Folkestone’s gold rush began last August, when 30 bars of bullion worth a total of £10,000 were buried in a strip of sand just inside the Kent town’s tiny harbour. The new prospectors who descended on the beach were unwitting contributors to what was billed as a “participatory artwork” –although most were perhaps more interested in a slender chance to redeem lives blighted by poverty.
The German artist Michael Sailstorfer conceived Folkestone Digs as part of the town’s Triennial arts festival. It attracted huge media attention: ITV breakfast, BBC news and even Chinese state television broadcast live from the town. Folkestone’s Creative Foundation, which runs the Triennial, counted 119 articles in regional, national and international media, 14 radio and television stories and more than 200 online articles attracting more than 1.6bn hits.
Sales of digging tools including trowels, shovels and spades increased by almost 500% at the local B&Q store. “The digging has never really stopped,” said local reporter Dean Kilpatrick. “There are fewer people on colder days, but the coldest day I went there was in February and there was still one guy digging away. There were even people there on Christmas Day.”