The artist Tracey Emin says that entry to Turner Contemporary in Margate, UK, should remain free for all visitors after a local councillor suggested charging visitors from outside the coastal town.
Barry Lewis, a Labour councillor who represents Margate on Kent County Council (KCC), told Kent Online: “The Turner Contemporary centre is a wonderful attraction but it should not fall to Kent taxpayers to pay for holidaymakers. So the solution is to have a nominal charge for admission for visitors, but Thanet residents should be able to enter free.”
“[Turner Contemporary] has brought new people and alternative industries; it’s brought hundreds of thousands of visitors to Margate, and 100% it should stay free. But if people want to make a donation to visit, then they should,” Emin told the news site (the artist was contacted for comment).
The current entry ticket to the gallery “gives access to all our exhibitions, all day”, its website says. “Free entry is fundamental in providing a much-needed Margate attraction and access to art, supporting our targets and benefitting the local economy,” says a spokesperson for Turner Contemporary.
The museum’s main funders are Kent County Council and Arts Council England (ACE). In the latest Arts Council England National Portfolio funding announcement, ACE awarded Turner Contemporary £681,791 annually for the period 2023 to 2026.
The spokesperson for Turner Contemporary adds: “Our income comes from diverse sources, including financial support from key funders, Arts Council England and Kent County Council. The KCC annual core funding of £510,000 represents 15% of our projected income for the year to 31 March 2024, helping Turner Contemporary remain integral to the local community and economy. We know that 84% of all visitors to the Turner Contemporary are likely to recommend a trip to Margate to a friend and that visiting the Turner Contemporary yields a secondary spend in Margate of £16.63 for day trippers and £98.31 for those staying overnight.”
Crucially Kent County Council needs to make savings of £86m next year, as reported by the BBC. According to an external auditor the council will need to make “some difficult decisions” with some services needing to be withdrawn or scaled back, highlighting similar struggles faced by other UK city councils (Birmingham City Council issued a section 114 notice earlier this month, reluctantly admitting it could not meet its spiralling financial obligations).
The spokesperson for Turner Contemporary says: “As a leading art gallery presenting world-class art, we are committed to offering free admission for all and championing art and artists. We are integral to the vibrant creative community in Margate. Since our opening in 2011, Turner Contemporary has attracted over four million visits and generated annual returns of over £2m net social value. Our gallery is visitor-focused, inclusive and accessible, and during the last five years, 36% of our visitors have been from the lowest 40% of socio-economic demographics.”
They added: “As a registered charity, we are steadfast in our civic responsibilities and offer many initiatives to support the Margate community”.
The gallery’s forthcoming show, In the Offing, is a group exhibition organised by the Turner prize winner Mark Leckey (7 October-14 January 2024).
UPDATE: This article was amended to include a response from Turner Contemporary which also updated funding details.