6th July 2007 at 01:00
The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, Orkney, which houses one of the UK's most important collections of modern British art, reopens tomorrow after a Pounds 4.5 million, two-year refurbishment.

The centre was founded in 1979 in historic buildings at the pier in Stromness, Orkney's second biggest town. At its core is an outstanding collection of work by artists such as Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, gifted to the centre by Margaret Gardiner, an incomer to the islands.

Even before the refurbishment, which includes a stunning modern extension in black zinc and glass, the Pier had established strong links with schools and the local community. Now, with double the gallery space and dedicated education facilities as well as an art reference library, education officer Carol Dunbar says the centre will be able to offer a wide range of activities for school groups.

In August, she will send out information about a schools project tied in with the centre's relaunch. Leading Lights will be a class-based activity about journeys and travelling, designed to prepare pupils and teachers for a visit.

For the time being, however, the emphasis will be on holiday fun, particularly during Stromness Shopping Week, the town's traditional summer gala from July 16-21, when the new-look Pier Arts Centre will be the focus for a variety of family activities. These include story-telling sessions and art workshops, as well as the now famous annual Pavement Artist competition, which takes place outside on the flagstone pier and is open to people of all ages.

The first Stromness Shopping Week was held in 1949, aimed at bringing trade to local shops and celebrating the end of post-war austerity. These days the gala features sideshows, sports events, music, a fancy-dress parade and fireworks as well as a doughnut-eating competition and "round the town" beer race.

T 01856 850209


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