How can councils and artists best work together to achieve the successful outcomes both parties aspire to?

The DAD Urban Room

As part of the ambitious arts Council Funded project Art in the Park: Kearsney interpreted, senior officers from Dover District Council, artists based in Dover, and a member of the Kearsney Parks Team met in the DAD Urban room on 17 July 2019 to consider the question:

 How can councils and artists best work together to achieve the successful outcomes both parties aspire to?

The 18-month project, which launches Kearsney Abbey and Russell Gardens as key Dover cultural venues, provided residency opportunities, of differing lengths, for 10 artists, from those with longstanding professional careers to new graduates. It also included the Park Bench project, a project for artists of varying levels of experience – including the gifted amateur – which delivers a sense and feel of the parks through poetry, drawings and music by 58 visual artists, poets and musicians who all live in or around Dover.

Tangible project legacies include, for example, Joseph Black’s Other Waters that will be installed in the new café and Alma Tischler Woods ‘Alice’ sculpture that encourages interaction and a playful response from park visitors. Over the construction time of 2 months it converted sceptical onlookers into positive fans. Intangible legacies include new visitors to the park and greater engagement through arts and culture.

The project’s ongoing legacy lies in how the Parks will be used for cultural events in the future.

During the course of this project, it became apparent that artists and local authorities have different priorities and ways of working, and use very different language. To facilitate more understanding of these differences the Art in the Park – Kearsney Interpreted team are putting together 2 advice/fact sheets which endeavour to throw some light on instances where lack of understanding causes difficulties and leads to anxieties that could be avoided with more knowledge.

The Kearsney Park Team felt that it was important that artists and council members break the conglomerate of ‘the council’ or ‘the artist’ and come face to face as individual people. Hence the curated discourse – a conversation with only one rule, which is that no-one is allowed to talk at the same time as another.

Artists and local authorities need each other and much of the discussion was about how the council can be more approachable for artists and make some of the tasks required of working in the public realm less frightening.

The animated discussion continued over 3 hours and the enthusiastic team at DDC made it very clear that they want to continue working with artists and that tourism realises the draw of Arts and culture.

Highlights from the discussion

Connecting with the Council

  • It was a dream come true to be able to talk face to face in such a pleasant way with members of the council.
  • we need to massage the areas of anxiety.
  • If artists know there are people at the District Council who want to see more artist driven activity in Dover and where possible will be supportive, that makes all the difference. Sometimes it is something quite small that can make all the difference.
  • How do we get ideas to the council? How do we create an environment to encourage ideas? 
  • If you are an artist who is the contact at the council? It’s not on the website, don’t think anyone would know who to contact?
  • I would go to Dover Arts Development.
  • some would go to the museum.
  • DAD has a role to play. They put artists in touch with the council, or other organisations. Organisations could come about after DAD who would continue this way of working. 
  • we need to learn from mistakes, take the opportunity to change and challenge. We are an open, listening, collegiate council which is unique. We are one, we respect each other’s views and work as one.

Where are the artists in Dover?

  • In Margate and Folkestone artists are very separate. They don’t talk to the public. We don’t have an arts quarter in Dover, we are not being separated and artists work well together. 

What do artists need?

  • There needs to be a discussion about what artists need, what is required? The Park Bench Project highlighted 58 visual artists, poets and musicians now living in or around Dover. More artists have come to Dover since this project. When artists come they bring ideas – that’s what artists do.

 How can we profile/showcase the work of artists in Dover?

  • A relatively simple idea I saw in Cologne involved 60 Cologne artists – the names of all 60 were written together on a wall and one of the 60 artists each month exhibits next to the names. It is a way of celebrating the stable of artists who live and work in the town and the exhibition organisation is very simple. Could there be a council space on offer for something like this?
  • 60 artists idea is good (based on the Cologne example) we need to tell people about it.
  • What about moving it around the town, develop collectiveness across the District? 
  • It makes sense to have it moving around in Dover.
  • Empty shops – We need to find a space in Dover to act as a catalyst e.g. the old Dorothy Perkins shop, as a temporary space.
  • We need someone to scope what is needed by artists – could fund DAD to be our scouts. The ‘enthusiasm’ team at the council are key for this. We need more conversation as there’s a lack of communication and we need to think about how we manage expectations. These fantastic ideas have to be brought together.
  • Artist residencies give opportunity to artists (can also be external artists) given 3 months to work in a space. However, a residency programme needs managing.
  • the spaces need to be managed, who’s going to make sure quality is maintained, curate it, manage the building? 
  • Example of a pop up residency – THREADS – amazing international call-out for residences. Places were a few days or one day in a studio (which were in various locations across East Kent). There was a group critique open to the public. THREADS gave artists space, not set outcomes. At River Garage Studios four artists worked for one day. At the end of the day they presented what they had made.

Role of the arts/Cultural Tourism: Kearsney Abbey and Russell Gardens together form a unique cultural asset in Dover.

  • Interaction with the public realm through placemaking – art has a big place tp play in this and art is there to challenge. It takes away a key part of art if there isn’t a challenge. Art divides, it has conflict, otherwise it’s just touristy art and has no soul to it. For the local authority, the challenge is to take some of the essence of art and put it into the council.
  • Dover can be proud of what it has achieved and build on that.
  • Dover’s chalk valleys are the best typography. The heritage is pre-Roman/Roman – there are hidden gems and art plays an important part in revealing them. 
  • The Tonkin Liu Esplanade is top class, as is Deal Pier. Dover doesn’t shout loud enough about what it has.
  • Also the ‘CHALKUP21’ trail of contemporary Art and Architecture between Deal and Folkestone is doing a great job.
  • Dover Museum is overlooked in terms of resources. There’s an extraordinary opportunity to reinvigorate Dover Museum. We need to secure a sponsor to enable a temporary exhibition space at the museum. The museum should be a beacon in terms of history and art and should have visiting exhibitions.
  • If Dover Museum could open its temporary exhibition space to include work of Contemporary artists this would be a wonderful step forward. It would bring another audience into the museum and give artists the chance to become familiar with the collection and even make work related to the collected works, repositioning objects in the collection.
  • The route to raising the profile in the public realm is through private sponsorship. The local authority budget is tight but one shouldn’t be unambitious – the creative sector can act as a catalyst to businesses funding things, key is to be ambitious.

Perception of Dover

  • My Dover friends passionately insult Dover. They are proud to ‘not’ like Dover. When I came back I realised that Dover is great, it’s so beautiful. Dover is close to London and France and it’s on the art map. There is an interest in Dover because it’s a bit different.
  • it’s a bit raw? 
  • Dover is big and elegant. 
  • Dover has hope in it. There’s something hopeful about not knowing fully what you are yet. We should celebrate and be excited about what Dover does have.  
  • Not everyone knows what is going on here, there’s a hidden-ness about Dover. 
  • We know an artist who has moved here recently who is discovering the hidden bits of Dover.
  • Dover is a working town, artists are not distracted like in Margate by other things.  
  • The openness of the art community wasn’t why I moved here to Dover, but it is the reason that I have stayed.


  • Thinking about development in the parks, why should we take it backwards? What we do today becomes the history of the future. It gets people talking.
  • Need to encourage support for early career artists.
  • The current generation needs to contribute to keep the town alive.
  • Partnerships are crucial. HLF & ACE are working together more, you can match fund.  Creating infrastructure could be interesting, though not DAD’s area. DAD’s legacy would be continued partnership working. 
  • A strong partnership between DAD and the Council is a good model to build on.

As the discourse came to an end there was a real sense of commitment to more Art projects within Dover with more face to face interaction between the council and artist(s).

let’s keep the momentum going