A REMOTE fishing village, an historic Borders town and the home of Scotland’s giant new “Kelpies” sculptures have been crowned three of the country’s most artistic places.
Helmsdale, on the east coast of Sutherland, Peebles, in Tweeddale, and Falkirk, in Stirlingshire, have won a share of £300,000 after being honoured for their contribution to the cultural life of the nation.
The winners - named at a gala “Creative Place Awards” ceremony in Ayrshire - were drawn from a nine-strong shortlist of locations, some of which have less than 2500 residents.
Run by national arts agency Creative Scotland, the awards are aimed at recognising areas which have championed arts and culture in recent years, as well as highlighting the quality of work going on outwith the main cities.
Last year’s winners were the former mining village of Pathhead in Midlothian, the town of Huntly in Aberdeenshire, and Kilmarnock, which hosted this year’s awards ceremony at its flagship arts venue, the Palace Theatre.
Falkirk, which has won a £150,000 prize, will use it to boost the already-significant cultural programme being planned this year around the official opening of the Kelpies.
The giant horse head sculptures are due to be launched officially next to the M9 motorway in the spring, when a major festival is also being held to mark the opening of the new John Muir Way.
New projects will see the Falkirk area’s extensive network of cycle ways and footpaths used to encourage more people to visit cultural attractions, including the Hippodrome cinema and historic Callendar House, while artists will be commissioned to produce work for its five local railway stations.
The £100,000 boost for Peebles, which has a thriving arts centre, will go towards a special programme of events to be held under the themes of work, study, tourism, leisure and play, while a major new marketing campaign is planned to raise the profile of the town.
Helmsdale’s £50,000 award will help fund six artists to work in the area for six weeks to create new pieces of sculpture, music, crafts, painting, dance and storytelling. The entire project is also intended to provide the first ever creative map of the area.
Anna Vermehren, director of Timespan, Helmsdale’s own arts centre, said: “In Helmsdale people seek and find.
“They have come here for centuries in search of gold; today they are inspired and enthused by the gems of creativity hidden in the small fishing village; and in the future they will find an astonishingly vibrant place on the remote east coast of Sutherland, in one of Europe’s most remote areas that is deeply rooted in its northern identity.”
Falkirk-born author Alan Bissett, one of the backers of the town’s bid, said: “This award - like the recent completion of the magnificent Kelpies sculpture - should really help amplify focus on Falkirk as a cultural hotspot.
“I’m very proud of my hometown and look forward to helping bring to national attention the imaginative talents and energies of the people who live there.”
Caroline Adam, general manager at the Eastgate Theatre & Arts Centre in Peebles, said: “This is a wonderful recognition of the creative energies that make Peebles so special and a great opportunity to make the town better, brighter and busier than ever.”
Among the locations to lose out in the category for large destinations were Dumfries and Orkney, both of which have a number of established festivals and events.
The Rosneath Peninsula in Argyll and the isle of Arran were shortlisted as medium-sized locations, while Kingussie and Ullapool, both in the Highlands were honoured in the category for locations with less than 2500 residents.
Judges for the awards, which were first held three years ago, included Janet Archer, Creative Scotland’s chief executive, the writer Jackie Kay, VisitScotland’s chief executive Malcolm Roughhead and architectural expert Emma Halliday.
Ms Archer said: “I look forward to visiting Helmsdale, Peebles and Falkirk to see how this money has contributed to enriching each community through these creative programmes.
“We received a high calibre of applications for this year’s awards and the judges had an extremely difficult decision selecting the winners. Every single submission has evidenced how imaginatively communities across Scotland are using creativity to transform lives and inspire new futures.
Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “These shortlisted nominations demonstrate the vibrant culture and heritage of our communities and vividly illustrate how culture and creativity can enrich, empower and shape our communities.”
The opening of the Falkirk Wheel, the development of the Big in Falkirk Festival and the creation of the vast Helix Park over the last 15 years were all at the centre of the town’s bid for the awards.
Backers now want to take advantage of Falkirk’s location as a major transport hub, at the heart of the road and rail network, including the two iconic Kelpies sculptures which were recently installed on the outskirts of the town, at a new canal basin next to the M9 motorway.
Cycle and pathways around the area are planned to be transformed by new works of art, showcases for Falkirk’s rich industrial heritage and highlight links to cultural attractions.
The millions of passengers who pass through busy stations like Falkirk High and Polmont will also be targeted via live events on trains, station billboards and downloadable material for smartphones.
Peebles, which has seen its population expand dramatically to more than 9000 over the last two decades, has had a long involvement with the creative industries, stretching back to the 19th century and the evolution of the woollen mills, tweed and knitwear production.
The cultural transformation of Peebles has been credited to the open of its own multi-purpose arts centre nine years ago. More than 50 volunteers now help run the building while Peebles now boasts more than 20 different arts groups.
Since the Eastgate opened the area has seen the development of several festivals, devoted to arts and culture, food and the area’s natural environment.
Under its winning bid, artists will be developing special projects for public spaces, workplaces and private houses. Major new events are also planned to fill gaps in the calendar in April, July, August and November.
Helmsdale is a small coastal village, with a population of just over 800, in most north-easterly corner of mainland Britain.
Its artistic credentials have been transformed since a small heritage centre was opened in 1986.
The award-winning Timespan is home to the only contemporary art centre in Sutherland and the arts centre’s programme attracts around 13,000 visitors to more than 100 events a year.
Among the artists to stage shows there over the years have been Anthony Shrag, Graham Fagen, Kenny Hunter, and Dalziel & Scullion.
Under the winning bid, six artists working in different art forms, will spend six weeks in the area producing work inspired by the landscape, the local people and the area’s history.