Via Francigena Arts Trail commission

Via Francigena Arts Trail

Commission Opportunity

Via Francigena Arts Trail (VFAT)
Public art commission

 Kent Downs AONB and the North Downs Way are working with project manager Dover Arts Development (DAD) to commission three public artworks for the Via Francigena, pilgrims way section, of the North Downs Way between Canterbury Cathedral and the Dover Seafront. Ambitious in quality and speaking to pilgrimage & local heritage with contemporary relevance, the artworks should provide an opportunity for rest and contemplation as well as highlight the natural landscape and inspiring views.


Kent Downs AONB and the North Downs Way are working with a Project Manager (VFATPM) Dover Arts Development (DAD) to commission three new public artworks for the Via Francigena Arts Trail (VFAT) on the  Via Francigena pilgrims way section of the North Downs Way between Canterbury Cathedral and the Dover Seafront.

The artworks should incorporate an opportunity for rest and contemplation, as well as highlight the natural landscape and inspiring views. They should provide a reason to visit, pause and appreciate each specific location while encouraging interaction from visitors.

Each of the installations should adhere to these three overarching criteria:

  • Genuine Authentic Kentish provenance; rooted in real research, heritage, pilgrimage, and landscape
  • Contemporary relevance; speaking to the modern world and local communities
  • World class artistic quality; ambitious in quality

This opportunity is suitable for artists, craftspeople, architects and designers with proven experience of working to produce long-lasting works in the public realm to a tight brief and limited budget.

You may apply for one or more (or all) installations but must demonstrate a coherent link or theme so that an integrated trail offering is presented.


The commissioners have identified the following sites as locations for the artworks:

  1. Barham Downs adjacent to A2 near Horse Bridge A2 crossing. OS Grid ref:  620905 151584  TR20905 51584. Access from Ileden Lane, Canterbury
  2. Woolage Village recreation ground OS Grid ref: TR 23445017 Access Nethersole Rd
  3. Waldershare Estate. OS Grid ref: TR 2757 4762 East 627578   North 147626
    Access: Park on lay-by at junction of Church hill and Singledge Lane near St Pancras church in Coldred.  Follow the NDW/ VF into the woods until you reach a clearing with the wilderness woodland and Belvedere hunting tower on the ridgeline in one direction and Aylesham in the distance in the other direction.

As part of their application/expression of interest, artists are asked to state if they are interested in a particular site for their work or are flexible to working with any of the 3 locations.


Through the VFAT the project aims to:

  • Create three iconic focal points to attract visits to the Via Francigena/ North Downs Way
  • Contribute to an art trail along the North Downs Way
  • Improve access to the site for all users, including visitors with disabilities
  • Promote the special characteristics of the Via Francigena and its pilgrimage heritage as a route for reflection, renewal, and inspiration.


The Project is funded by the Interreg Europe Green Pilgrimage Project. The VFAT will form part of a longer Arts Trail created by The EXPERIENCE Project, also being delivered by the Kent Downs AONB Unit. Whilst a separate project, there is clear synergy and artists will be expected to work with the Kent Downs AONB Unit EXPERIENCE Team.

The EXPERIENCE project aims to extend the tourism season (October-March) attracting 24 million additional new visitors to the FCE region by project end and 40 million additional visits by 2025.

To break the cycle and successfully extend the season, EXPERIENCE will develop a new tourism strategy to tackle all the challenges at once.

The Via Francigena Arts Trail sits outside of the EXPERIENCE Project but could contribute towards the development of business and tourism offers linked to the VFAT installations. One of the outputs from the EXPERIENCE Project is the creation of an ‘Inspiring Views’ Arts Trail along the North Downs Way in Surrey and in Kent. There is an obvious synergy between these 2 separate projects.

About the Interreg Europe Green Pilgrimage Project

Green Growth and Pilgrimage: The continued fragility of Europe’s economy means that growth and development policies often take precedence over environmental policies, threatening our cultural and natural heritage assets. The Green Pilgrimage (GP) project will show how growth and development policies can economically exploit AND protect natural and cultural heritage. Key to this is our focus on the power of pilgrimage- recognized today as one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry (UNWTO, 2015) with more than 300 million pilgrims every year.

‘Now is the time to harness the power and potential of religious tourism to make a positive difference in the world.’ United Nations World Tourism Organisation

The Power of Pilgrimage: Ancient pilgrim routes such as The Way of St James to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, report an annual 10% increase in numbers, particularly among the non-religious. Harnessing this increased popularity to protect natural and cultural heritage is a common challenge faced by those responsible for Europe’s major pilgrimage routes. GP will show policy makers how to protect natural and cultural heritage whilst developing jobs and growth along pilgrim routes through developing low impact tourism, digitalization, pilgrim accommodation and strengthening local traditions. This reconnects pilgrims with their environment, landscape, and culture.

About the Via Francigena

The Via Francigena; a pilgrimage to Rome:

Beginning in the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral, the Via Francigena is a medieval route to Rome used by pilgrims for centuries travelling to the tomb of St. Peter.  Revived as a walking pilgrimage route in the 1980s, the modern route is based on the journey taken by Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury who travelled to Rome in 990 to meet Pope John XV and receive his investiture pallium. The 79 stages recorded in Sigeric’s diary, held in the British Library, trace his return journey to Canterbury.  Many of the roads Sigeric travelled have since developed into motorways and so the modern route takes pilgrims away from busy roads, along footpaths through fields, canal towpaths and mountain trails.

Pilgrims on the Via Francigena experience some of the most beautiful natural and built heritage of Europe including the North Downs Way to Dover, the Great War battlefields of Northern France, the Champagne region, Lake Geneva and the mighty Alps, the Apennines, the picturesque hills of Tuscany and finally Rome and the Vatican City.

There are a variety of motivations that inspire pilgrims to undertake this journey to Rome: for spiritual reasons, as a physical challenge, an opportunity to disconnect from the pressures of the everyday, to be immersed in the cultures and landscapes along the route, to socialise with fellow pilgrims or to walk in the footsteps of historic pilgrims. Motivations can also be for an intensely personal reason, such as to process a trauma, to grieve, to invite an opportunity for self-discovery or to improve mental health. A pilgrim may have several motivations, some that are not even entirely clear to them as they embark on their journey. It is only once a pilgrim has reached their destination that they gain an understanding of the full impact of their experience.

Today the Via Francigena is a European Cultural Route as designated by the Council of Europe in 1994. Velia Coffey, former Deputy CEO of Canterbury City Council sits as Vice President of the European Association for the Via Francigena (EAVF), the body formed in 2001 to manage and promote the route internationally. In Kent the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome supports pilgrims and promotes the route which shares the same status as The Way of St James, maybe better known as the Camino de Santiago. The Via Francigena is the UK’s only long-distance walking & cycling European Cultural Route.

About the Kent Downs & North Downs Way

The Kent Downs AONB is one of a family of 46 AONBs across England, Wales and Northern Ireland which cover one fifth of the UK. An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is a designated exceptional landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are precious enough to be safeguarded in the national interest. On par with National Parks, AONBs are protected and enhanced for nature, people, business, and culture. The Kent Downs AONB offers dramatic views, vibrant communities, a rich historic and cultural heritage and diverse wildlife and habitats making it a worthy landscape for national protection. It is the eighth largest AONB and, along with the High Weald AONB, covers 33% of Kent’s land area providing a wealth of opportunities for people to explore, enjoy and benefit from this outstanding landscape.

The North Downs Way is one of only 15 designated National Trails in England and Wales and has a diverse appeal for many unique reasons. Passing through 153 miles of stunning and diverse landscapes and through the protected landscapes of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the Kent Downs AONB the North Downs Way makes for a great place for a family day out, a short walk, ride, a really good ice cream or a life-changing long distance walk.

This project looks to create services and attractions in both popular and less well explored sections of the trail.


 Artist Brief


The opportunity will be offered to:

  • Established practitioners with a proven track record of working to a tight brief and limited budget in the public realm.
  • Practitioners who can fully commit the time necessary to get to know the site and engage with the various stages of the commission.


The artworks should be:


  • relevant to the cultural and environmental context of the area and be true to the three overarching artistic criteria:
  1. Genuine authentic Kentish provenance; rooted in real research, heritage, pilgrimage, and landscape
  2. Contemporary relevance; speaking to the modern world and local communities
  3. World class artistic quality; ambitious in quality
  • thought provoking and educational
  • constructed in natural, locally sourced, or recycled materials where possible
  • durable, requiring minimal maintenance with a life expectancy of 10 years or more
  • safe and not constitute a hazard to the public or the environment
  • environmentally sustainable


The commissioners are looking for works that provide an opportunity for rest and contemplation, demonstrate high quality, consider the local environment in the materials used, and celebrate the unique identity of their respective sites. They are open to ideas and suggestions regarding the nature of the work such as a viewing platform, a bench that frames a view, more than one structure, a sound bench or the possibility of incorporating different art forms. As such, they are particularly interested in ideas that incorporate elements of interaction; this could be in terms of artworks inviting some form of physical engagement, digital app-based interactions, or, for example, the inclusion of words gathered from the community within the design.


Dover Arts Development  will support artists upon selection as they develop their initial proposal for a specific site and consider any view restoration or conservation work that might be necessary as part of their installation, in consultation with landowners and the North Downs Way trail manager (NDWTM).


The selected artist(s) will be expected to:

  • work closely with the VFAT Project Manager (VFATPM) who will oversee the project delivery and support the appointed artist(s)
  • provide drawings and specifications and plan the installation with the landowner
  • provide the drawings, including the site plan and risk assessment for their planning submission
  • ensure their artwork is durable, low maintenance and has a life expectancy of at least 10 years
  • provide regular updates on the progress of the project to the VFATPM and attend meetings as required
  • take part in the press and marketing opportunities relating to the commission – including local radio interviews – and assist in documenting the process
  • collaborate with an appointed filmmaker and photographer to document and share the creative process and product for promotional purposes
  • work with the VFATPM to promote their commissioned artwork through engagement activity such as artist-led walks
  • provide the VFATPM with a maintenance plan for preserving the life of the finished artwork
  • install the artwork in consultation with The Via Francigena Arts Trail Project Manager (VFATPM) and the landowners
  • agree a 12-month art installation warranty with the VFATPM to cover any repair work that they are liable for


 The VFAT forms part of a wider Arts Trail being created by The EXPERIENCE Project.

Separately to the above, artists may be requested to contribute to walks, talks and workshops and tourism organisations. For this contribution, artists will be commissioned and paid an agreed rate outside the VFAT project as and when required, in agreement with the EXPERIENCE Project Team.



Selected artists will work to a budget of £10,000 (incl. VAT) per artwork paid in instalments over the duration of the project. The budget includes their fee, concept & design, materials, fabrication, planning permission costs (circa £250), installation, travel & accommodation and any out of pocket expenses. Selected artists will be paid an additional £200 to develop their initial proposal with a visual and/or a maquette.

Dover Arts Development can provide subsidized artists accommodation in Dover subject to artists’ individual requirements and availability.



Expression of Interest submission deadline: 16th April 2021

Successful  artists will be notified by April 30th 2021

First week of May: artist site meetings with VFATPM and NDWTM
Throughout May: artists to work up visual proposal, models and drawings for planning
June: planning application submitted
The aim is to have the artworks produced and installed by end of September 2021 (N.B this has been extended to December 2021)

Application Process will be via the CuratorSpace portal

To apply, applicants will be asked for:

  1. Contact details & website link
  2. Two references
  3. Expression of interest in Word or PDF format to include: outline of initial ideas, drawings/visuals, ways of working and availability to deliver within the project timelines. Applicants should also state whether they are interested in a particular site for their work or are flexible to working with any of the 3 locations.
  4. Relevant previous experience
  5. Artist statement
  6. Current CV
  7. Up to 6 supporting images

A panel consisting of the North Downs Way Trail Manager, Kent Downs EXPERIENCE Team, Landowners, Arts professionals and VFAT Project Manager will select the artist(s). The panel are looking for experience and innovation in creating arts installations in the rural landscape setting and the ability to promote and engage with local people.

 The panel will specifically look for a methodology that demonstrates how the artist would achieve the 3 overarching artistic criteria:

  • Genuine authentic Kentish provenance; rooted in real research, heritage, landscape
  • Contemporary relevance; speaking to the modern world and local communities
  • World class artistic quality; ambitious in quality

Engagement with the local community, local history groups, cultural organisations and/or academics is encouraged

 The selected artist must have Public Liability Insurance up to £5,000,000 and provide proof of cover throughout the project period until Kent County Council (KCC) takes on the maintenance of the artwork.

Any queries, please email Dover Arts Development (DAD)

To view Dover Arts Developments portfolio


This work is funded by the European Regional Development Fund Interreg Europe Programme and is inspired by other inspiring views work

 Useful links


BBC Radio 4 – In Our Time, Medieval Pilgrimage

Confraternity of pilgrims to Rome

North Downs Way information

East Kent Coalfield Heritage – Dover Museum

East Kent Coalfield Heritage – Kent Ex-miners community


  • Where the document refers to the VFAT this refers to the creation of three installations along the Via Francigena route in Kent
  • Where the document refers to the VFATPM this refers to Dover Arts Development Ltd (DAD)the organisation awarded to manage the VFAT project on behalf of the Kent Downs AONB Unit
  • When referring to the Green Pilgrimage Project Manager (GPPM) this refers to Catherine Bradley, Green Pilgrimage Project Manager for the Kent Downs AONB unit.
  • When referring to the North Downs Way Trail Manager (NDWTM) this refers to Peter Morris; part of the Kent Downs AONB Unit involved in both Green Pilgrimage and EXPERIENCE projects.
  • Where the document refers to the EXPERIENCE Project Team (EPT) this refers to the KCC/ Kent Downs AONB unit and its staff delivering the EXPERIENCE project on behalf of Kent County Council (KCC).
  • When referring to the EXPERIENCE Business & Tourism Manger (EBTM) this refers to Rebecca Rees; part of the EPT.
  • When referring to the EXPERIENCE Communications Manager (ECM) this refers to the Charlie Lewis, part of the the EPT.
  • When referring to the Inspiring Views (IV) project this refers to the inspirational arts trail the EXPERIENCE project will deliver. 

The Project is funded by the Interreg Europe Green Pilgrimage Project.