Behind the main promenade in Margate, Kent, Dreamland’s listed, Coney Island-inspired rollercoaster is fully functioning once more. Last year, artist and ex-resident Tracey Emin flicked on the neon lights and the historic, mournfully dilapidated amusement park finally achieved its long-awaited transformation.
Helping bring the bright lights and vibrant colours back to the seaside town is 28-year-old artist Georgie, whose story features in the film above. She moved to Margate a couple of years to work as Dreamland’s resident artist – reimagining many of the park’s once-peeling signs with her hand-painted designs. And she’s not the only one who’s been inspired by being in close proximity to the ocean.
With a burgeoning artistic scene, lower rents and those famous Turner skies, Margate is reinventing itself. In 2011, the sleek white fins of the Turner Contemporary gallery appeared facing the North Sea, signalling a grand new vision for the town, this time spearheaded by the arts. Today big-name artists like Phyllida Barlow and Emin rub shoulders with more local initiatives at the gallery.
Midway down a stretch of windblown houses in Cliftonville, Resort Studios is a sprawling Victorian building filled with artists, architects, fashion designers, printers, photographers, writers and a community radio station, all sharing resources and cross-pollinating ideas.
Artist and knitter, Dan, founded Resort five years ago, with a group of seven others; they now number 40 with more on the waiting list. “One of our original aims was to have a positive impact on the area, and that includes us – many of us live five minutes’ walk from here,” he says.
“There’s often an engagement with the area, whether that’s drawing local buildings, printing with material found on the beach, natural dyes using seawater… One thing we all have in common is Margate, so it shows through our work in different ways.”
Many renting desks and pods at Resort are London transplants, priced out of the capital and looking for the space to breathe: “That freedom for artists to explore and fail is really important, and Margate has that in abundance,” says Dan. “It’s a fulfilling creative life to be somewhere like this. There are so many opportunities to meet people and start projects.”
In one corner of the labyrinthine building, fashion design duo Crowther/Plant are working on their new collection: “It’s all inspired by the sea,” they say, rifling through a rail of soft organic cotton T-shirts. “Whether that’s bits of rope found on a beach walk, or the freshly washed colours after a storm. If we weren’t based here, our stuff wouldn’t look like this.”
Back at Resort Studios, Dan forecasts more innovation to come: “Margate has a shifting personality, it’s changing constantly as new things open up. From having almost completely shut down, it’s on this amazing trajectory.” He has just one word of warning for those tempted to relocate: “The test is midwinter, the bleak Scandinavian aesthetic,” he says with a laugh.
“You have to wear a big coat and imagine you’re in a Swedish drama. But in the summer it’s almost Mediterranean: the bars are pumping out their music, the beach is full, and on sunny days I can get an ice cream, have a walk at lunchtime and I’m basically on holiday.”
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