Richard Lewis: Securing the future of Turner Contemporary

Turner Contemporary Photo Frank Leppard

Richard Lewis MA has lived in Broadstairs since the early 1980s. He has had a varied career in teaching and education management, including several years as the principal of a local language school and as the academic director of an international language organisation.

He is the author of a textbook for teaching English, a bestselling adaptation of a classic novel for learners of English, two autobiographical novels and three books of local history. He has featured on BBC Radio Kent and Sky Television and his articles have appeared in a number of newspapers and magazines.

Here he talks about his views on the expansion plans for Turner Contemporary:

As a long standing supporter of the Turner Contemporary, I welcome the new plans to expand the gallery and build an adjacent hostel (Isle of Thanet News, 1 September).  The 2.8 million gallery visitors to date represent a welcome endorsement of the project – a project that was met with much local scepticism at the outset.

It is clear, however, that the only real test of the gallery’s popularity and success will come when an entry fee is charged.  With the proposed expansion, there could perhaps be scope for a permanent exhibition which remains free, but with an entry fee being charged for special exhibitions, along the lines of the country’s major art galleries, such as the National Gallery, the Royal Academy and Tate Britain. This approach could help to generate income and make the gallery somewhat less dependent on Arts Council England and Kent County Council funding.

Perpetual Canon at Turner Contemporary

And here lies an important point.  As things stand, it is taxpayers’ money which principally makes Turner Contemporary a viable enterprise.  The original idea of the Turner was to boost and give artistic value to the local area, to serve the community, both as a place of education, especially for the young, and as a tourist attraction.  It has fulfilled its brief in most areas admirably well and has largely proved value for money.

The exhibitions, particularly the single artist or single period exhibitions, showing, for example, Turner himself, Mondrian or Grayson Perry have been outstandingly excellent. The children’s workshops and events have created a positive educational contribution. The tourists have come.

There is, however, one area which could be improved on. In fulfilling its role in promoting Margate’s cultural heritage the gallery could do more to include the work of top rank artists with local connections.  After all, the gallery’s very identification with Turner is owed to the artist’s connections with Margate.

Yes, we have had Tracey Emin, but surely there is scope for including other artists such as Christopher Alexander, a native of Margate who created work at the highest level and who was briefly represented in a small exhibition on the ground floor of the Turner three years ago.

Christopher Alexander at work

The major work of Alexander and, going back further in time, of locally connected artists of the stature of Louis Wain and George Morland could be put together in a permanent exhibition of the type described above, and alongside temporary ‘feature’ exhibitions.

At the same time there is great scope for improvements in the gallery shop, which latterly, under pressure to produce income, has resembled more of a gift or souvenir shop than an art gallery shop.  More attention surely needs to be given to items which both sell and which relate to the artistic life of the gallery and area.

Cy Twombly canvases in the Journeys with the Waste Land exhibition at Turner Contemporary

It seems extraordinary that, for example, books which tell the stories of Thanet’s artistic past should be removed from the shelves to make way for novelty pencils and rubbers.  This purging of Thanet’s cultural background serves no-one, least of all the taxpayer footing the bill.

How the new entrance and changes to the front could look Image Avanti Architects

As a Turner Contemporary stalwart, I can only hope that in the development of the new expansion plans the above points will be given serious consideration, and that the local community will be truly served by the gallery that has already proved so beneficial in so many ways.

Read here: Early designs for Turner Contemporary expansion revealed

Read here: David Chipperfield Architects reveal plan for 100-room ‘hostel’ next to Turner Contemporary

1 Comment

  1. Industrial , Shed , Portacabin, Tin , Congregated, Out of place , blot , Ugly , ( what could have been for those Millions ! ) Interior a mater of thought and choice ! but exterior horrible !! Come on Thanet ( I a Man Of Kent ! ) Embarrassed by it !

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