De La Warr Pavilion celebrates 75th Anniversary

PUBLISHED: 08:31 27 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:26 20 February 2013

De La Warr Pavilion celebrates 75th Anniversary

De La Warr Pavilion celebrates 75th Anniversary

The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea celebrates its 75th Anniversary this year. An iconic structure, it sums up what can be done where there is a will to do it.

The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea celebrates its 75th Anniversary this year. An iconic structure, it sums up what can be done where there is a will to do it. Deputy Director Emma Morris tells us about its history and some of its plans to celebrate its rebirth as a home for contemporary art and much more...

Commissioned by the 9th Earl De La Warr in 1935 and designed by architects Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff, the De La Warr Pavilion was the UKs first public building built in the Modernist style.
Pioneering in structure as it was in spirit, the purpose of this steel and concrete Pavilion was to provide accessible culture and leisure for the people of Bexhill and beyond and so regenerate the economy of the town and surrounding areas.

The Pavilion was officially opened on the 12 December 1935 by the Duke and Duchess of York after a nine-month, 80,000 project which provoked curiosity and controversy throughout the country. For a short while, the Pavilion provided the entertainment and culture for which it was built. Concerts and events were held in the 1,000-seat auditorium, exhibitions and talks in the lecture hall, good food and music in the restaurant and deck-games on the roof.

When war was declared in 1939, the building was temporarily closed and forced to black-out, with the first floor being requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence. The Pavilion was a highly visible landmark and in September 1940 suffered bomb damage. By the end of the war, the Pavilion was patched up and ready to host a new programme of entertainment. However, over the decades the building fell into a state of neglect and disrepair. The lack of any strategic maintenance plan and scarcity of funds led to a radical rethink of its future by the local authority.
In 1986, the Pavilion was given Grade I listed status and a small lobby group, led by Jill Theis, MBE, was formed to champion the buildings cause. The group became a Trust and in 1990 appointed a London architectural practice to provide a long-term restoration and usage plan for the Pavilion. By the early 1990s a plan had been developed which centered on the arts and audience development, as well as the Pavilions restoration and redevelopment.

By the late 1990s, major research had identified a gap in the cultural offer in the South East. The interest in contemporary visual arts was seen as being a real driver in delivering a new audience for the Pavilion. In 1998, a bid was proposed to the Arts Council Lottery Fund to transform the building into a centre for arts and architecture. The bid failed and the local authority looked at putting the Pavilion out to private tender. The possibility of the Pavilion being owned by the pub chain J.D. Wetherspoon rallied the buildings local, national and international supporters to initiate a campaign to save the Pavilion from becoming a theme pub.

By 2000, the new Director of the Pavilion, Alan Haydon, successfully led a new bid to the Arts Council and Heritage Lottery and secured 6 million for the refurbishment of the Pavilion as a centre for contemporary art and music. A new charity the De La Warr Pavilion Charitable Trust was set up and the ownership and management of the Pavilion and its artistic programme were transferred to the Trust from the Council.

The Pavilion closed in 2003 for the works to take place and reopened in 2005 after a 9 million refurbishment which including the creation of one of the largest gallery spaces in the South East, a new education studio, a restaurant and caf and a shop specialising in art books and design- led merchandise.

Since reopening in 2005, the Pavilion has welcomed more than 2 million visitors, established an education programme that reaches far out into the community, made a significant impact upon the regeneration of the town, won numerous awards and was honoured to welcome Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall as its President.

The artistic programme has established the Pavilion as a regional and national flagship for contemporary art. The exhibitions programme have presented world class artists including Ben Nicholson, Joseph Beuys, Jackson Pollock, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Turner Prize winners Grayson Perry, Jeremy Deller and Mark Wallinger. The auditorium programme has seen high profile acts such as Goldfrapp, Marc Almond, Vampire Weekend, Lee Evans, Eddie Izzard, Jo Brand and Micheal McIntyre as well as opera and ballet by international companies. The Pavilion also presents a platform for new and emerging artists and supports local artists professional development.

Throughout the summer, Antony Gormleys Critical Mass, can be seen on the roof of the Pavilion. The work consists of 60 figures in a variety of poses, all cast from the artists body and strewn across the vast expanse of the flat roof. This is a major coup for both the Pavilion and Bexhill and fulfils a long held ambition to have sculpture installations on the roof.
The De La Warr Pavilion are in good company in celebrating their 75th anniversary this year as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent were all born in 1935, the VW Beetle was launched, the Driving Test was introduced and Alcoholics Anonymous was established!

The Pavilion has launched an anniversary fundraising appeal for the ongoing upkeep and refurbishment of this world famous Grade I listed building. The architect for the recent refurbishment often likened the Pavilion to a classic car, which will always need constant care and attention to keep it looking beautiful and working. An Anniversary Patron scheme has been introduced and special 75th Anniversary merchandise launched including a limited edition of Edward Wadsworth's sketch for the mural he designed for the Pavilion in 1935.

The Pavilion is through to the semi-final of the National Lottery Awards for the best arts project. It would be the icing on the cake to win this prestigious award during its 75th Anniversary!

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