A local (my Dad) standing outside "Something & Son - Amusefood. Fish, chips and mushy peas - staple meal of Folkestone's amusement arcades. This experiment places the whole cycle of production, cooking, eating and recycling waste on one school site". Folkestone Triennial 2014. 30th August - 2 November.
I left Folkestone in 1981, but have been back regularly to visit family ever since. My most recent visit, however, was to experience the Folkestone Triennial, now in its' third season. Folkestone like many other seaside towns has been struggling since the Victorian days to re-establish an identity. The loss of domestic tourists ripped the heart out of many towns like Folkestone, and it has taken a long time for most of them to re-act to the drop in tourism income and the inevitable and sad rise in unemployment. Folkestone looked like it would benefit from the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994, but apart from job creation, not to be overlooked, the tunnel merely established Folkestone as the place that millions of people passed through (a bit like me when visiting my family). There was also the loss of an area of countryside to contend with, a lovely area where I used to play freely as a child. Again the high speed rail link promises to bring more wealth to the seaside town, especially with the drift of people leaving London for cheaper housing, albeit with fast commutes back to the capital for employment. But at least they will be spending some of their cash in Folkestone.
But what of the identity of Folkestone? What of the vision for the town? What is its' USP? (unique selling point) in marketing jargon. Well that's where the Triennial comes in, as part, as I understand it, of a master-plan led by the former Saga chief Rodger De Haan. Now there is a reason to visit Folkestone again, to appreciate and debate art. But that is only the start of it. Like re-branding a product or indeed person (after all isn't that what the popular culture of celebrity TV show is all about) it is vital that the target market (sorry more marketing jargon) get to see and sample the new offering and in doing so the opportunity to see the bigger picture. In the case of Folkestone, the Triennial opens the door for people to see the wider potential of the town, as it embarks on a major regeneration programme, with art and culture at its' centre - not forgetting references to the past e.g. good old fish and chips! It must be working as people such as Yoko Ono, Tracey Emin and Mark Sargeant are now part of the Folkestone message, there are reviews in the London Evening Standard about the triennial and the trendy new restaurants, such as Rock Salt. Even people at my golf club, back in Surrey, are aware of the gold buried in the sand as part of the Triennial.
So while the locals look a bit confused about some of the art pieces, and some even debate the point of it all, I say well done to the organisers of the Triennial and to Roger De Haan for sticking to a master plan - great art, great town plan and fantastic marketing. Lookout here comes Folkestone!