Friday, April 20 2012
It was good to see that nearly half a million people visited Turner Contemporary in its first year.
It was always a gamble going ahead with the £17m project but Kent County Council and arts funders recognised that culture can contribute to economic regeneration.
They looked at the example of the Guggenheim in Bilbao and hoped to replicate that transformation in Margate and East Kent.
Despite the cynicism of many locals, the early signs are encouraging. While the town centre may still leave something to be desired, there is evidence that new businesses are moving in, that restaurants are busier.
It’s early days, but you sense a greater buzz around the place.
Turner was not an instant success, and the big numbers may slightly flatter to deceive.
There will always be a strong interest in something new, and the fact that admission is free can only help. But the initial show was disappointing.
It was not uncommon to hear first-time visitors declare it would be the last time. Nice building and great seaside location, shame about the content, was a typical response. A single Turner was not enough to get the pulses racing. No wonder some London commentators were dismissive.
But The Kiss, the current exhibition of Turner drawings and sketches - Turner and the Elements - and the Hamish Fulton’s Walk gave the gallery a real artistic reason for visiting.
Turner C turned a corner with Turner J M W and the next big one - Tracey Emin - will bring even more national and international prominence.
The latest numbers for economic benefit to East Kent - £13.8m - are arguable as they contain £7.6m of publicity value derived from media coverage.
It is an uncertain valuation, but nevertheless, there is no doubt that coverage has brought, and will bring, visitors to Margate. This year, the international visitor numbers are relatively low - just 2% - and Guggenheim can surely beat that tiny proportion. But it’s a start. And trains will speed up after a £5m upgrade of the Ashford - Thanet track.
Cultural regeneration is a slow burn. There is srtill a long way to go but the early signs for the economy Margate and East Kent are encouraging.