Independent postgraduate liberal arts institution The Margate School faces an impending threat of closure after several funding acquisition attempts failed.
Though the school was established in 2018 by founder and director Uwe Derkson, he first incorporated it in 2015 as a not-for-profit company, sustained by course fees and private and public investment. Courses offered include a two-year European MA in Fine Art – accredited by the French art school L’Ecole Supérieure d’Art & Design Le Havre/Rouen (ESADHaR) based in Normandy – and two one-year postgraduate-level creative courses in Visual Communications and Sound Arts. The school also run technical workshops ranging from sustainable photography, screen printing, and laser cutting.
To set up the school and its technical facilities in 2018, The Margate School received initial funding through the Coastal Community Fund. The money was also for supporting students, studio holders and the community over a two-year period. Following this, 50% of its budget was generated independently while the other 50% was accumulated through additional public funding.
Derkson explains that the reason for its current threat of closure is that the public funding did not materialise, paired with the fact that the school’s independent income has “suffered through COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis”. He adds that the not-for-profit school operates on “an extremely lean budget” with profits made going towards community investment.
The Margate School is the only higher education provider on the Isle of Thanet and offers the only creative apprenticeship in Margate. Its creative community comprises nine staff, 25 students, 17 tutors, twelve fellows, 42 studio holders, and a number of volunteers.
To stabilise 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 provision and make plans for the future.
Derksen says that over 200 messages of support were sent within two days of the appeal, which “highlighted the importance of [it] to them”. Thanet District Council councillor Rob Yates spoke out on the school’s potential closure, saying “The Margate School is a brilliant local creative space that holds a variety of events and caters to a diverse section of society. The sense of community loss is devastating.”
The school sits at the heart of Margate in an old Woolworth’s building, previously derelict for eleven years, and has contributed to the high street’s enhancement by attracting over 16,000 visitors annually to exhibitions, talks and events.
If the school gets the necessary funding to remain open, it will look to triple the size of its community in the next ten years by creating additional courses and increasing student numbers on existing courses, according to Derksen. He says that the business model will continue to be “steadily increasing independent income” and, in turn, “decreasing the dependency on public funding”, while also supporting creative professionals who cannot afford the fees or training.
Despite this being very similar to the school’s old business model, Derksen says that there will be an “emphasis on increased marketing”, as well as the creation of a bursary fund for the academic year, for which the school already has “a significant pledge”. The Margate School also has plans to increase its fellow membership and develop more online provision.
Margate has experienced a resurgence of investment in recent years, from the governmet’s £22m Town Fund and the £7m Levelling Up Fund. Some of the recent interest in Margate can be credited to its creative arts scene, as it is now the home national events such as UK Creative Festival. It is also home to the Turner Contemporary Gallery and artist Tracey Emin is in the midst of setting up artist studios, an art school and gallery.