The ‘art box’ at Newgate sea shelter has had another makeover with work by textile and wallpaper design artist Matthew Meadows as owner Stretch arts charity says it will try one last fundraising push this year and if that fails the structure will be handed back to Thanet council.
Last month Thanet council said it would carry out an assessment of the Newgate Gap sea shelter after concerns were raised about its dilapidated state.
In 2018 the structure had been earmarked for demolition but Thanet council reversed that decision following a Save the Newgate Gap Shelter campaign.
The shelter was then subject to a building control notice and in October 2019 the roof and seating were removed. The same month it was listed for asset disposal by Thanet council.
Stretch, which delivers arts projects to marginalised groups, was one of four groups to put in an expression of interest for the shelter and the charity’s founder Carlotta Allum said proposals were for a sensitive rebuild costing approximately £500,000 and an outsider arts trail, workshops and exhibitions.
Stretch was the successful bidder with the asset transfer taking place in 2019, Thanet council then granted permission for a temporary ‘floating’ wooden art box inside the shelter in June 2021. The ‘art box’ was planned to be in place for up to two years.
The box was installed by December 2021 and the first exhibition of portrait photos of Thanet based artists/residents was put in place in February 2022. This was vandalised almost immediately.
The same month Broadstairs College students made planters and trellises for the site. A further exhibition by artist Catherine Chinatree was put on the box in June 2022.
But at the beginning of this year the remnants of these displays were covered in graffiti and concerns were raised about the cast iron column bases being in planters with wet soil, causing damage to the structure with rust and a general air of neglect.
Cliftonville West ward councillors said they contacted Stretch for an update on future plans for the shelter and Thanet council to see if there are conditions or requirements as part of the asset transfer.
In response Stretch has revamped the box with the new wallpaper style works by Matthew Meadows. The artist has worked teaching art in various prisons and also been the project co-ordinator at the London Print Studio. He studied Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and went on to do postgraduate print-making at Central St Martins. After taking an art teacher’s training course in the UK, he moved into a career in social and community arts, working with art and mental health projects and in the criminal justice system in prisons. He is chairman at Stretch and recently bequeathed a collection of outsider art to the charity.
Stretch director Carlotta Alum is now asking for people to come forward if they would like to collaborate on future art projects but also says if fundraising is not successful this year the charity will return the shelter to Thanet council.
She added that continued vandalism of art displays at the site was ‘disheartening.’
She said: “I know there’s has been little going on at the Newgate Gap Shelter, and people are rightly wondering what is going on. Stretch has maintained many times that Thanet council did not want to spend any money on the site, they wanted to give it away, they have no interest in restoring it as a shelter.
“We had an idea to do something artistic with it and we continue to try. Last year when we had carpentry students erect protective and decorative planters around the columns they were vandalised.
“We have partnered with local arts charities and artists to cover the box, and we have plans for the spring. Over the pandemic we waited for council paperwork – the whole thing has been a nightmare. No-one is interested in investing any money.
“We spent £3k on legal fees, not sure it was worth it. We are doing our best and we will, with renewed motivation, this year.
“It’s been incredibly hard to do anything and please anyone, the winter was hard, artists couldn’t do anything. The vandals are out in force whenever we try, it is disheartening.
“Stretch is going to try this year to gain some traction in fundraising but if it doesn’t work we will return the asset transfer – so it will be up for grabs again.
“We had plans for something more robust, a kiosk and display space – but while we fundraise all we can afford is the box, I hope we can have a few months sunshine out of it in 2023.”
Last month a letter from residents was sent to Thanet council saying action must be taken before the Edwardian shelter is lost forever.
Thanet council said: ““Our priority is to ensure that the shelter is maintained and that all agreements made during the lease agreement are being adhered to.”
Stretch says the charity has received no contact from Thanet council.
To get in touch or find updates go to Stretch Outsider Art Gallery on facebook.