A Postcard from Margate
This weekend’s trip to Margate was certainly overdue. The town’s cultural shift since the arrival of the quite perfectly positioned, not to mention pitched, Turner Contemporary in spring 2011 has been well-documented. The speed with which Margate has arguably become one of the ‘Hackney-on Sea’ coastal towns has been the subject of several parodies for cynical amusement. But it is easier, and let’s face it more fashionable, to ridicule a cultural shift and than it is to begin to understand it’s complexities.
Not that this has deterred creatives seeking a more entrepreneurial approach to their practices’: their eyes continue to gaze South-Eastwards. And on the basis of evidence gleaned across a short weekend, it doesn’t take a cultural vanguard to see why. Undoubtedly, the complexities of Margate’s transition are easily observed. But they also seem to be keenly felt by many of the artists who now live there. Picking up a copy of the Margate Mercury, a gentle publication certainly trying to grapple with its context, ‘the big G debate’ (or gentrification for those who need a clearer introduction) receives a well edited double-page spread. Comments from a consciously broad spectrum of local business owners, councilors and lifers alike highlight an awareness that these issues need a discursive platform.
The fact that I hadn’t taken up the invitation previously caused me some internal embarrassment before arriving and external once talking to those in the know. I say ‘invitation’ because Margate offers a lot. Aside from a stunning beach even by a Devonian’s standard, an independent spirit which throbs from the Old Town’s numerous antique, retro and vintage initiatives and the energy which naturally follows a swathe of creatives putting projects into action, it was Margate’s, or should I say ‘Margs’, (hat-tip to the marvelous lady who gave a riotous introduction to the town and her impending trip to Ghana) seriously warm welcome and wry sense of humour which make a return visit inevitable.
Sometimes however, despite the best intentions, action requires serendipity. Aside from being an avid ‘sea hunter’, it was being alerted to Open School East’s move to the town that sealed the deal. Having been embedded in Hackney since 2013, OSE are taking their alternative learning and support programme for artists to Kent’s shores. This would seem to make perfect sense given their drive to further artistic development outside of the structures of expensive, formal education.
Their future home is the town’s Pettman building whose exterior has all the roughly glorious grandeur of a Victorian warehouse and all the potential for a dynamic, community facing programme. The building’s potential has already been activated by RESORT, a collective of creatives who operate from the right-hand side of the building through studio activity, a community engagement programme and a membership intuitive. A last minute email to one of RESORT’s founders, culminated in tea and a teacake whilst I probed more deeply about the scale and interests of the town’s burgeoning scene.
It was a generous, self- reflective conversation. The conversation highlighted not only the pace of change but also the consciousness involved in the process of institution-building within a town which, at first, is unfamiliar. Just moments before the meeting I had ventured into a beautiful Danish design shop and sized up the menu of a cafe for breakfast the following morning. During our discussion I was informed that less than five years previously, this entire row of sea-facing buildings has been boarded up: a reminder of the challenges undertaken by those who laid some of the foundations for future initiatives. Over a chocolate covered biscuit/cake hybrid, I was reminded of the importance of asking critical personal and professional questions wherever you work.
This ‘check and balance’ approach will no doubt stand RESORT in good stead however the future of the town’s creative future plays out. Margate is very much a modern seaside town with the associated nuances and sensitivities that come with it. And for those reasons, I can only imagine it will continue to excite artists and creatives for the foreseeable.