The Art Resort: Margate unveils its Turner Prize

A glamorous new gallery opens in Tracey Emin's home town today. It could be just what the place needs, reports Jay Merrick

Can a £17m visual arts centre designed by one of the world's finest architects bring new life to Margate, the Kent town stigmatised by its reputation for being Benefits-on-Sea? The Turner Contemporary, designed by Sir David Chipperfield, opens today, and its interlocking segments, sheathed in white glass, form a suitably virginal cultural brandmark.

The play of light on the glass produces wonderfully subtle shifts of colour, and the naturally lit galleries have the welcoming feel of artists' studios. The community contact work led by the Turner's director, Victoria Pomery, is equally significant. "Six years ago, the idea of the Turner was an alien concept here," she admits. "It requires a real leap of the imagination, but there has been a sea-change in local people's expectations."

A minute's walk from Turner Contemporary, the Cliftonville section of the town is being socially re-engineered by Thanet District Council: benefit claimants out, middle-class families in. "I don't think Turner Contemporary can succeed if it is in a bubble," says Derek Harding, director of the Margate Renewal Project. "The rest of the area has to grow as a cultural destination."

The collision between demographic fact and cultural aspiration is stark. As the barely profitable high street funnels into the basin of 18th and 19th-century buildings in the Old Town, there's 10 per cent off at Bling Bling Bling, and netted tutus and Ironfist T-shirts go cheap at The Emporium on Mondays.

Margate was where J M W Turner produced more than 100 paintings, even as Cliftonville became the most fashionable seaside resort in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. Margate's descent into "crap town" status followed the onset of European package holidays in the late 1960s.

It became Tracey Emin's teenage haunt, and where Ian Dury's Billericay Dickie must have planned his rendezvous with Janet from Thanet. Here, too, T S Eliot sat in the Nayland Rock seafront shelter and wrote these lines of "The Waste Land": "On Margate Sands./ I can connect/ Nothing with nothing./ The broken fingernails of dirty hands./ My people humble people who expect /Nothing."

The creation of Turner Contemporary counters that poetic aura of defeat. The Reading Rooms B&B charges £150 a night, the Dreamland amusement complex will be running again in 2013 and, in the Old Town, the chi-chi Cupcake Café and its patrons appear to have been teleported from Islington or Brighton. More than a dozen other recently opened art galleries, boutiques, cafés, and a brew-pub convey the same archly cosmopolitan vibe.

The council's Housing Intervention Project will spend more than £20m to buy big properties in the Cliftonville West and Margate Central wards. Depressing warrens of one-bedroomed flats will be transformed into family homes with high rents to reduce the influx of benefit claimants and vulnerable families sent to Margate by social services agencies in London.

"You can't erase this aspect of the town as if you were Pol Pot," says the architect Nick Dermott, Margate's Heritage Development adviser. "But you can get a more diverse group to visit or live here. This place has an island mentality, and it has kept its local distinctiveness. You know when you're in Thanet. There's a lot of freedom, nobody criticises you.

"Freedom is a religion here, but it has no church – [it's] something transcendent that's about some other part of you. Turner Contemporary could be part of that."

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Arts and Entertainment
Bono throws water at the crowd while the Edge watches as they perform in the band's first concert of their new world tour in Vancouver

MusicThey're running their own restaurants

Voices
The main entrance to the BBC headquarters in London
TV & Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
    Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

    Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

    David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
    Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

    Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

    A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
    10 best DSLRs

    Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

    Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash