Towner Eastbourne full of confidence as reopening beckons
The other day Towner Eastbourne director Joe Hill was moving artwork through the front door of the still closed gallery.
“And people were trying to come in! I had to say ‘I am sorry! We aren’t open yet!’”
A little incident, yes, but one which all adds to the optimism as Joe and the team get ready for the actual reopening on May 18 with the exhibition John Nash: The Landscape of Love and Solace (running until September 26).
“I do think people are going to be very keen to come back to us. We have got a great summer programme ahead of us. The shows that we are going to be reopening with have been in the pipeline for a while, and it is a really strong programme we have got.
“And I don’t think people are going to be going abroad. Last summer Eastbourne was really packed with a lot of new people, and it was really noticeable that different people were coming in when we were able to open. I think we have got a great opportunity to capitalise on that, to get some new people into the gallery. We have got a lot to offer people from a cultural perspective.”
Joe can find plenty of reasons to feel encouraged.
“We reopened last July and we were able to open throughout the summer. And we had a great summer right up to the November lockdown and then we did open a bit in December up to Christmas Eve when we had to shut again. And we haven’t been open since.
“But we were looking at the figures for last year, and they were really positive – even despite the social distancing.
“They were good figures. I was thinking people would be nervous about entering a space like that, and it didn’t feel like it was super-busy because of all the restrictions, but even so we still had a healthy number of people in during that time, and we even got our cinema back open.
“And the good thing about last July was that we worked really hard on all the safely measures, on the screens and the demarcations and the signage.
“We did all that work back then and that means that in many ways we are now ahead of the game. We are all up to speed in terms of managing an audience. Back then it was really difficult because a lot of the guidance didn’t come out until the last minute and it was quite a scramble to be ready and to get everyone prepared, but it means that now we know what we need to do.”
And that is one of the many positives to come out of the pandemic: “There were huge positives in fact. I am trying to take as many away from it as I possibly can.
“But I do think we communicate much better as a team. Having been forced to go into our homes, we had to keep activity going which we did through things like the kit bags.
“We had to find new ways of communicating with each other and with our audiences, and I think we have become a much better team when it comes to communicating regularly and also in a much stronger way. Being pushed into a situation where we could not rely on our actual building, we had to find other ways to work – which we did.
“And I think all of those partnerships which we had and which we made will all grow stronger once we get back into the building. We had to move a lot of our work online and we had workshops and we did a lot of talks and in-conversations online.”
It was a shift that brought them global audiences – but also numbers they couldn’t possibly have achieved in a physical space. Inevitably then, a great deal of the online work will continue.
“I think there are a couple of things that have come out of the whole year for me. One is that people are re-interested in the place where they live. People have been forced to be interested in their own towns and to walk streets they have never walked before.
“And I think the other thing is that people have become more creative. Lots of people have become more creative just to see themselves through, whether it is baking or ceramics or whatever. Just being creative, I think, really supports good mental health. It’s relaxing, but it is also a way of keeping stimulated without simply putting Netflix on… though Netflix is also creative in its way!”
Add it all together, and it all adds up to reasons to be cheerful as another reopening day nears: “I think we have got a really great summer ahead,” Joe says.