Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Day Trip To Margate

Margate Harbour Arm - Turner Contemporary will be built to the right.
On Friday, 30th May, Mum and I went on a daytrip to the good old British seaside - MARGATE.
Our plan was to have a lovely day out by the sea while carrying out a bit of a review of the art boom that is happening in the town - spurred on by Turner Contemporary, who of course need to ensure a healthy artistic and cultural presence in the town prior to the opening of the new Turner Contemporary Gallery.

We had been invited by Artist and Curator Pat Wilson to visit the Substation - run by Limboarts. Limboarts describe themselves as 'an informal grouping of artists who negotiated the use of the disused electric-substation off Margate High Street, to create an artist-led gallery/project space and studios, both as a resource for local artists and to bring artists from outside Thanet to the area.'
When we arrived the artists were busy putting the finishing touches to the 'Dreamcoaster' exhibition which featured a replica of the 88 year old Grade II listed Scenic Railway - Britain's first listed roller coaster, and one of Dreamland Fun Park's major attractions, which was recently seriously damaged by a mysterious fire...
The participatory Dreamcoaster project and exhibition was set up to raise awareness of the 'Save Dreamland Campaign'. It has been said that the owners of the once great attraction hope to develop the park into luxury flats - whereas, many of the members of the campaign - and other people that visited the park as children, have other ideas.
A bin from Dreamland Fun Park was amongst the memorabilia lent by enthusiasts.
A fantastic plan to turn the park into the worlds' first heritage theme park is being discussed - where visitors will be able to ride the 88 year old roller coaster (if restored), have a go on a genuine 1920's carousel and spend their pennies in the penny arcades. This seems like such a great idea and would capture and celebrate the history of the 'Great British Day Out.' With the opening of Turner Contemporary, a Heritage Fun Park would certainly put Margate back on the map - and could make the Town a daytripper's destination once again. The site of the exhibition is particularly pertinent, as the Substation used to power Dreamland Fun Park.
The Substation innards which used to power Dreamland, now sit outside the gallery space.
Despite being very busy putting the final touches to the show before that evening's talks, Pat Wilson kindly took a break to take us on a tour of the Substation.
The Substation provides studio space for 5 or 6 artists, but Pat underlined a real need in the area for more provision. The space is loaned on a temporary basis and it is really only a matter of time before the developers take an interest. As is the case all over the world the artists have moved into a disused industrial space and brought it back to life - the local area has already begun to regenerate making the building more viable and interesting for the developers - at which point the artists will not be able to afford it - and will have to move on. By that time the art and culture in the area will be well established/and perhaps more 'establishment'. There is a danger, as set out in Malcolm Miles Essay 'Interruptions: Testing the Rhetoric of Culturally Led Urban Development', (introduced to me by the Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent At Home), that this type of cultural regeneration sees the gentrification of an area - pushing the original locals out. This is precisely why artist led groups like Limbo should be supported, with their ethos to provide points of entry into art for the public through projects like 'Dreamcoaster' which allow space for collaboration and shared thought.

The Dreamcoaster talk, delivered by Nick Evans (author of 'Dreamland Remembered') was an excellent example of an art space operating in an accessible way, for more than just the art community. There were people of all ages and from all backgrounds at the talk. Dreamcoaster really captured the imagination of the people of Margate - and as one of the audience at the talk pointed out - you don't have to be from Margate to feel that dreamland is an important part of your cultural history.

For Mum and I, the Dreamcoaster project had a personal resonance - we had both worked on Margate seafront as teenagers. I worked in the fun park itself and Mum worked in one of the family-run restaurants that dotted the main drag. We wandered around the once familiar town and were shocked to see the number of art spaces that are now operating. The Harbour arm project looks very interesting - providing studio and gallery space from buildings that neither I nor Mum can ever remember seeing in use. The Artistic and cultural regeneration that is undoubtedly underway in the town has not yet made an impact on the evening economy of the city. As the art spaces closed and we waited for the talk (at 7pm), we searched in vain for somewhere in Margate to buy a cup of coffee. There are big plans for Margate, but the town itself has not yet caught up with them.
Our feelings were that to build on Margate's cultural heritage with the historic theme park would create another reason to visit Margate - but would also mean that the place does not become unrecognisable to the people that have always loved the town.

While in Margate we also visited the Turner Contemporary Project Space - more familiar to us in its previous incarnation as Marks and Sparks. The Harbour Arm - which is being transformed by IOTA (Isle of Thanet Arts), Droit House (Turner Outpost) where the latest plans for Turner Contemporary are on display.
At the end of the day we counted the number of art spaces in the town - there were more than ten.


Rachel said...

More than ten artspaces? That's incredible. This blog has been a real eye opener for me Anna, realising what we could create in Stoke. I think that as Artists we need to take the intiative to create opportunities like this for ourselves rather than channeling all this energy into pressing outside agencies/councils etc to provide more opportunities within regeneration. What do you think?

Anna Francis said...

Rachel - brilliant - We are working on an independent artist resource for the city, which will provide a much needed infrastructure of support for the artists in the city. There is real synchronicity in the city.
Sounds like you're up for it, So...
Lets get on it.

I will keep you posted...