Emin stays cool about Kent's 'capital of culture' aspirations

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The Independent Online

It has a majestic cathedral, a turbulent history and a rich literary and artistic legacy. Canterbury and east Kent will attempt to crown these achievements next week by becoming the first area to apply to become Britain's next European Capital of Culture in 2008.

But if it thought it could rely on the wholehearted support of its most famous living export, it had better think again. Tracey Emin, the artist whose posed nude in a Margate beach hut, has confessed her loyalties are divided over the bid.

Speaking from New York, Emin said: "It would be great if [east Kent] got it, but they've got some tough competition. I'd be pleased if they won it, but I also want to support Liverpool. Liverpool is really thriving now as a city trying to make a big name for itself in art, whereas Canterbury has always been quite cultured."

Emin, who once described Margate as the place that "screwed her up", said she ideally would like to see the capital of culture benefiting "deprived" areas. In a dig at Canterbury's decision to partner Margate, long portrayed as its poor relation, she added: "It's really cool that Canterbury wants to associate itself with Margate. Before now, it was completely snobbish about it."

While bigger cities might scoff at claims that Canterbury and its environs are a hotbed of cutting edge artistic achievement, its advocates point to an impressive CV. Aside from being the scene of Thomas à Becket's murder and the inspiration for Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, it can count among its most famous sons the sculptor Henry Moore and film director Michael Powell.

Margate too has surprising artistic connections. Work soon will begin on a project dedicated to the memory of the painter Turner. The Turner Centre, a £10m art gallery, will be near the spot once occupied by a guest house whose landlady purportedly was his mistress.

Other cultural connections abound. Van Gogh taught for a time in Ramsgate, which was also once home to Ian Fleming. East Kent also produced such literary giants as Christopher Marlowe and Charles Dickens. More recently, it has fostered talent including the comedian Harry Hill, the late director Derek Jarman and author Kazuo Ishiguro.

Those pushing the bid are confident that Canterbury will give the likes of Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham and Glasgow a run for their money.

Tim Mason, the consultant responsible for drawing up the application, said: "Canterbury has a rich heritage, and Margate and Deal became some of the first major seaside resorts long before places like Brighton."