Dan Thompson: Portfolio awards for Margate are great- but how about funding for arts in our other towns and villages

Dan Thompson

Dan Thompson regularly writes about the arts for Isle of Thanet News. Living in Ramsgate and based at Marine Studios in Margate, he works for one of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisations, B arts in Stoke-on-Trent, and is on the board of another, Talking Birds in Coventry.

Here he looks at the latest Portfolio funding awards in Thanet:

It’s great news that four awards have been made to Margate arts organisations, and that they will become Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisations from 2023-2026.

Turner Contemporary, Open School East, theatre company 1927, and artist James Leadbitter aka The Vacuum Cleaner will all receive an annual grant to support their work.

It’s pretty much unarguable that creative businesses have helped to lead regeneration in Margate over the last 20 years. Crate Studios, Limbo, and Marine Studios were among the pioneers, opening before Turner Contemporary, but they were building on a rich heritage. With Turner and TS Eliot and Hawkwind, Margate was never a cultural desert, after all.

Those early organisations, Turner Contemporary itself, and the Old Town’s shops and galleries have helped Margate find a new identity. It has moved from just shabby to shabby-chic, and local people have been able to talk with more optimism about the town they live in.

And those people that made an effort fifteen years ago have opened a way for Tracey Emin and co to come to the town, capitalising on the earlier work with canny property investments.

But all four Arts Council England awards are being made to Margate, and while the Isle of Thanet is a small place with plenty of connections, many (just read the comments under any Margate arts story we print) feel that Broadstairs, Ramsgate, and the villages are overlooked in the conversation about the arts. Certainly, of the four it seems Turner Contemporary has made most effort to extend their work across Thanet.

And the Isle of Thanet’s other towns are not cultural deserts. Ramsgate has Big Jelly, a world-class recording studio. Bands literally travel across the world to record in the converted chapel. The tiny Ramsgate Music Hall punches above its size, too, bringing in bands that usually play bigger venues. Pie Factory Music do work for the community that’s not a million miles away from Open School East’s community programme.

At Spacer studios, world-class artists make work about the environmental collapse. Mooch straddle the worlds of art and architecture. And Christopher Tipping, who made a major work for Coventry’s City of Culture 2021, is based in the town.

Broadstairs Folk Week is an event that brings performers – and an audience – from across the world, too.

And individual artists, musicians, actors, and performers across the Isle have a huge clout. From Brenda Blethyn to Janet Fielding, from Adrian Sherwood to Adamski, from Maggie Gee to Keith Brymer Jones, Thanet is full of creative people with big reputations who’ve made a difference locally, too.

Nationally, the creative industries are worth £115.9 billion and support 2.1m jobs, and locally they’re pretty evenly spread across the Isle.

Arts Council England’s investment is a good thing. This is not some arts exceptionalism, by the way. Farming is subsidised. So is fishing. The arms industry has massive subsidy. The UK government supports many industries, and not many give as good a return on their investment as the arts.

So while I’m sure the four organisations receiving funding will do great work, support the wider creative ecology, and  will deliver real value for local people, it’s time that Arts Council England’s funding was spread a little more evenly across the Isle of Thanet. When the next announcement comes, in 2026, let’s see organisations from Ramsgate and Broadstairs join the celebration.


  1. “It’s pretty much unarguable that creative businesses have helped to lead regeneration in Margate over the last 20 years.”

    Haha, you should be doing stand up comedy… except we haven’t got any theatres as all the money goes to “art” instead!

  2. These awards are not great, I am sick and tired of our taxes constantly being used to fund art.

    The Turner centre costs use millions, and for what ? It might have improved the 100yrds around it but that’s it.

    We are told the Turner centre has huge foot flow than why not charge them ?.

    Why does art get so much of our taxes ? We need more money being spent on NHS, building council houses, feeding the heating the poor etc, the amount of people living in poverty is rising day by day.It stinks.

    Pubs, restaurants, etc have to pay their own way but art doesnt.

    The art community live in their little taxed funded bubble, they get their hobby free of charge, it’s not right.

    The art people I know are all well off middle class who can easily afford to pay to enter the Turner centre.

    I have nothing against the art sector that stands on their own two feet, good luck to them as they compete against the art sector that lives of our taxes.

    • Are you really sick and tired of this:

      In 2019, DCMS estimated that the creative industries contributed £115.9 billion to the UK, accounting for 5.9% of the UK economy

      • Sick and tired of creative accounting, used to come up with inflated figures to try to justify our skewed grants system.

      • So the creative sector made £116 billion you say.

        But still millions and millions of our taxes to survive. Something doesnt add up here.

        If the creative sector made 116 billion why cant it support it self ?

        • It’s not just “surviving”, it’s booming!

          The department noted that the GVA of creative industries had increased by 5.6% between 2018 and 2019 and by 43.6% between 2010 and 2019 in real terms. Since 2011, the GVA of creative industries has been growing faster than the UK economy.

          • Yes I know paul so you keep saying but avoid answering my question. If art sector is doing so well why cant it fund it self and stop using our taxes ?

            I would much prefer my taxes to be taken away from art and put into the NHS

          • “I would much prefer my taxes to be taken away from art and put into the NHS”

            Because it is a delusion that this would happen.

            We have a defunded NHS and homeless people because our current leadership *believe in it*.

            It is a political choice they have made.

            They are happy for you to look for scape goats (arts, foreign aid, migrants, ..) it is a very good distraction from their failings.

          • Paul

            Are you going to answer my question ?

            A simple yes or no will do !

            You say art sector is making 116 billion per year so why cant if fund its self ?

            Why does a sector that earns 116 billion per year still need our taxes to bail it out ?

  3. Government funding for the Arts in Margate (and elsewhere) is not awarded out of a love of artistic endeavour. It is an economic strategy. It is precisely aimed at regenerating the local area, including employment levels.
    The government COULD successfully stimulate the local shops and services by increasing benefit levels, instantly increasing the money being spent in local businesses. The same effect would be achieved by raising the minimum wage level, or increasing wages for public servants such as all those NHS workers at QEQM.
    But they won’t do that as they don’t believe in it! They struggle to even have a state-funded strategy to stimulate the economy at all. They are clinging to the failed experiment of “trickle-down” in which they make sure that the very rich get even more money (that bit worked!) while all this wealth will trickle down to help out the struggling rest(that bit doesn’t work!)
    They have no intention of helping out with homelessness, or poverty, or deteriorating public services, as that goes against the philosophy of “stand on your own two feet”, and “Don’t expect help from a Nanny state etc etc “.
    But even they realise they have to do SOMETHING about the failing economy as it looks bad if they just look the other way.
    Hence the funding for the Arts. It isn’t direct subsidies for the car or aerospace industries(too “Labour” sounding!)
    It isn’t direct financial help for the local people (too radical even for Labour).
    Instead, it increases the number of creative, artistic people attracted to a town. And past experience shows that this has an effect of brightening the place up, making it more interesting, drawing in more visitors etc.

    Building a new University has the same effect. More people, younger and more active. More entrepreneurial. Setting up businesses etc.
    Best of all, the government can pretend that they are not like those horrible Social-Democrats in the Labour Party, spending tax-payers money to keep capitalism going.
    Instead , they are just “encouraging the Arts” which is the kind of minor task they can just about allow the State to undertake.

    If you don’t like money being spent on “The Arts” and not on something more immediate , you won’t be voting for this lot again, will you? Or will you?

      • Any party that did this kind of policy is the kind of party who would use the money for tax cuts for the wealthiest.

          • Yes, I see the ‘Art Box’ in the shelter, most days.
            It is an absolute ‘eye sore’.
            How the group Stretch, was awarded funding/grant for this is beyond belief.
            I seem to remember, that they were going to have all sorts of things there to make the shelter look more attractive.
            It should have been reinstated as a ‘shelter’.
            The shelters in Ramsgate and Minnis Bay, are a credit to their areas of Thanet.
            Cliftonville, where I have lived for many years, used as a ‘dumping ground for all and sundry.

  4. We can all point to luvvydom and social backscratching by the arts afficionados, but Paul does have a point. The UK does do rather well out of the creative arts sector. The Crown and Downton Abbey are one part of the ‘Arts’ industry, and publishing of books, computer games etc they are all arts. Even the BBC is arts, and it exports products overseas. As a sector it does bring in the tax pennies.
    There are loads of people working in this sector, who probably don’t regard themselves as artists, who are contributing to the wealth of this sector, even dare I say it, Peter Checksfield.
    Instead of taking a rather narrow, somewhat outdated approach to this sector, we should encourage creativity of all kinds.
    That does not stop us laughing at some of the more absurd and pompous parts of the arts world, while praising arts that do raise the spirits of the community.
    Do you remember how we all became slightly more patriotic, and slightly less shouty and divisive, after the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony? Well, that was ‘arts’ at work in the best possible way, because it brought the nation together. If any one of you moan about that, there is no hope for you.
    We stopped digging coal out of the ground years ago, and while I want to see a revival of manufacturing and making things in general, I think we should put away the flat caps and whippets, because the working class have changed, and young people don’t understand what you are banging on about. In any case the working class loved creative arts as much as anyone, re: The pitman painters etc.
    I think some here need to stop being fake working-class heroes who hate daffy painters, and to move on to embrace change.
    I started out life in heavy engineering and I have the scars to prove it, I am not sure Mr Checksfield has ever wielded a spanner in his life.

    • Spot on George!

      People can be very dismissive of the arts because they went to Turner once and there was a sh!t exhibition. Yes! It happens, I don’t love all art or everything the Turner do.

      Apply this to other sectors of the arts, do you stop watching movies, or listening to music or reading books because you once watched, listened to or read something you thought was rubbish? No!

      A lot of people don’t realise they interact with the arts every single hour of their life.. books, magazines, movies, music, television and literally everything you consume has had some artistic input into its design, whether that is the packaging on food, the design of your phone or the logo/strip for your favourite sports team.

      It’s all the arts, and this country is particularly good at it.

      If you want to see the UK producing new talent in whatever field then you need to nurture it.

      I do seem to remember that there was this big vote on the UK ‘standing on its own two feet’ and showing the world what it can do.. the arts is something we export quite a lot of and is a big ‘soft power’ for “Global Britain”.

      • Also, the BIG difference between my art and the Margate scroungers is that it is entirely self-funded yes, it really does pay for itself). I’m prolific too, churning out three major books per year. My latest epic was published today in fact.

  5. So fred bloggs paints a picture no sane person would buy,so get an art grant and get money from taxes to paint more crap, that’s how the money is being doled out on art nobody in their right mind would pay hard earned cash for,it is all going to people wanting something for nothing,why can’t some be given say to the Carlton cinema,that’s art,but gets nought ,local sports teams should get more than the arts ,keeping fit is more positive than a load of crap saying it’s art

    • Exactly that Ray. To clarify, I am NOT against any sort of art, but (despite what Dan Thompson says) I hate seeing all this endless funding for things that will never make any money back, or (often) not even give many people pleasure. The self-indulgent “art shelter” is a good example. How much did that get, and where did the money go??

      I work hard, and I’m proud of my work, but until I was in a position to make a living from hit I did all sorts of (blessed) sithole jobs to scrape a living.

    • Grants do not work like that.

      Every time you want a grant you have to apply for it, provide details of how you meet the criteria, what you’re going to do with the grant, how your award will satisfy the elements of the grant requirements. Then, once you have the grant you will be assessed to make sure you’re adhering to the terms.

      The larger the grant the more detailed and thorough the process is.

        • Who says? I have no personal experience of applying for grants but I’d be surprised that there’s a blanket avoidance of grants for writing books the whole of the arts sector.

          It sounds like a bit of bitterness? that you can’t obtain funding to write your commercial? books yet other arts forms do get funding.

      • It is a system which results in the most money going not to the most deserving, but to those most-practised in making presentations.
        One has only to look at grants awarded to Margate in recent years.
        It’s an incestuous business, with the same names cropping up over and over again.
        They are well-versed in playing the system, knowing how a slick, often expensively-produced application, will always beat something which the public might well prefer, but which does not have the resources or the inside knowledge.
        As long as this cartel continues, the arts/diversity/left-wing lobby – supported by its highly vocal proponents – will continue to receive a disproportionate slice of the cake, at the expense of the public at large.

  6. If we focus back onto Thanet, what do we want government money for?

    OK OK, we have had years of cuts to local services so we would need money for street cleaning, affordable and rented homes, more Police, more staff for QEQM, (a proper Stroke Unit there as well), improved benefits, upgraded water treatment works, the list goes on after all this neglect.
    But what would we want to actually give the area an identity and an economic base?
    I can’t see coal mining having a future. Nor a car plant for petrol vehicles. Nor textiles, given the cheaper products from the Far east.
    So what economic activity would actually be worth government investment in Thanet?
    (Forget a new airport. It’s a non-starter.)
    But this is a serious question. What can Thanet provide if given enough government start-up cash?

  7. From everything I have read:

    1. Reversing austerity
    People have had enough of the cuts and our diminished public services

    2. Investment in infrastructre
    Buses are wayyyyy too expensive, if it is too expensive to get around then you are going to limit what jobs people take on (and where businesses choose to locate because they need the right staff) and limit the ability for people to go out and spend their money. So it promotes a car centric society, which again has affordability issues. Broadband and home working also plays into this but we are starting to catch up on where we should be with broadband now I think.

    3. Investment in skills
    The future is in 1. renewables, 2. IT, 3. trades, aside from renewables we have a massive void of people coming into electrical, plumbing, carpentry, heating, general building and all of these trades are gradually becoming more professionalised and technical.

    4. Housing
    A whole generation of young people see a huge chunk of their monthly income diverted to paying for someone elses asset, meaning they have less to spend in the economy. High housing costs also effect mobility, ie. moving somewhere for work. This is a huge huge huge problem that needs solving and is having a *massive* negative impact on the economy. Sadly I am not sure there is the will/ability for anyone to tackle this as the housing market as it is has too many vested interests in the stats quo.

    Real examples of what we could do?

    We could build a big centre of excellence for training in renewables (heat pumps, solar, insulation, etc) and other trades.

    Margate Digital is a good move but I am a bit sceptical of it succeeding for various reasons (academia suffers in attracting good people because private sector salaries out compete).

    We could build factories for timber frame pre-fab home building – the issue here is the big housing developers are dead against it – they like to simply axe all their casual staff in a downturn and don’t want empty factories.

  8. I am still waiting for Dan thompson,to give the profit figures that Turner Centre has made ,figures please Dan ,oh I forgot you can’t because one it ,has not ,and two ,maybe it is run as a charity ,it is not allowed to make a profit ,if I am right about charities,all it does is also up public money,come on Dan figures please

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