A year after opening, bosses at Turner Contemporary say the Margate gallery’s inaugural year has been “truly spectacular”.
© Sculpture: Tate
Around 500,000 visitors visited the David Chipperfield-designed Kent coast building in 12 months – more than triple the forecasted total. It became the third-most visited attraction in the county, only eclipsed by Canterbury Cathedral and Leeds Castle.
Financial figures released to coincide with its anniversary also estimate the monument to JMW Turner – the painter who was frequently inspired by the Thanet skies above it – has added £13.8 million to the Kent economy.
But perhaps the in-depth statistics are the most encouraging. Thousands of the Contemporary’s guests came from relatively hard-up socio-economic groups, singled out as a key target audience for the gallery when it opened.
Almost 20,000 explorers were making their first trip to an art venue, and 35,000 youngsters under the age of 16 dropped in, even excluding school visits.
“We know that we are making an important impact on the lives of many individuals,” says Director Victoria Pomery, reflecting on a “phenomenal year”.
“Before our launch we trained and employed 18 unemployed members of the community to join our Visitor Services Team.
“Our intergenerational group, Blank Canvas, sees young and old people working together creatively, and our Art of Sound project is helping 30 young and vulnerable people gain confidence through art.
“Our Youth Navigator scheme is also empowering young people through knowledge and debate – these are skills that will always remain with them.”
The opening Revealed show, which ran for five months, has been the most popular show at the three-storey space so far.
Its current elegant exhibitions, Turner and the Elements and an invigorating insight into the career of “walking artist” Hamish Fulton, opened in the aftermath of a nomination for this year’s Art Fund Prize.
Turner Contemporary was repeatedly mooted as a regenerative force for Margate. Alongside 49 jobs in the gallery, 35 new businesses have opened in the Old Town and Lower High Street, with owners reporting healthy takings to support a further 79 positions.
“The Turner effect is really being felt,” says Sally Parkes, the owner of the Gate vintage and gift shop.
“We’ve noticed a massive rise in footfall, and not just at peak times.
“We get lots of customers from London, but also many local people who have never been to this part of Margate.
“All of them are buzzing about it.”
Pomery picks out receiving the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who visited in November 2011, as a day which “encapsulated what we have achieved”.
“We know we are having a real impact on Margate and wider Kent,” she believes.
“There is a real, tangible change in the area of Margate around the gallery.”
The second year of exhibitions will include a major show from Tracey Emin in May, as well as site-specific creations from Mark Wallinger and John Smith.
“Our starting point is always the spirit of JMW Turner, and our philosophy is to show the best of historic and contemporary art,” says Pomery.
“We anticipate that our second year will be just as exciting.”
Turner Contemporary's first year:
Stunning Turner painting to usher in Margate's Turner Contemporary
Turner Contemporary opens and shines the light on Margate
Hamish Fulton's first major show since 2002 arrives at Turner Contemporary
Joys of nature at Turner Contemporary
Hamish Fulton and JMW Turner lift the spirits at Turner Contemporary
Curator's Choice: Victoria Pomery on a classic painting