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The story of Towner dates back to 1920, with the original bequest of 22 paintings by Alderman John Chisholm Towner. The Alderman left these paintings to the people of Eastbourne, with a sum of money to establish “an art gallery for the people”.
A Georgian manor house was bought in Eastbourne Old Town to house the newly founded Towner Collection. Thus, the Towner Art Gallery was born.
The gallery opened to the public in 1923. In 1962 The Observer proclaimed it “the most go-ahead municipal gallery of its size in the country”.
By the 1990s, the gallery had proven so successful that it had outgrown its Old Town home.
The 18th century house could not provide adequate environmental conditions or security to protect the now internationally renowned Towner Collection. Equally the building could not show the full range of contemporary art.
The Towner Art Gallery also lacked a shop, café and activity spaces. It was not accessible to people with special access needs – a driving factor behind the new building.
The new Towner
Plans for a new building, designed by award-winning Rick Mather Architects, were approved by Eastbourne Borough Council in 2005. Other recent projects by Rick Mather include the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Ashmolean, Oxford.
The new Towner opened in April 2009 in an £8.58m purpose-built gallery – a fraction of the cost of similar art museums.
The state of the art gallery boasts 1,250m2 display space – the largest in South East England. It includes fully accessible collection display, storage and research facilities.