Contemporary art initiatives in St Leonards-on-Sea
Inserting temporary art interventions into the fabric of the built environment can be fraught with issues – vandalism, indifference, incomprehension....... But working in St Leonards presents its own set of challenges for artist, curator and audience. The town's rich architectural heritage juxtaposed with the ever-changing coastal landscape provides artists with a unique backdrop to research, experiment and make work which is informed by the town's special flavour.
One particular initiative – The SPACE – has hosted on-going projects, events and performance in disused outdoor locations for six years. Begun in 2009 by artist/curator Christine Gist, The SPACE has provided a platform for artists' interventions from the area, the South East region, London and mainland Europe. With the support of various public and private funders, The SPACE has maintained an on-going programme although the winter months are usually reserved for research and funding applications.
In the last year or so, the artistic activity of the town has increased and now encompasses artists' studios, several commercial galleries and artist-run project spaces, such as Project 78 on Norman Road, one of the main streets housing independent cafes, bars and shops. Regeneration through arts and culture is a key strand within Hastings Borough Council's socioeconomic strategies and the Council are supportive of individual artists' projects and events in the public space as well as hosting the annual arts festival Coastal Currents.
St Leonards-on-Sea and its neighbour Hastings have always had a strong artists’ community but in the last few years, there has been an influx of people from London and Brighton, attracted by property prices, the coastal landscape and the town's growing reputation as an edgy, vibrant and inexpensive place to live and work. However, the projects in the public space are also for local long-term residents who may not usually access visual art. They see how the temporary interventions and the dialogue with artists can have a positive impact on their daily lives and their physical environment – no more fly-tipped sites!