Towner prepares for a new future

Posted on 1/12/2012

Matthew Rowe, Artistic Director of Towner will be leaving at the end of December in order to take up the position of Director of firstsite, in Colchester, in the New Year.  Matthew leaves at an all-time high for Towner, with visitor figures for the past year at a record 110,000 – surpassing the 100,000 milestone for the first time.

Matthew’s departure marks the end of a 13 year stint at Eastbourne Borough Council during which Towner has been transformed through the development and completion of a new £9m building designed by Rick Mather Architects, which opened in Spring 2009.  Since then the new Towner has welcomed 350,000 visitors.

During Matthew’s time at Towner, the gallery has presented work by Tracey Emin, Douglas Gordon, Damien Hirst, Bridget Riley, John Piper, Ivàn Navarro, Diana Thater and Willie Doherty.  In addition, under Matthew’s direction Towner acquired works by Olafur Eliasson, Julian Opie, Tacita Dean, Yael Bartana, Grayson Perry, Joachim Koester, Ugo Rondinone and Roni Horn for the permanent collection through participation in the Contemporary Art Society Special Collection Scheme (1999-2004) and Art Fund International (2007-12).

Matthew’s achievement has resulted in a major visual arts institution for South East England, with a strong local, regional and national reputation built around its unrivalled commitment to broadening audiences and access to outstanding visual art through award winning learning and participation programmes.  Towner’s initial outreach programme enabled Eastbourne Borough Council to attain Beacon Status for Culture and Sport for Hard to Reach Groups in 2006 (the only museum or gallery in the UK to achieve this award for its local authority).

Matthew leaves at an exciting time for Towner with the recruitment of an Executive Director underway, who will lead the organisation through the transition to independent status, whilst developing partnerships and a sustainable business case to support the continued artistic excellence of its programmes.

Sally Abbott, South East Regional Director, Arts Council England, said: “We are proud of and grateful for all that Towner has achieved under Matthew Rowe’s leadership over the last 13 years. Matthew’s vision and ambition has driven the creation of the new Towner gallery, with its award winning community engagement programme and the largest exhibition space in the south east.

“Towner’s exciting programme of international contemporary visual art continues to attract increasing numbers of visitors and that success will be Matthew’s legacy. We wish him every success at Firstsite.”

Matthew Rowe, Artistic Director, Towner said: “I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity to work at Towner and to transform it to become a recognised centre of excellence in the visual arts with an exciting future ahead.  I feel privileged to have had such an excellent support team and welcomed so many visitors to Towner’s new home and offered a range of opportunities for the public to engage with the visual arts. 

“I feel that having achieved my aspirations and enhanced stakeholder support for Towner, it is the perfect time for me to move on and to take on a new role at firstsite in Colchester.”

Tracey McNulty, Senior Head of Tourism and Leisure, Eastbourne Borough Council, said: “We are very proud to have Towner as part of our culture and tourism portfolio in Eastbourne.  With a reputation for offering an outstanding visitor experience, with exciting and challenging programmes, Towner is attracting increasing numbers of young people, families and creative professionals to the town and making a significant contribution to our tourism and creative economy. 

“The team’s approach to building strong partnerships and excellent presentation of world class art has ensured it’s well placed to grow and flourish as we move forward with new leadership and governance and Matthew’s personal dedication, commitment and focus has secured this. We are delighted for him that this has been recognised in his new appointment at Firstsite and wish him every future success for this exciting opportunity.”

Matthew Rowe was appointed Curator (Visual Arts) at Eastbourne Borough Council in May 1999, having previously worked at Tate St Ives and South West Arts.