Despite murmurs contradicting the inflationary claims that culture is still the happy bedfellow of regeneration; recent rumours that the Guggenheim Bilbao is not as successful as the media like to claim, locked into a financial straight jacket with its host Guggenheim NY and fuzzy economic indicators on the actual benefits to tourism, the cultural regeneration projects keep rolling out. Margate's Turner Contemporary opened on April 16, followed sharply by the Hepworth in Wakefield both by the restrained British architect David Chipperfield. Rounding off this list is Colchester's Firstsite by the American architect Rafael Viñoly due to open in September.
Turner Contemporary opened with much pomp and ceremony serenaded by Margate's most colourful souvenir-personified, Tracey Emin. The building itself is a more sombre execution, its form seeming to derive from coastal drying sheds extruded both vertically and horizontally. The opening night had one of the trustees announcing the arrival of the project with a favourable comparison of column inches dedicated to the gallery's launch with those of the Libyan's offensive, so politics triumphs over art. The doyenne of PR, Erica Bolton is behind the helm of this particular triumph – the formidable women and her media machine having managed to get the gallery, in a run-down seaside town on to the front pages of the majority of the UK's broadsheets.
It is amazing that literally 10 minutes away, and this is on foot, you come across run-down streets of dulled Victorian grandeur, residents on door steps, cans in hand, a prostitute at 5 o'clock beginning to flaunt her trade. Here, landlords pack in benefit tenants in grim run down bed-sits; so acute is the problem the council have been forced to introduce a social register and training for landlords to stem the flow of absentee profiteering from the influx of immigrants.
As The expectations of Turner Contemporary are high and the gallery programme leans towards a strong input on the community and educational front. This is physically reaffirmed with the building dedicating a very visual wing with a glass wall overlooking the seafront on the first floor to education.
The gallery got off to a wrong footing in its early stages which saw the winning competition entry by the Danish architects Snøhetta dropped due to their ambitious and brave structure; the structure was shelved when a test pile structure broke away from its footing in a freak wave. The more restrained design by Chipperfield was commissioned costing a modest £17.5million in comparison to the original winning entry at £45 million. Probably the most significant part of any regeneration project once the quality of the collection has been discussed or not in the case of the Turner Contemporary, is that of the level of engagement with the wider urban realm, clever councils know that an art centre cannot act in isolation, it often brings a much needed scrutiny of the status quo.