and care. During the past few years a programme of regeneration has been underway, championed and led by Thanet District Council. Many of the most dilapidated buildings are being reinvigorated with financial assistance from the single regeneration budget, Heritage Lottery Fund and the EU.
Margate Old Town, where much of this work has taken place, is a distinctive and historic part of the town. Once a bustling commercial area tucked away behind the harbour, the Old Town has witnessed a decline in activity as shops and businesses moved further away from the seafront.
The Margate Old Town Action Plan set out ‘A Vision for the Future of Margate’ in a public consultation document. This advocated several ways in which Margate might develop. Culture was integral to the vision. Two years on, the development of a cultural quarter in the Old Town with small shops, galleries and workshop/studio spaces for artists is underway. It is a slow process, although the expectation of the Turner Centre has helped to quicken the pace of private-sector investment, buildings are being refurbished and new businesses are moving into the area.
The Turner Centre was conceived as a complement and catalyst for such regeneration. In February 2003 the project was granted planning permission and we hope to start building early in 2004. In the meantime, a small team of staff based in Margate is delivering a programme of audience development work. This includes placing artists in schools, professional development for teachers and artists, as well as advocacy and promotion. The team is aware that the success of the Turner Centre will depend on our ability to encourage local, regional, national and international audiences to see the changing programme of exhibitions and participate in events and activities.
Education is at the heart of all the Turner Centre’s activity. The public programme aims to demonstrate the relevance of art to people’s lives, and to inspire civic pride in a project that will lead to the sustained economic development of Margate and an improved quality of life for its residents. Some members of staff are from the area and all now live locally. We use local suppliers wherever possible and are already attracting visitors to the area.
Droit House, a former customs building, is being used as the visitor interpretation centre for the Turner Centre. Refurbished and extended to designs by Terry Farrell and Partners, this Grade II listed building, a feature of the urban landscape in Turner’s time, opened to the public in summer 2002. The front element of Droit House is used to tell the story of Turner and Margate, explain regeneration and the architects’ vision for the Turner Centre. The new extension is used for small-scale exhibitions, talks, seminars and workshops. Modest visitor figures of 12,500 in the first ten months of operation demonstrate that there is demand for culture.
The Turner Centre is a very ambitious project. Its success will be measured by the quality of its architecture