Janet Axten, former Secretary and Coordinator of the St Ives Tate Action Group (1989-93), a local organisation created to raise funds to build Tate St Ives, recalls the story of how the gallery began

  • Janet Axten and Janet Slack manning a St Ives Tate Action Group stall at Tregenna Castle Hotel, early 1990 with architects' impr

    Janet Slack and Janet Axten manning a St Ives Tate Action Group stall at Tregenna Castle Hotel, early 1990 with architects’ impression of the finished gallery

I remember Friday 23rd June 1993 very vividly. It was a bright and sunny day, with a strange cooling wind blowing off Porthmeor Beach and I was one of the people who had received a coveted handwritten invitation to the opening of Tate St Ives. After the royal party had slowly walked around all the rooms, the guests were finally able to relax and enjoy some well earned refreshments, including a welcome glass of champagne, on the roof of the newly completed building with the sea glistening in the background.

It was the culmination of over four years hard work by a wide range of people, including those of us in the town who had championed the project since the end of 1989 and who, over the intervening years, had helped to raise £135,000 towards its building.

How did I get involved in the first place? I had been living in St Ives for only four years; I was in the middle of taking an Open University degree in the arts, and I was working part-time for the artist Patrick Heron. The then Chairman of the St Ives Chamber of Trade had asked me to take the minutes of a special meeting organized by Cornwall County Council to give local support to the Council’s plans for a new gallery in St Ives to hold the Tate Gallery’s collection of St Ives painting and sculpture.

By the end of the meeting, such was the enthusiasm of those listening to Richard Carew Pole’s presentation that seven of those present, including myself, immediately got together to plan a campaign which promised to give public support for the gallery. The group also made the wild assumption that it would attempt to raise the enormous figure of £100,000 by the time the gallery opened.

Without a Chairman or formal officers, and without previous fundraising experience, the small committee that we formed, which we called the St Ives Tate Action Group (or STAG for short), found helpers with professional expertise to assist us. We worked enthusiastically and tirelessly to convince everyone that this was a project that would ultimately benefit everyone.

I don’t think we realised just how hard we would work, nor the hurdles we would have to surmount, but the smiles on our faces on that June day, showed how proud we were of what we had achieved.

Writer and Art historian Janet Axten was formerly Secretary and Coordinator of the St Ives Tate Action Group (1989-93) - a local organisation created to raise funds to build Tate St Ives. She works in the Programme Team at Tate St Ives, is a co-founder and now Heritage Manager of the St Ives Archive, and has acted as personal assistant to artists including Patrick Heron and Bryan Pearce.