Arts & Elbows

A catalogue of commentary on events in Thanet and occassionally the rest of the world.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Call for Artists

The really rather good Thanet Coast Project has docked with one of the Island's greatest artists Ruth Cutler to run an exhibition inspired by our beautiful coast. It will be held at IOTA from 5th - 13th August and entitled "SeaArt 2006", but the organisers would also like to show other artists who have work reflecting the shorelines.
It's good to see someone including local artists in their plans so any interested folk should get in touch with Naomi Biggs on 01843 577409 or email her via

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Big Sky

Thanet's brightest new idea lately has been the Margate Jazz Festival which first played to a wildly enthusiastic audience last year under the name "Jazz in the Sunset". This year it's called "The Big Sky jazz festival 2006" with an equally impressive line-up. It's likely to be heaving with hep-cats so any potential visitors might want to book ahead for the gigs which charge for entry, or get here very early for the free shows. Any visitors looking for the "Piazza" should note that it's called the Parade locally and is by the harbour. If your view of the lighthouse on the end of the pier roughly matches that in the picture above then you're in the right place.
The full Programme for the festival is;
Friday 14th July
John Dankworth, Cleo Laine & Friends; Winter Gardens 7.30pm; £16 - Tickets 01843 296111
Saturday 15th July
Mark Lockheart's Big Idea, Annie Whitehead Big Sky Quartet, Julian Siegel Quartet, Christine Tobin, Colin Town's Mask Septet; The Piazza from 2pm; Free
BougaraBou; Market Place 3.00pm; Free
Light of the World; QuBar 10.30pm; £7 - Tickets 01843 571684
Sunday 16th July
Soothsayers Big Band, The Stan Tracey Quartet, Hkippers, Paul Booth's Harbour Jazz Orchestra, Liane Carroll & Ian Shaw Duo; The Piazza from 2pm; Free
Drum Workshop; Market Place 3.00pm; Free
Estelle Kokot; Newby's 7.30pm; £3 - Tickets 01843 292888
Tuesday 18th July
John Etheridge; Wig & Pen 7.30pm; Free
Wednesday 19th July
Carol Grimes; Impressions 7.30pm; £5 - Tickets 01843 227610
Thursday 20th July
Sosax; Cafe G 7.30pm; £7.50 - Tickets 01843 225600
Friday 21st July
Paul Booth & Friends; Smiths Court Hotel 7.30pm; - Dinner Bookings 01843 222310
Saturday 22nd July
Barb Jungr; The Harbour Cafe Bar 7.30pm; £6 - Tickets 01843 290110

Castles in the Sand

Another bright day enjoyed by many including the builder of the most delightful replica of the Tower of London as pictured above. No it's not the annual beano for the English Trust, it's a model carted here by a crew of about half a dozen creative types shooting photographs for a Guardian colour supplement feature on places to visit with children.
The crew were determined to enjoy themselves, they even brought their own table with them on which they piled drinks and snacks. Hopefully this pleasant day out on the main sands will be reflected in the feature bringing much deserved publicity to the town. They believed it would be published this Saturday.

Joined Up Finking

Thanet District Council is about to announce it's stunning plans to convert the old Marks and Spencers building in Margate into a mix of indoor market, office space and workshops. Here public funds will be used to offer cheap rents to folk to allow them to compete with the traders who stayed loyal to the town, with money from those very same trader's rates.
The indoor market is likely to feature stalls selling goods already available in the town, but with a competitive edge which isn't offered to any of those already here.
The oddest part of all is taking a large building and converting it into multiple mini-premises while the eleven year wait for the Turner Gallery, a large building, shows no sign of a single brick being mortared to another. It does lead to the question; Why would the Turner Centre be a success built on empty land by the harbour, but not here?

All New - Now Open

An interesting sight greets visitors to Margate seafront this season, gone is the big wheel from the gap in the terrace after that fire but signs joyfully welcome one and all to the all new Dreamland Fun Park.

Down the slope we go to experience the "New Look"- excitement building with every pace.

The seafront entrance is locked shut, the arcades beyond in darkness. Fortunately there's clear signs pointing to the new entrance.

Just follow the yellow brick lines.

Watch out for the kitchen waste and water "feature".

Through the grand new gateway.

Turn right before you get to the big blue bins.

Not far to go now!

Under the scenic railway with it's wide range of empty stalls.

Oh, it's closed.

Artspeak in 12 Easy Lessons

The most significant effect of funding arts from the public purse is not the great works it has commissioned rather it's unquantifiable but undeniable disfigurement of contemporary art in the minds of the public including many truly talented artists.
This is not a shocking development once you recognise how this new style of patronage is no more about art, artists or the public than it is about potatoes or soft fluffy kittens. It's a uniquely profitable opportunity for the non-creative and unartistic to build empires founded on management techniques disguised as high snobbery.
This disguise serves a stereo purpose, in one channel it proposes an connection to the elitism of high culture, in the other it suggests incredible intellect. The first wrongly implies membership of a cultural elite, arts managers are effectively no different from supermarket managers except most skillfully avoid delivering value for money, or decent levels of service. The latter is a more cunning ploy, an automatic denial of criticism because if one doesn't agree then one must simply be stupid.
The evolution of the Orwellian tongue known as Artspeak is a glowing example of all this. It's a deliberate attempt to obscure rather than illuminate in the style of a masonic handshake. If you rub the end of your chin and opine a "Hmmmm, I see..." you're in, but should you dare to apply critical thought you're simply not one of them.
Another shining example is when you see a piece of contemporary art with an A4 piece of paper of explanation on the wall next to it. This anti-communication is deliberate, it paves the way towards funding, not least because the government has a taste for art which says nothing, offends no-one and which won't encourage any form of meaningful thought. They adore the idea of reducing art to decoration for a self appointed elitist clique, artists to funded chums, and keeping the oiks out of their pristine galleries.
The only mildly inconvenient part is how us, the oiks, are the ones paying for it, but thankfully for those enthroned simply showing dreadfully poor and irrelevent art keeps us away rather effectively.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Crate Work if you can get it.

Tucked away behind KFC in Margate High Street is Bilton Square, the old works there have been fully revamped thanks to a £100,000 grant from Arts Council England South East and a further £115,000 from the East Kent Partnership. The organisation behind it are called Crate, an art group you're unlikely to have heard of because their biggest project thus far has been securing the cash to buy and refurbish this building.
The Arts Council has very stringent rules about funding new groups, you can't just form one and expect a cheque in the post. So just how did a new group, which appears to have done nothing else, manage to gain almost a quarter of a million quid?

Lonely Artist Seeks Funds

One of the most irritating features of our local Arts Regeneration, aside from the lack of either arts or regeneration, is the deliberate but subtle bullying of local talent into silence. Picture the sorry scenario; A massive arts project with public funds is announced, "Hurrah!" cry all the local artists, off they trot with portfolios and schemes only to be skillfully rejected with a cunning additional "Try again next year". With the patience only artists possess they wait, try again only to be procrastinated into further dull edged apathy.
Now all these artists are after is a couple of thousand pounds here and there, for a show of this or a commission of that. In the grand scheme of things it's the crumbs from the art table. Unsurprisingly those in control know this, but rather than use some small part of their public purse to encourage art activity they find it suits them better to deny it. This way they can keep hundreds of souls on tenderhooks, and silence any criticism.
Not a week goes by without me hearing another sorry tale of talent denied by manipulative management, each prefixed and suffixed with a plea for me to keep mum about it. For these artists know how a single whisper of dissent will get them entered into the naughty book, and taint not just their chances forever- but also those of anyone who might be associated with them. Meanwhile the schemes of those connected with the inner circle are fast-tracked through, in part to keep the buckets of cash flowing but also to maintain the back-patting circle modern art has fast become. Hardly surprising when all those earning smile broadly and claim things have never been better.

They got Rhythm

It's only fair to declare a bias towards the Rich Rhythms crew (pictured above) who a couple of years ago responded to my call for artists for a Tsunami relief artshow. On the opening night they blew away the assembled throng with their West African style drumming; a combination of perfect timing, incredible syncopation and dodgy trousers.
Led by charismatic charmer Richard Latham, who looks half krishna devotee and half euro gangster, they do more than stunning performances. They do a mean line in workshops, offer one to one tuition as well as drum services including tuning and re-skinning.
If you're looking for a bright but different performance, or would like to learn how to beat the skins properly look no further.

Rich Rhythms can be contacted on 07960 989246 or via

In England - now!

There's a gentle joy to spotting so many flags of England around at the moment, enough to wonder why we don't fly them so high for all the days when there's no World Cup. Despite the fashionable urge for many to decry it's use it doesn't wash with most. Especially when no such negative conjecture is dared with the flags of Scotland and Wales.

Will any of our artists accurately reflect this healthy obsession? Hopefully so, because it's an interesting evolution and cheap to emulate by a quick visit to a pound shop. In the hope of sowing a small seed here's my effort in the style of Robert Browning;

That the lowest cars and the lorry windscreen labelled Keith,
Round the broomstick pole flys this humble leaf,
While the seagull picks black bin bag split,
In England - innit!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Get the Sack

No this isn't an anti-employment piece, nor a way to get to see all the footy. It's a brief notice to all you foodies out there to let you know there's some great new potatoes available by the sackload at one of the farms along Haine Road. They're a bargain at five quid a bag, and having had some tonight "au gratin" I guarantee they're scrummy.

Air we go

The Kent Air Show over the weekend was a jam-packed success bringing thousands to the area for the unique experience it has become. It's unlike any other airshow thanks to our chalk cliffs, none of that neck bending skywards gazing here, rather the spectators gather on the cliff tops and watch the fly-bys over the sea at a more comfortable eye level.
Good to see a simply good idea work so well, no massive budgets nor pretension, just a simple fun day out for the whole family. Full marks to all involved.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Less is More

Yes less is more, more cash. To put it in clearer terms zero is most, much better than something. Something which doesn't happen isn't as good as something different which costs just as much. This is the level of doubletalk we have been sold for a mere £10 million. Despite the original plan to build a new gallery we have not seen a single brick laid, and as seen in the Gazette's detailed report (earlier story here) on the county council's report on itself it's all top-notch.
How interesting to read a quote from the Turner Centre's leader; "Turner is more than a building project." - when anyone with eyes can clearly see it's less than a building project, it's an expensive empty space with a large staff. Surely it's just a matter of time before many assume it's not so much a regeneration project as a bright shining lie electro-plated with a heavy layer of corruption lightly brushed with the dust of nepotism.
The saddest loss is to local artists who see little, if any, direct advantage in such an enormous increase in arts funding, and who are wrongly tainted as being part of the problem when they're as alienated from it all as the rest of us.
The real winners are the arts management crowd, and their artist chums from anywhere but around here. The cultural ambassadors scheme is a fine example of this, where Turner employees journey to Eastern Europe in search of bright new talent without ever considering doing the same in East Kent.
The spending spree doesn't end in Bulgaria, despite having been given the Droit House on the harbour, extending it with the "Droid House" and to refitting it twice it remains closed despite claims it would be open in April. Rather than put shows on there they've started to put them on at the substation in the High Street, but only after an extensive refit at no small cost.
Along with the current trend of public funded regeneration it may well have proved cheaper to simply buy all the properties in the old town and give them away. Or maybe that's what they're doing?

Elementary Answer

Three hearty cheers! Following a total refit a new cafe, sorry - coffee lounge, will open tomorrow at the bottom of Margate High Street called Solutions. Aside from the obvious creation of great coffee it has a large television screen for sports, very comfy sofas, and computers with internet access. The result is a pleasant welcoming atmosphere and a much needed boost for this part of town.
It was obviously going to be good from the start, even the builders involved were cheerful and friendly and that positive attitude has been carried through to provide a glowing example of an old fashioned Margate welcome. The very best of luck to all involved.

Groucho Marxism

The late great Groucho Marx said "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member." and judging by Simon Morse's show opening at Gallery IOTA he feels pretty much the same way when it comes to Marxist politics.
His work is divided into two distinct halves, one satirical propoganda posters urging viewers to join the revolution by going down the pub and drunkenly discussing politics, the other life sized cardboard cut-outs in 19th century dress seemingly gathered for a grand circus which will never take place.
This enormous collection of work fills IOTA's delightful space, the volume is such as to suggest Morse probably doesn't have enough spare time to even breath. Refreshing to see an artist who can be judged not simply on his great style and playful content but also his incredible work rate.
Good also to see IOTA offer up another "must-see" show, they seem to have developed it beyond an enjoyable habit to a spectacular obsession.

"The Marxist Magicians: Half a Revolution" runs until 9th July. Phone Gallery IOTA on 01843 853117 for details or visit their website by clicking here.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Brightly Gothic

Being given the opportunity to wander freely around the home of one of the world's finest architects isn't an everyday occurrence, so imagine my unbridled joy at having such a chance today. Having recognised our shared passion for outstanding buildings the folk at The Landmark Trust invited me along to their open day for the press at Pugin's masterful Grange atop Ramsgate's west cliffs.
What absolute delight was in store, gone are all the hasty additions of more recent years, no more lean-to sheds nor blistered maroon paint. The wild meadow appearance of the grounds has been reclaimed as fresh and formal garden, every path crunching underfoot - the gravel so clean as to suggest they wash it daily.

If you've peeked at the Grange from outside the flint walls you may have noticed what a limited view you get. How refreshingly bright to walk around and get a true sense of the design and scale. The exterior is understated with walls of plain yellow brick and simple stone dressing, politefully balanced with a tower, where Pugin used to keep an eye out for ships in trouble, and an oratory on the south-east corner. It sits slightly askew to it's plot, probably to make the most of the rising sun, and fits perfectly as if it were glove upon hand.

The interior is breathtaking, entered through a long glazed porch with a mix of principle and hammerbeam rafters. This was an addition by E.W. Pugin, who was responsible for finishing and extending his father's work. The main hall has a grand staircase which rises along two brightly papered walls to a balcony above, doorways and passages aplenty lead to quite incredible rooms accurately decorated and furnished. Dürer woodcut prints hang on walls while tin jugs sit on tables suggesting far more than a dedicated eye for detail, rather a hint of time travel and half an expectation for a member of the Pugin household to stroll around any corner to demand you depart their home immediately.

I've deliberately avoided showing any wide interior shots, partly because no photo can do it justice but also to encourage you to go and have a look for yourself. The Landmark Trust are holding two public open days, on the 24th and 25th June. Plus four further open days are planned for September. I imagine they'll be swamped with visitors who, if they're anything like me, won't want to leave.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sunset for Sense

Kent County Council features in the latest issue of Private Eye with a short but succinct piece on the £110,000 "cast down the drain" in supporting the defunct Manston airport operator EUJet. It also points out how the former cabinet member for regeneration Alex King came in for no criticism from the scrutiny committee but enjoyed a promotion to deputy leader of the council.
What will they make of the report into the delivery of the Turner Centre? After £10 million and no sign of the gallery most would expect there to be a fair amount of introspective thought going on to get to the bottom of the debacle. Fear not, rather than honestly investigating exactly what went wrong they've decided to give themselves a simple judgement and rate the delivery of the project as "excellent". That's right folks - KCC's management of the Turner Centre scheme is excellent, so don't bother disagreeing because it's official.
It's a sad sign of business as usual so forget any high expectations, or any expectations at all, of the revamped scheme. Even if it's another long tortuous waste of effort and cash those in charge will be writing their own reports on their conduct and the score will be a pathetically predictable ten out of ten, even if everyone down here is delivered a fat juicy zero.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

One Nil to the EN-GER-LUND

For those who haven't been paying attention our glorious lads won their match against Paraguay this afternoon despite the usual antics of the footy drama queens we so often have to endure. Another endurance is the nonsense spouted about our loyal fans and their daring to use our nation's flag, often slighted as jingoism, incorrectly linked to violence and sadly sometimes portrayed as an indicator of inherent racism.
If any of these dodgy allegations were true it would be immediately evident if, as I did, you took a nine-year-old around your town with a massive flag to the numerous post-match celebrations to take a few snap shots. Surely they'd beat us both up and steal the camera. Actually everyone was wonderful, exceptionally friendly and only too happy to pose for a picture with my son. Click on the pictures for a larger version and witness the joy.
There was no hint of elitist belligerence to it, our new found chums included just about every type of citizen; young, old, black, white, drunk, sober, groups, pairs, loners, even an Albanian plus any other label you might choose to apply. They are, and shall remain, the very reason why regardless of all else we can all be proud to be English.

Ask Statto