I have never been what you might call the Towner art gallery’s biggest fan. I know the architects won a design award and it’s described as one of the best art galleries in the country. But I just don’t get it. The cafe, now run by the excellent Urban Ground, is fantastic and the view from the balcony is amazing. But some of the exhibitions I have been to have left me wondering if I have missed something. The little wooden people on the floor of a vast room particularly sticks in my mind as modern art installations that I will never understand even if I wanted to. The same can be said for the piles of branches made into a walkway which graced the Towner one year. At the risk of being called something along the lines of a Philistine, the building has long been a thorn in the side of the council, or more to the point, us council tax payers. It cost millions to build – far more than was ever anticipated. It finally opened with a long list of snags, which threatened to descend into a potential legal battle and yet more ratepayers’ money was handed over. The council has propped the Towner up for many years with little evidence of self-financing schemes being put forward. I agree with a lot of the letter writers in this week’s paper that, at a time when the government funding to councils is dropping like a stone, we should question what our money is being spent on. Ask the majority of local people what they would rather have their hard earned cash ploughed into and I guarantee the answer is likely to be having their rubbish collected, keeping the town centre and seafront clean and its housing stock updated. The gallery needs to be financially independent. Soon.
In much of the debate about the future of the Towner, a couple of suggestions have started to form as to what could be done to save it if it can no longer afford visiting art exhibitions and there’s potentially some large rooms going spare. My particular favourite is the idea to devote some of the building to an Eastbourne Local History Museum, similar to that at the old Towner Art Gallery in Manor Gardens which most of the population visited as schoolchildren way back when. Apart from the excellent Heritage Centre in Carlisle Road, Eastbourne has nowhere to show off its history. You only have to look at the popularity of Eastbourne nostalgia groups on Facebook pages to know that a collection of old photographs and memories of people and places that are no longer with us would have people flocking to look at them. The same goes for old Eastbourne artefacts. People love the history of our town. I am not sure what the arty set will have to say about it but it would certainly solve a few problems and Heritage Eastbourne would have somewhere far nicer that a dusty old room in the Town Hall to display their wares.