If we’d been in Hastings a couple of years ago we’d have had strong opinions about the Jerwood Gallery As it is, our first moment of awareness of the place came last year when we drove into the town and saw the polished smooth black facade and thought, “Well, that looks interesting…” And then we saw the admission prices and decided to leave it for another day. That day was today when, as a local, I joined as a member.
The opposition to the Jerwood Gallery was vocal and visible. There are still signs of it even now the gallery is here. An obvious NO JERWOOD is sprayed onto a wall nearby, elsewhere a noticeboard on Rock-a-Nore Road still points you to the campaign website against its arrival.
The gallery has taken up space previously allocated to coach parking and, unlike the De la Warr in Bexhill or the galleries of Eastbourne it is not free. Locals (and National Art Pass holders) get a discount and one day a month the doors are open to all … but otherwise it’s £8 with access to even the cafe only allowed for ticket holders. As well as the cafe, that £8 will get you into the temporary exhibition space and the permanent collection. By square foot you may feel short-changed – by ‘experience’ it will depend on how much you value the art you see. For new or lesser known artists it will be a challenge to get people to part with that much money on a regular basis, one assumes.
This doesn’t feel yet like a gallery that has truly connected to the world around it. That world can be seen from the cafe. It’s a Webbe’s establishment. The same people who run the well-reviewed fish restaurant over the road, as well as places in Rye and Westfield. I had a very nice crab meat sandwich and watched the world go by. The miniature railway took tourists back and forth, fisherman attended to their boats and families played and found lunch and ate on the Stade. A seagull popped along to stare at me. Within that storm of people and wildlife the gallery felt like something of an sanctuary.
And maybe that’s what the Jerwood is, for now at least. Time has not properly weather-beaten it, and Hastings hasn’t yet properly corrupted it, so it exists as a refuge. It needs to find ways to welcome into its building more of the life that carries on around it if that is ever going to change.