The independent liberal arts graduate institution The Margate School faces an imminent threat of closure after several failed attempts to acquire funding.
Although the school was established in 2018 by founder and director Uwe Derkson, he first incorporated it in 2015 as a not-for-profit enterprise, sustained by course fees and public and private investment. Courses offered include a two-year European Master of Fine Arts, accredited by the French art school L’Ecole Supérieure d’Art & Design Le Havre/Rouen (ESADHaR) based in Normandy, and two postgraduate creative courses from a year in Visual Communications and Sound Arts. The school also organizes technical workshops ranging from sustainable photography, screen printing and laser cutting.
To establish the school and its technical facilities in 2018, The Margate School received seed funding through the Coastal Community Fund. The money also went to support students, studio owners and the community over a two-year period. Subsequently, 50% of its budget was generated independently, while the other 50% was accumulated through additional public funds.
Derkson explains that the reason for his current closure threat is that public funding did not materialize, coupled with the fact that the school’s independent revenue “has suffered from COVID-19 and the cost of living crisis.” He adds that the nonprofit school operates on “an extremely shoestring budget” with the profits going toward community investment.
Margate School is the only provider of higher education on the Isle of Thanet and offers the only creative learning in Margate. Its creative community comprises nine staff members, 25 students, 17 tutors, twelve fellows, 42 studio owners, and several volunteers.
To stabilize its operation, the school is seeking a minimum of £50,000 through a Crowdfunder, as well as an additional £100,000 to continue current teaching and plan for the future.
Derksen says that more than 200 messages of support were sent within two days of the appeal, which “highlighted the importance of [it] to them”. Speaking about the potential closure of the school, Thanet Borough Council Alderman Rob Yates said: “Margate School is a brilliant local creative space that hosts a variety of events and caters to a diverse section of society. The sense of loss in the community is devastating.”
The school is located in the heart of Margate in a former Woolworth building, which had been derelict for eleven years, and has contributed to the improvement of the high street, attracting over 16,000 visitors a year to exhibitions, talks and events.
If the school gets the funding it needs to stay open, it will look to triple the size of its community over the next ten years by creating additional courses and increasing the number of students in existing courses, according to Derksen. He says the business model will continue to be to “consistently increase freelance income” while “decreasing reliance on public funding” while supporting creative professionals who can’t afford fees or training.
Even though this is very similar to the school’s old business model, Derksen says there will be an “emphasis on more commercialization” as well as the creation of a scholarship fund for the academic year, for which the school already has “a significant commitment.” ”. The Margate School also has plans to increase its membership and develop more online services.
Margate has experienced a resurgence in investment in recent years, from the government’s £22m Town Fund and the £7m Leveling Up Fund. Some of the recent interest in Margate can be attributed to its creative arts scene, as it is now home to national events such as the UK Creative Festival. It is also home to the Turner Contemporary Gallery and artist Tracey Emin is in the midst of creating artist studios, an art school and a gallery.