The Boat Project, a large-scale participatory public artwork to mark the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

Submitting Institution

Falmouth University

Unit of Assessment

Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

A participatory public artwork commissioned as a part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, The Boat Project's impact reaches to a national audience of 440,698 while a global audience of many millions encountered the work via print and broadcast media. Outreach activity engaged over 100 schools while some thirty public artworks were commissioned in response to the project, underlining its impact on local authority cultural provision and the professional fields of contemporary performance, theatre and public art. The project created 22 paid positions, 80 volunteer positions and an on-going commercial venture.

Underpinning research

The Boat Project's underpinning research period was titled The Days of The Sledgehammer Have Gone (1999-2005). The research was led by Gregg Whelan (Dartington post-graduate 1998-2004, 0.3 lecturer 1998-2000 and 2001-2005, visiting lecturer 2006-2012, Honorary Fellow 2007-present, currently Professor of Performance) in collaboration with Gary Winters (visiting lecturer 1998-2013, Honorary Fellow 2007-present). Whelan and Winters have collaborated under the name Lone Twin since meeting at Dartington as undergraduates (1994-1997). Dartington/Falmouth colleagues David Williams and Larry Lynch also made key contributions to the research.

The Days of The Sledgehammer Have Gone, an umbrella title for a series of public research residencies and performance outcomes was supported by Dartington College of Arts and Arts Council England. The project toured extensively, working through a research residency model at major international cultural houses and festivals, including The Melbourne International Festival (2005), The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh (2003), and the Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon (2002). This research period, beyond creating The Boat Project, continues to have significant impact on the fields of theatre and performance studies, ` (Lone Twin) have transformed the way we perceive, practice, and live out our desires within and around the work of the theatre and the everyday engagements of performance' (3.1).

The research posed this central question: how can arts practice, in this case performance-making, operate beyond orthodox cultural spaces and create a generative space of meeting and social exchange with a broad public audience? Ite research used the theme and materiality of water, and its relationship to a land's human geography, as a catalyst in a series of meetings with waterside communities - a definition of place that includes major urban centres and rural contexts alike. Research findings, presented and disseminated through live performance and a published `research companion' with contributions from David Williams (3.2) focused on participatory modes of public engagement as means of producing a meaningful `place' for performance in public space. Crucially the first mode of participation would be the artist's own: Lone Twin's participation in the lives and contexts of its audience became the leading operational tactic of the research, a turn in the duo's practice with its own impact (3.3).

In participatory terms ideas of travel became important: repeated journeys made by Whelan and Winters through a given context became a key mode of social and spatial encounter. During a residency in Norway (Absolut Galskapp Festival, Kongsvinger, 2000) the researcher's interests in water, travel and participation converged in the idea to communally build a working boat (3.4). Channel Six, a public outcome created by Whelan, Winters with Larry Lynch, and presented at Baltic Centre For Contemporary Art, Gateshead (2005), was created during a North Sea crossing on board a Russian fishing trawler, a context that further informed an enquiry into the variously layered relationships between seafaring, community and ideas of nationhood. Research in Stavanger, Norway as a part of the port's preparations for its European City of Culture programme (2008) centred on the possibility of building a wooden boat from items gifted to the process by members of the public, and for the public to work alongside professional boat builders in creating the vessel. The central idea, to fold personal identity, and personal value, into a national, participatory communal activity was later commissioned by Arts Council England, as The Boat Project.

References to the research

3.1. Read, Alan, Preface In The Company of Kindness, in Lavery, Carl and Williams, David eds, (2011) Good Luck Everybody, Lone Twin, Journeys, Performances, Conversations, Aberystwyth: Performance Research Books. pp 7. Good Luck Everybody, by its own description is `...the first book-length collection to focus on the performance and theatre work of Lone Twin... a duo recognised internationally as one of the UK's most inventive and engaging performance collaborations' pp5. For articles on the research period see: pp.27-39, 67-75, 114, 155, 161, 163-168, 171-184. For further evidence of Lone Twin's impact on theatre and performance studies see: Govan, Emma (2007) `Inhabiting space', in Emma Govan, Helen Nicholson, and Katie Normington (eds) Making A Performance: Devising histories and contemporary practices, London: Routledge, pp. 122-6.

Travers, Sophie (2004) `Line Dances, Weather Works and Expeditions', Dance Theatre Journal 19:4: pp.22-6.

I Can't Go On Like This, Lone Twin and Related Practices, International Symposium, Lancaster University, 2007:

3.2. Lone Twin (2001) Of Pigs & Lovers, A Lone Twin Research Companion, Nottingham: liveartmagazine supported by The Arts Council Of England. Distributed as a gift with liveartmagazine: 10,000 free copies distributed across the UK.

3.3. See: Lavery, Carl and Williams, David (2011) `Practising Participation: A Conversation with Lone Twin', Performance Research 16:4, 2011 On Participation, pp.7-14


3.4. For an introduction to the early conceptual grounding of The Boat Project see: Williams, David (2012) `A thing built to move: Lone Twin's The Boat Project -an interview with Gary Winters and Gregg Whelan', Total Theatre 24:1, Spring, pp. 11-12.

Details of the impact

Commissioned by the Arts Council England under the scheme Artists Taking The Lead (4.1) to mark and celebrate the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, The Boat Project, delivered by Whelan, Winters and company (Lone Twin) began in January 2011. A large-scale participatory public artwork, its success relied on creating impact in the public domain. A considerable investment by Arts Council England, £500,000, underlined the perceived agency of the project's ambition, to engage many thousands of people in the communal building of a world-class racing yacht, a fitting invitation, perhaps, for an island people: hand over a piece of your life, a wooden piece of life, and together we'll build a boat.

Across January 2011 to September 2012, 440,698 people engaged with the project during the build process and the boat's maiden voyage as part of the London 2012 Festival and Cultural Olympiad (4.2). The experience of joining The Boat Project, by donating a wooden item, participating in the build process or crewing the boat during its maiden voyage, was beneficial to public participants in various ways: the project facilitated the acquisition of new skills - 80 volunteers were trained in a range of boat building techniques, project administration and archival processes, while eight were taught to sail to RYA Competent Crew level; volunteers formed new and lasting relationships with fellow volunteers; and 2,217 donors contributed to, and their lives were documented by a public artwork of national and international significance - as donor Mary Milton puts it `there's a part of me in that boat, and a part of my husband, he would have loved this, well, off he goes now, a new life. I didn't know an art project could do that' (4.3).

The impact the project had on participants became a global media story, with BBC One broadcasting live from the boat's launch. From ITV to CNN, from Saga Magazine to Time Magazine (4.4), the media's clear fascination with the project is a product and reflection of the value and impact it had on a large participatory audience. As Fiona Wilkie states ` is as a record of more than 1200 separate trajectories - the movements of the donated objects and their owners, both small- and large-scale - that it is most powerful.... a record of the range of life events, birth, death, marriage, parenthood, graduation, career changes, falling in and out of love... Its significance as part of a dialogue around arts and the Olympics lies in its coupling of aesthetic achievement with social encounter' (4.5)

The project impacted on various professions, creating 22 paid positions across teams of professional boat builders, archivists, producers and project administrators. The boat was built in Thornham Marina, Emsworth under the technical direction of Olympic Yachtsman Mark Covel.

Following completion of the project, Jesse Loynes, Covell's second-in-command, launched Arbor Yachts LTD, a commercial yacht building company (4.6). Abor Yachts grew directly from expertise Loynes developed working on The Boat Project and currently employs all three professional boat builders trained by Covell. Long in decline in Emsworth, boat building is now enjoying a renaissance.

Due to the unique nature of the technologies and techniques developed to create the boat the project had considerable impact in the marine sector, featuring in all major UK yachting magazines (4.7). The use of the West Epoxy System in the build process developed a number of new opportunities for West, a partner in the project, including an introduction to Rolls Royce, also project partners, to discuss use of West Epoxy in the treatment of vehicle interiors, a move which sees the project acting as an informal broker between two leading private sector organisations. The project partnered with over one hundred private and public sector organisations. These include leading cultural organisations: The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, London 2012 Festival, Arts Council England, Turner Contemporary, Jerwood Gallery and the Brighton Festival; and various public-sector local authorities. Working in collaboration partners commissioned over thirty public artworks, many from leading UK artists and arts companies, in direct response to the themes and concerns of the project (4.8). Here the project had significant impact on the programming decisions of major cultural organisations' response to the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The project's status as an innovative participatory art work has had significant impact on its public sector partners, specifically on audience development: `The Boat Project brought together and had a tangible impact on a variety of hard to reach groups and communities that would typically not access arts or cultural provision in Margate' - Kent County Council (4.9). Impact on audience development extends to France where the boat appeared during Dunkirk's Regional Capital of Culture programme (May 2013) (4.10). A large-scale outreach programme engaged over three thousand young people through partnerships with over one hundred schools, enabling an innovative and participatory learning experience focused on the social possibilities of contemporary public art (4.11).

Sources to corroborate the impact

5.1. The Boat Project was awarded £500,000 from Arts Council England as a part of Artists Taking The Lead: `Artists taking the lead was the UK Arts Councils' flagship project for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad' - Coverage of the Artists Taking The Lead launch: Guardian: The Times: The Boat Project was programmed in both the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival. The London 2012 Festival presented the largest public programme of cultural material in the history of UK arts to an audience of 20.2 million:

5.2. The Boat Project audience/participants/personnel figures, recorded and supplied by Lone Twin: visitors to The Boat Project build shed, Thornham Marina, including donation process and launch day: 21,376. Visitors to Donation Days (donation events held across the South West): 17,890. Visitors to Maiden Voyage events (27 events held across the South West, including the boat's Weymouth residency during the London 2012 Olympic Games): 401,352. Donors to the project: 2,217 (creating 1,200 numbered lots). Project volunteers: 80. Jobs created: 22

5.3. Lone Twin collected testimonies from project donors and participants, both through the archival activities of the project itself and through contributions to the project's `visitors' book', a hardcopy book housed in the build shed: `Having donated a piece of the old West Pier in Brighton, I visited the boat today... I found the culmination of all that work, all those stories, and the beauty of the finished boat very moving'. `I came down to give a bit of wood away and stayed for a year! It's been a life changing experience, what an amazing thing to have been involved with'. `I felt no connection to the Olympics until I visited the boatshed, this is really an incredibly moving project, I feel a part of this country in a different way. Thank you.'

5.4. Selective national and international media coverage. The Boat Project's media coverage across 2012 reached approximately 250 million people (based on media circulation/viewing figures). Coverage peaked on May 7th 2012, the boat's launch date, with the Press Association circulating the story globally. American radio coverage on launch day received an audience of 67 million listeners. Below is a selective list of coverage (links may expire during the life of this document):

BBC World Service, The Strand:

The Daily Mail:

The Guardian:

The Daily Telegraph:

Saga Magazine: 4-page feature in May 2012 issue (PDF available)

CNN (Broadcast and online):

Time Magazine:

Radio New Zealand:

World News Australia:

5.5. Wilkie, Fiona (2013) Beyond the Blank Canvas: Lone Twin's The Boat Project, Contemporary Theatre Review, 23:4, 563-567,

5.6. Arbor Yachts Ltd formed by key Boat Project personnel: `Arbor Yachts Ltd is a new company, formed in May, 2012, building beautiful wooden yachts with modern performance and design. The company was born from the experience and observations that grew from The Boat Project' -

5.7. Selective national/international marine press coverage (full marine press archive available. Links may expire during the life of this document):

Yachting And Boating World:

Ship Shape News:

Sailing Today:

Practical Boating Magazine:

5.8. The Boat Project worked as catalyst for the creation and commissioning of new art works; between major cultural institutions such as Turner Contemporary, local authorities and smaller bodies such as Aspex Gallery in Portsmouth, over art 30 projects were commissioned and produced in response to The Boat Project, including: Brighton Festival with Lighthouse and Fabrica commissioning of Invisible Flock's Sea of Voices: Otolith Group I See Infinite Distance Between Any Point And Another: Jerwood Gallery, Hastings with Project Art Works, Boat: Milton Keynes International Festival with The Stables, Harbour of Songs: a CD of songs inspired by The Boat Project, produced and directed by folk musician Adrian McNally [The Unthanks]:

5.9. Kent County Council, continued: `As a model of public engagement in arts activity it is exemplary; meaningful to a full spectrum of interests, simple in the routes that it offered for engagement and encouraging of creativity. It gave participants a genuine sense of ownership and involvement' (Quoted from Lone Twin's Boat Project Partner's Report).
Portsmouth City Council: "... an unprecedented opportunity to host a key Cultural Olympiad event, giving free access to over 7,000 people in an artistic event. An excellent vehicle for cross sector working and partnership development, unlocking new resources and extending the scope of each partners' reach'. (Quoted from Lone Twin's Boat Project Partner's Report).

5.10. The Boat Project is widely noted internationally as a model of good practice and innovation around initiatives to develop new audiences, as reflected by an invitation from Festival l'Entorse to feature in Dunkirk's Regional Capital of Culture 2013 programme. Julien Carrel, Director of L'Entorse: `Work of this kind of quality of public participation is not developed in France and Belgium. For us it is the best example of how one can get involved new audiences in arts who would not come to a gallery or exhibition or theatre performance. Lone Twin and The Boat Project is really leading the way in this field of artistic work also in a beautiful way':

5.11. The project directly engaged over 100 educational institutions across the full spectrum of ages from primary to higher education [approx. 3000 students], including Peacehaven Community College, Glendale School, Havant and over 30 Brighton primary schools. Opportunities for students and pupils included work experience for young people with learning difficulties; participatory workshops and talks; the opportunity to donate to the project; and participation in creative responses to the project including music performances and visual arts and crafts.

5.12. Ruth Mackenzie, former director of London 2012 Cultural Olympiad & London 2012 Festival, is prepared to give a testimonial for this case study