Lacking any individual with the required leadership skills, Margate needs Turner Contemporary or Dreamland to step up and lead the town into the next stage of development while weaning it off public purse dependency (4min read).
Margate is a town I know well, having visited regularly as a child and adult, running a 4-month art intervention there in 2011 and having made a host of good friends who live locally. This is a short update post as there is plenty online discussing the town and more from my previous posts here.
The urban fabric of the Old Town, High Street and Margate beachfront continues to improve with every visit. A beautiful day in mid-summer, the beach was busy and many visitors milling around. The Turner Contemporary gallery had healthy numbers entering and exiting. The town feels on the up and should be in an ideal position to become a Creative Industries hub and weaned off its public funding life support system. Yet scratch the surface a little and it’s clear there is still a way to go before it will be able to stand on its own feet, and the risks it will go backward remain vivid.
Since I have known it, the Margate population have always been suspicious of how decisions are made, money spent and where money for investment has originated; and this is not without its reasons! Corruption was rampant from 1970s up into the 1990s, destroying the town and trust. Some will claim there still is corruption, if correct I would suggest that is not so much financial corruption now, more nepotism. With one of the most dysfunctional local authorities in Britain, there was hope that the public money poured into Turner Contemporary and Dreamland might counter this culture. Yet again we see, with the Turner Prize coming to the town, with all the international publicity it will bring, the town is full of angry people at Turner and Dreamland and the process of selecting participants and employees.
Margate is building its brand on nostalgia, old fairground rides, retro furniture, slot machines, and the like, which is fine yet this does not allow Turner and Dreamland to indulge in archaic ways of working. Within the town, people speak of the lack of transparency, particularly with the large amounts of public funding and how it is spent and distributed. This is just a distraction, unnecessary and easily remedied.
Images top left to right: 1. The Kentish Pantry, 2. Margate Book Shop, 3. Mannings Fish Stall, 4. Dog Admiring Himself In The Window, Anthony Wait Gallery | Photos John McKiernan
What Margate desperately needs, as does its conjoined twin, Cliftonville – see blog post, is some major investment from a professional creative industry employer; an ad agency, publishing house, post film production company. As well as such investment bringing well paying jobs, security and confidence to the town, it will dilute the pressure on Turner and Dreamland to lead. For this to happen, big companies have to be sure that their investment and brand is not at risk from dodgy deals, backhand shakes or tarnished by even being close to any corruption, or perception of corruption.
Until a big private employer emerges, Turner and Dreamland are obvious candidates to be at the forefront in leading the town towards prosperity and garnering inward investment – the local authority is simply incapable. Yet both these organisations must lead by example and this is clearly not happening at present, as people were telling me over and over.
Margate Sunset From Resort Studios | Photo John McKiernan
For all the ills of the area, Margate and Cliftonville are friendly places full of kind and interesting people. For it to become a Creative Industry hub it needs to be embracing incomers and new businesses, have healthy commercial competition by those already established in the town (prices are way too high), and outreach to the existing residents by those who newly settled. This does seem to be happening in patches but not fast enough to gain the momentum that will make it appear to outsiders as a progressive place worth investing in, as can be seen in Brighton, and increasingly Folkestone – blog post pending. Margate is in need of a leader, a charismatic conductor.
Please feel free to comment below, negative or positive, and join the discussion.
Related Blog Post: Maestros and Impresarios
Header Image: Dan Thomson’s Margate Collection | Photo John McKiernan
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