which is being filmed for a landmark documentary series, to be broadcast by Channel 4 in 2009. It will reveal a candid account of the successes and pitfalls on the journey towards achieving new public art works. The series also investigates the broader debate surrounding national art – from the value of art in the built environment to the motivations and expectations when commissioning public art – and includes contributions from artists including Antony Gormley and Tracey Emin on contemporary art and its impact on communities.

The Big Art Project extends beyond television: it marks a substantial investment by Channel 4, Arts Council England and The Art Fund in a series of significant new works of public art across the UK. Through websites, including the award winning Big Art Mob ( and community engagement programmes it involves the public directly in the process of commissioning art in the public realm, encourages greater public participation, debate and engagement with art in general, and lays the foundations for further public art commissions in the future.


For further information please contact:
St.Helens: Catharine Braithwaite, Lethal Communications 07947 644110 or
Channel 4: Justine Bower 020 7306 8427 or
Arts Council England: Mark Ogle 07789 981 561 or
The Art Fund: Hannah Fox, Head of Press, 020 7225 4888 or

Notes to Editors
For more information about the Big Art Project in St.Helens go to or

For pictures please contact Catharine Braithwaite 07947 644110 or

Arts Council England
Arts Council England works to get great art to everyone by championing, developing and investing in artistic experiences that enrich people's lives. As the national development agency for the arts, we support a range of artistic activities from theatre to music, literature to dance, photography to digital art, and carnival to crafts. Great art inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves, and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2008 and 2011, we will invest £1.3 billion of public money from government and a further £0.3 billion from the National Lottery to create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

The Art Fund
The Art Fund is the UK’s leading independent art charity. It offers grants to help UK museums and galleries enrich their collections, campaigns on behalf of museums and their visitors, and promotes the enjoyment of art. It is entirely funded from public donations and has 80,000 members. Since 1903 the charity has helped museums and galleries all over the UK secure 860,000 works of art for their collections. Recent achievements include: helping secure Anthony d’Offay’s collection, ARTIST ROOMS, for Tate and National Galleries of Scotland in February 2008 with a grant of £1million; commissioning James Turrell’s Deer Shelter for Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2006; and running the ‘Buy a Brushstroke’ public appeal which raised over £550,000 to keep Turner’s Blue Rigi watercolour in the UK. For more information contact the Press Office on 020 7225 4888 or visit

St.Helens has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years to become a growing regional location of choice for businesses, residents and visitors alike. The Borough's spirit of innovation and competitive advantages in terms of connectivity, catchment and cost at the heart of the Northwest's motorway network, midway between Liverpool & Manchester, continue to be major factors in its ongoing success. For more information, visit A 2008 national survey names St.Helens as the “happiest” place to live on Merseyside, 2nd happiest in the Northwest and 14th in Britain! The Borough was rated in 2007 by Barclays Bank as one of the UK's top-performing places in terms of business start-up growth rates, and voted by Virgin Money as the Northwest's most car-friendly location. St.Helens is also over 55% rural, and is cited by the Northwest Development Agency as an exemplar for its approach to tourism development. With its 4-Star, maximum Audit Commission rating, St.Helens Council is officially one of top Local Authorities in the country. Its dynamic Economic Development Team is responsible for managing and delivering key elements of the ambitious "City Growth Strategy" for "St.Helens plc" and works very closely with various public and private sector partners to this end.