On Saturday we pootled down to Hastings in the trusty camper van to experience some culture led regeneration in Hastings. The fuss about the building of the Jerwood Gallery on The Stade can’t have escaped anyone with half an ear to cultural gossip in London and South East England and with the gallery recently opening its doors we wanted to have a nose around.
A few years ago when I started working in the arts someone pointed out that regeneration is a slow process and that at no time is it ‘finished’ and everyone can pack up and move on with a neat product delivered. Ten years ago Hastings felt very run down and……well it still does but there is enough happening to make you feel that it’s an interesting place to be and it has a thriving indigenous artist population and a great annual arts festival too (see here for details about Coastal Currents 2012).
So what of the Jerwood Gallery? Well part of the fuss has been about its location nudged up against the historic net shops and amidst the fishing shacks and boats. Our opinion is that it looked rather good, the dark ceramic tiled frontage enhancing rather than arguing with its surroundings and certainly better than the coach park that was there previously. If it turns out to be great architecture it will grow in affections, if not then in forty years it will be demolished, the current fate of some of the insensitive post war building in central London.
And inside………..well its seven quid to get it (two pounds local residents) and for that price it really needs to deliver……..and frankly, honestly it didn’t and we were disappointed although it pains me to say it. The current exhibition, The Big Boys Sit in the Front by Kent-based artist Rose Wylie was enjoyable and the permanent collection had some wonderful works (From my Window at Ditchling by Sir Frank Brangwyn and paintings by Keith Vaughan and Edward Burra gave us great pleasure) but the café takes up a lot of space that really should be full of art (I know, it makes the figures stack up as there is no public subsidy of the gallery) and so it felt small and there is little of the surprise, delight and challenge that marks out a highly enjoyable cultural experience.
Would we go back? To Hastings of course. To the Jerwood Gallery? Perhaps. But it needs someone to imagine a scenario – a person who really doesn’t care that much about art and then takes a punt, visits The Jerwood Gallery and is blown away. What magic and delight would you have to weave to make the works come alive? It is possible and if you are going to take up the challenge of being in a deprived town and an ‘authentic’ location then the work and the interpretation needs to be exceptional otherwise there will be no repeat attendance which is what you need to make it economically and culturally viable. Given the reputation of the Jerwood I hope someone takes it to their heart to make this gallery outstanding and really connect with local people and a regional audience.