The Metropole Arts Centre in Folkestone was founded almost exactly 40 years ago, explains Nick Ewbank.In its first two decades, it was renowned as one of the South East?s foremost provincial galleries, but in the late eighties and nineties its fortunes declined, to the point where its future viability was in doubt. In 1998 Saga Group Limited, under its Chairman Roger De Haan, came to the rescue of the languishing Metropole, investing finances and expertise to ensure its survival as an arts resource for the whole community.
Saga is one of East Kent?s largest employers, employing over 2,000 people in Folkestone alone. It is growing rapidly, particularly in the areas of financial services and digital information technology. Although its products are targeted at the over 50s, its staffing demographic is much more mixed, and Saga has encountered issues around the recruitment and retention of its staff. Roger De Haan is Folkestone born and bred, and has both a personal and a professional interest in seeing the town become a vibrant, culturally rich place to live: "We recognise that the creative and imaginative life of our staff is important to the success of our business and that of the district in general. The Metropole has the potential to play a key role in supporting the development of a genuinely creative community. This is why we support the Metropole and are committed to seeing it flourish."
The Metropole has now become the focus for an ambitious development programme aimed at the cultural regeneration of Folkestone and its surrounding district of Shepway. The magnificent Galleries on the Leas, overlooking the Channel and with views to France, have been expanded and refurbished. They were re-opened in September 2001 with a stunning exhibition of the late paintings of Derek Jarman, the film-maker and painter who spent the last eight years of his life living in a small fisherman?s cottage across Hythe Bay from Folkestone at Dungeness. The Arts Council of England, South East Arts, Kent County Council, Shepway District Council and Saga have all contributed funding to permit the Metropole to undertake feasibility work to investigate the possibility of initiating three linked regeneration projects: a cultural quarter in the run-down Old Town area of Folkestone; a sculpture trail along the Leas ? described in 1930s travel guides as ?the finest marine promenade in the world?; and a new performing arts centre for the district. The Metropole has also worked closely with Saga on a project to improve the way in which the local community integrates with asylum seekers and refugees. Professional artists have joined with local schools to encourage young people to explore what it might mean to lose their home. The resulting artwork ? insightful and profoundly moving ? will be exhibited in the Metropole Galleries in 2002.
Nick Ewbank is Director of the Metropole Galleries e: email@example.com The exhibition Derek Jarman Late Works has been extended and runs until 1st December.