Sunday, 29 March 2015

A visit to Margate Part I

A couple of weeks ago, I returned to my native Kent to see my parents for a few days over the weekend of  Mothering Sunday. Although I live in Leicestershire these days, I do try to keep in touch with what happens in Thanet and had noticed a couple of exhibitions on that weekend that sounded of interest. Having not been to Margate for several years and having read tweets and blogs "bigging up" the area, I was optimistic of seeing a positive change.

Mum said she would accompany me and as the first exhibition was at Bernie's Chocolate Bar, I thought we could treat ourselves to a warming hot chocolate. The seafront was closed to traffic, due to the Moto X event being held on the main sands that weekend but I remembered the back roads and we parked with unexpected ease at the College Road car park. The weather was grey and grim and the breeze cutting but we had still expected that the place would be packed out with people visiting the Moto X. Perhaps they came later in the day. 

This was the scene that greeted us as we came out of the car park
Not particularly inspiring. However we made our way along Lombard and Market Street to the seafront and found the entrance to Bernie's Chocolate Bar, more by luck and not from the wonderful signs(there weren't any - just a couple of fliers in frames). The place was crowded but few were looking at the photos or even drinking chocolate! The exhibition, which was, I think, supposed to be taking the mickey out of Thanet, missed it's mark, well with me, certainly. Looking around the premises, it looked "tired", there was nowhere to sit, and no one who appeared to be in charge of serving or greeting visitors and so we left. I was disappointed, if this was the new improved Margate, then it was probably worse than when I had lived there 20 years ago. We wandered up the lower High St., as far as Henry's, the electrical & camera retailer, much reduced from the shop of days gone by. The High St. still looks sadly unloved but with occasional glimmers of hope - a new hotel,The Sands, created where Joe Lyons used to be, .

Back to the Market Place to mooch among the galleries and cafes, hoping to feel the "creative vibe". Please note, it is clearly best not to want to be creative before 11am and certainly not in the early part of the week! I made sure we wandered around every corner and looked at every gallery - I'm sorry but a few photographs poorly displayed isn't my idea of a gallery. We went into The Margate Gallery as I was interested to see the glass art exhibition that was running. We were barely greeted with a mumble and certainly no word of farewell.. perhaps you only get that if you spend money but there was nothing that really appealed.

Returning to the car, Mum patiently let me take her up to Cliftonville to visit the Viking Gallery, once we were able to find it- more by luck once  again. If you would like to visit, it is in Cliftonville Avenue, opposite the sign for the snooker club.Once again, only open a few days a week and definitely not on Mondays. What is it with Monday? 

Bear in mind my parents both grew up in Margate & Cliftonville so it's not like they or I don't know the area!

This is a newly opened gallery space and has much potential but needs presentation and focus. There was an exhibition by several local photographers on a theme of Focus on Kent. As I write, the details are still on their website, which hasn't been updated. Looking closely at  the works, several of which were priced at a few hundred pounds,one had two scuff marks and another had broken glass in the frame. Certainly no inducement to invest.

Apart from the 15-20 photos on display, one table, two card stands and a chair there was nothing. There were no mounted prints or cards for sale by the artists showing their work, just the works on the wall.

The gentleman who was hosting that day engaged us in conversation about the hopes for this new enterprise. He mentioned another gallery in the Market Place area of Margate that he had been involved with previously. This, it seems is a theme, galleries open, run a few months and then disappear when they clearly don't pay. 

The Viking Gallery could be a really interesting place to visit, sadly, it looks as though they ran out of money before they opened - there is no furniture, no means to make use of the space to hang work at different angles or on display stands. Our host was clearly enthusiastic, it seems a shame that he hasn't the support or a enough of a "product" to market.

I appreciate that the Viking Gallery is in a building of some historic interest (a former Turkish Baths) but it is off of the main shopping area & needs much better signage to attract visitors than the 'A' board we barely spotted. When I was a child, Cliftonville was the "posh" part of Margate, these days she looks more like an aged hooker desperately wearing too much makeup and the wrong clothes in order to try and attract business. Many shops are boarded up or closing down and the pubs don't look the sort you would want to visit. In fact the brightest shop was the recently opened Polish supermarket, a sign of the changing population in this area of Kent. There are still businesses running that have "always" been there and I applaud their guts and determination, although perhaps it's a case of they have no option other than to stay open. New businesses certainly have an uphill battle on their hands.

We returned home, retracing our steps around the back of Margate to avoid the roadblock. I hope the Moto X was a success but it certainly wasn't the sort of day I'd like to be on the seafront. I was disappointed. Margate is missing a trick, the idea is good, the application not so good. I can see the logic for several businesses of the same type setting up in the same area but look at that area, the pavements are stained with gum and bird droppings, the buildings often have paint chipping off them.. there is litter and rubbish at every turn.

It looks scruffy, unloved, unkempt.

Now, it may be officially the responsibility of Thanet District Council to keep it clean but unless and even if they are nagged, I doubt they will respond. It would be good if those running the businesses, particularly, in the Market Place took "ownership" and responsibility for the area themselves. Hire steam cleaners, spend a weekend (or even a Monday) with mops, bucket and brooms and clean the place up? Make it look like somewhere people want to spend time! Fill a few flower baskets to decorate the area. If everyone took the time to sweep the street & pavement outside their shop front every morning  & wash the paintwork & windows regularly, the place would look so much better.You might even shame the Council into helping or tidying their own buildings up too! "People power" is pretty amazing once you get going & it needn't cost a fortune.

Anything that is worth well doing takes a lot of effort and many dark days before it becomes a success.

People aren't going to flock to the galleries just because Turner Contemporary is on the seafront. At the moment, if they do come to visit, then I doubt they will return, the product is poorly displayed, often poorly marketed and I believe from some of the info I have read the fees to mount exhibitions are top dollar for 3rd rate surroundings. Have you never heard of starting lowly and building up? This is Market Place, Margate, NOT Bond Street, London. 

Among the artistic businesses, I noted that a couple of the Margate solicitor's were present in the area.. perhaps they ought to be asked to help. After all, I don't think I've ever come across a poor solicitor...

I wish Margate good luck, no doubt it will be a while until I am back in the area and it would be lovely to feel that someone actually cared about the place on the next visit.

On my way back to Leicestershire, I went to visit a gallery in Brighton, Brighton Photography .Gallery owners of Margate & Cliftonville, please take note, this was a welcoming space with plenty of product on offer at a range of prices to suit all pockets, plenty of options to alter the space to display work and its surroundings were clean and tidy. Oh & it is open SEVEN days a week! I know which one I will definitely return to .

1 comment:

  1. I share your enthusiasm for the Brighton Photography gallery; I bought a print from them just before Christmas.

    Sorry you were dissapointed by your visit home, not sure I've ever been to Margate....