England’s traditional seaside resorts have been in historic decline for several decades. The advent of cheap package tours to the warmer parts of Europe, notably Spain, and the increase in prosperity of the working classes during the later decades of the 20th Century, meant that there were more exciting holiday options for the ordinary person than a week or two in Margate. The South East coast of England particularly is dotted with towns that have seen much better days. Their rather lovely Regency terraces, commanding perfect sea views, which once upon a time served as grand hotels and fashionable apartments are often boarded up, home to pigeons and seagulls. The holiday trade has gone elsewhere.

In the 1960s, these resort towns were lively and prosperous, now they are empty and melancholy. Local business groups and councils have been scratching their heads to discover the key to reviving the fortunes of their home towns.

Some places, like Brighton, have been able to survive the decline in domestic holiday-makers, as they have other sources of life and income than traditional holiday-makers. Brighton has two universities, its own light industries, numerous language colleges, and a thriving leisure and cultural life. Those attractions have led many Londoners to relocate there, some commuting to the capital daily or weekly, and some working from home. Other resort towns have not fared so well, and one of the strategies embraced by their planners and businesses is to try to reinvent themselves as centres for the visual arts.

It is a good match. The quality of light at the seaside has always attracted artists, and the slightly raffish seaside atmosphere has a distinctly bohemian side.

Margate now has its Turner Gallery, a beautiful building in a stunning seaside location which holds a rolling programmer of interesting free exhibitions as well as a lovely permanent exhibition of Turner paintings. Turner himself had a strong connection with the South East coast of England, which features largely in his work, so the placing of this gallery is excellent.

Folkston now has its ‘Triennial’, a multi-venue festival of visual art which has produced several permanently life-enhancing public art-works in the city, as well as bringing in visitors. It also has its ‘creative quarter’ where little art and crafts businesses jostle with lively cafes showing work by local artists.

Whit stable has its ‘Bienniale’. One should note the foreign spelling: Whit stable does seem to consider itself a cut above the run-of-the-mill seaside towns, and it has probably done better than the others in attracting artists and a more prosperous class of visitors.

Broadstairs and Hastings are doing it too: all the little towns along the coast are now keen to foster the arts, and they are all within easy reach of London, typically an hour by train. So it is very easy for Londoners to enjoy a day out on the coast and combine the traditional fish and chips and paddling with an art exhibition, as well as drinking in the atmosphere of faded stucco, and glamour of the English seaside.

Author's Bio: 

If you can't make it to the seaside, then check out London's The Other Art Fair instead. See what Londonist has to say about the exhibition here: the other art fair ambika.