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Putting artists at the heart of programming the Turner Prize 2019

10th Jul 2019

Senior Curator, Fiona Parry, and Head of Learning and Visitor Experience, Karen Eslea, spoke to us about Turner Contemporary’s impressive plans for the Turner Prize 2019 exhibition and programmes, and how they aim to involve a broad range of artists and audiences.

The gallery was keen to bid for the opportunity to host Turner Prize 2019 given artist JMW Turner’s connection to Margate, with the gallery situated on the site where Turner used to stay when he visited. When Tate made a site visit they were able to meet with numerous partners and see the diversity of organisations involved. One of the reasons Karen felt that the bid was successful was the evident passion and energy of the team, the partners, and the people in the South East, and the feeling that the Prize would make a real difference to people in the area.

Turner Contemporary has led the regeneration of Margate, so it was key that Turner Prize 2019 would benefit the gallery alongside the town and the county, with large visit numbers expanding the visitor economy and extending the season beyond the traditional summer period.

National Lottery funding through Arts Council England has enabled the gallery to work with an array of partners and artists across the county to ensure that there is a wide-ranging programme in place during the exhibition. This programme is supported with further contributions from Kent County Council, Thanet District Council and Dreamland Margate.

An ambition of the gallery is to strengthen the arts infrastructure in the region. Alongside the development of a world-class exhibition, a key question that has underpinned the planning has been: what can Turner Contemporary do to help people to develop their artistic practice? Fiona pointed out that with so many artists living in the region it felt like a timely moment to celebrate the creativity happening across East Kent and an opportunity to generate exciting art projects.

The gallery has been working with Margate Festival to develop projects with local artists and organisations for the past four years. This year the festival team have devised Margate NOW, a festival which will take place during Turner Prize 2019, with partners including Open School East, Dreamland, 1927, Thanet District Council and Kent County Council. There will be a host of new art commissions, events, and performances, plus professional development opportunities for artists this autumn.

One of the Turner Prize 2019 partners is Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU), who the gallery has worked with for many years on projects including the annual Portfolio competition, which is open to schools and colleges to enter. The theme this year inspired by Turner Prize is ‘art rebels’, and over a thousand entries were received. You can see the selected works in an exhibition that opened at Turner Contemporary on 27 June. It will then move on to tour other venues in Kent. Karen believes that it is important to invest in the creativity of people from birth, in order to grow the artistic community and the creative economy, so projects like Portfolio are crucial.

The Platform Graduate Award exhibition, which CVAN South East partners on, will be happening alongside Turner Prize 2019. This will allow the four selected graduate artists the opportunity to show their work alongside the nominated artists and benefit from the exposure of the increased footfall of visitors, particularly of arts professionals, predicted to visit.

Turner Contemporary has always put audiences at the heart of their programming, and their recent Journeys with ‘The Waste Land’ project, which took years of development, could be seen to be the most ambitious iteration of this. As Turner Prize is known for creating debate, dialogue will be a key part of the 2019 exhibition. Turner Contemporary’s philosopher-in-residence, Ayisha de Lanerolle, will be in the gallery, online, and present as part of Margate NOW, having conversations about the Turner Prize nominated artists’ practice and the urgent themes within the work.

Outreach has already begun in advance of the exhibition to generate interest. Turner Contemporary is working with 12 libraries across Kent on a digital commission with artist Yuri Suzuki. For the commission library users will produce lyrics that will be processed through Artificial Intelligence technology, and then played through an artwork installed on the gallery terrace during Turner Prize 2019. Produced through a co-commission by Turner Contemporary and Applause Rural Touring, artist Eric MacLennan is touring a performance piece to rural and outdoor venues that raises people’s awareness of Turner Prize and its connection to artist JMW Turner. Anyone who participates in this piece and creates a watercolour inspired by Turner, will have the painting displayed in the gallery’s café.

Hosting Turner Prize 2019 is an exciting and unusual situation, as although everything is in place for the exhibition and wider programme well in advance, the curatorial and learning teams wait until the artists have been selected before they can get to grips with how they exhibit each artist’s work and develop events in response to the artists’ ideas. Fiona felt that they were lucky to have four artists with such strong and diverse practices. There are many common threads between the artists: all of them incorporate performance in their practice and reflect on pressing issues that are relevant to everybody.

The gallery views Turner Prize 2019 as an opportunity to demonstrate how cultural led regeneration makes a difference to a place and its cultural ecology. Turner Contemporary’s Partner CCCU will oversee the evaluation of the project, collecting visitor feedback on site, and assessing the impact that the project has socially and economically. Fiona feels that legacy is really important and hopes that this project will enable Margate Festival to increase its visibility, and for the partnership to be able to support and showcase more local artists in the future. Karen sees every project as a learning experience and opportunity to make art more exciting and relevant to audiences.

Turner Prize 2019 is supported by BNP Paribas and Canterbury Christ Church University, with additional funding from Kent County Council.

For more information about the varied elements of the Turner Prize 2019 click here.

Image: DC: Semiramis, Installation view at The Tetley, Leeds, Tai Shani, 2019 © Jules Lister. Courtesy the artist.

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