Art Fund: Crowdfunding to save Prospect Cottage (part one)

This is part one of an in-depth look at the development of a sizeable crowdfunding campaign, and how it has been bolstered by the legacy of a unique artist.

Written by
Joe Burnett
Added
March 19, 2020

In February 2020, SOFII editor Joe was privileged to sit down with Merrin Kalinowski and Alice Regent, respectively museum marketing relationship manager and head of individual giving at the Art Fund. They were joined by fundraising consultant Simon Turner to discuss the headline-grabbing story of their crowdfunding fundraiser to save Prospect Cottage. 

The cottage in question is the former home and art/gardening project of renowned filmmaker Derek Jarman, and it is under threat of being sold. Situated in a bleak yet astonishingly beautiful section of the Kent, UK coast called Dungeness (in the shadow of a power station but with a wonderful view of the English Channel), Prospect Cottage is a unique place and one that requires a very special fundraising strategy. 

Harnessing the global interest in the project and the contributions of known figures such as actor Tilda Swinton and activist Peter Tatchell, this crowdfunding campaign has been a remarkable success. The Art Fund are very close to raising the huge £3.5 million needed to save Prospect Cottage and secure its future as a centre of creative activity – for all.

In this two-part article we'll delve into the interview with Merrin, Alice and Simon, offering you insight into why Derek Jarman’s legacy is so powerful and how this unique campaign came about.

Derek Jarman in his garden outside Prospect Cottage.

For those who (shock-horror) have never heard of the late, great, Derek Jarman, we do recommend his films emphatically. He was a director, artist, gardener, LGBT rights activist and set designer. Starting in the 1970s’ experimental cinema scene with works like Sebastiane and Jubilee, he soon became a major figure in UK film-making, working with Lawrence Olivier and Tilda Swinton. Derek also shot music videos for bands such as The Smiths and the Pet Shop Boys. His remarkable artistic output was mirrored by his activism for gay equality, fighting against homophobic legislation by the Thatcher government of eighties Britain. His last film, Blue, was a harrowing reflection on his battle with HIV/AIDS, one he lost in 1994 at the age of 52. 

Perhaps Jarman’s most enduring project was Prospect Cottage, the home he shared with his partner Keith Collins. It is a small fisherman’s cottage nestled on a bleak, windswept beachfront in Dungeness. Jarman completely redecorated the cottage and planted a beautiful garden, all in the shadow of a nuclear power plant. It’s a unique and bizarre place and one that has served as a place of pilgrimage for Jarman fans since his passing. He even set one of his films, aptly named The Garden, at Prospect Cottage (below) and so news of its possible demise was met with dismay from many around the world.

A scene from Jarman’s The Garden, filmed in Dungeness.

Alice Regent lays out just how uncertain things were at one stage: ‘When Derek died in the mid-nineties, Prospect Cottage was cared for by his partner Keith Collins, who pretty much kept it as it was left, as a gorgeous time capsule. Keith Collins became unwell and passed away in 2018. Before he passed away, he spoke to his good friends, the artist Tacita Dean and actor Tilda Swinton, to discuss what could be done to Prospect Cottage, everything inside it and the creative legacy that Derek had left in Dungeness. There was a real worry about what the future would look like.’

Jarman with his partner Keith Collins.

She continues, ‘Keith recognised that it was a place of pilgrimage and that people came to look at it and he had worked with some organisations like King’s College and the BFI to let people go inside the cottage and see it, but purely on an informal basis. He occasionally stayed there as he worked as a fisherman in Dungeness at one point. When he died it fell to the care of his partner at the time but it’s the Keith Collins Will Trust who are working to sell it. What we’re looking to do is to secure a creative future for this amazing place, for everyone.’

Make no mistake, with £3.5 million to raise, this is an enormous campaign. That fact serves to amplify just how much Jarman mattered to those who loved his art. Alice says, ‘It’s been the biggest crowdfunding campaign for a work of art in the UK. We’ve had over 5000 donors from 39 countries in under four weeks, so it’s gone well. We’ve been totally overwhelmed by the public support for all the different angles of what Derek Jarman and Prospect Cottage represent.’

The diversity of Jarman’s work is reflected by those who donate, she continues. ‘There are people who love the gardens, people who love his films, his writing, his activism. It’s been really fantastic, and we’ve seen a lot of interest from outside the UK as well.’ 

The many supporters include not just Tilda Swinton and Tacita Dean, but activist Peter Tatchell, costume designer Sandy Powell and actor Simon Callow. Added to these names are a group of authors including Alan Hollinghurst and Olivia Laing, who spoke recently to UK newspaper The Observer about the campaign. 

Tilda Swinton was Derek Jarman’s muse.

Alice Regent tells of the involvement of supporters like Swinton. ‘Speaking of press and publicity! It’s been fantastic for two different reasons: she’s a very well-known and familiar face so putting her name to something and speaking so passionately and beautifully about a project is a huge help, but she also lends a real credibility to what we’re doing here. Tilda knew him first-hand, she was his muse, he launched her career. We’re actually finding that having people onboard who collaborated with Jarman, and knew and loved him, is something very new. There’s an emotional angle to this that makes it quite compelling.’

Of course, the location of Prospect Cottage also plays a part in how people have been invigorated by the campaign. If you haven’t been, Dungeness is a remote, barren beach that stretches seemingly for miles of incredibly flat terrain. In winter, it is windswept and stark, while even in summer not much appears to grow outside of the gardens of the various cottages that dot the landscape. All this overshadowed by a nuclear power station! But that is why it’s such a unique, and weirdly beautiful, place for someone to have a home-cum-art-project. 

‘We’re trying not to talk about this as a sort of landmark,’ says Alice. ‘It’s not about preserving the home of an artist. It is a work of art in itself: the transformed fisherman’s cottage, the garden, the power station behind it. Everything about it is bizarre and it’s the distillation of his creative vision as an artist. The experience of being there is so evocative, and it’s been quite challenging to bring that to people. We’ve worked so hard on language, to try and stress that this is not just about saving a building. It’s about creating a long-term plan for the cottage as a living space, to fuel the creation of art long into the future’. 

The preservation of the cottage extends beyond the exterior and gardens: there’s a treasure trove of material within the cottage itself. Alice continues, ‘The archive is made up of loose paper materials kept in shoe boxes under beds in the cottage. These have not publicly seen before and will go to the Tate Archive, which is the largest repository of 20th century British art in the world, I think. Jarman’s archive will therefore be open for loans and exhibitions. So, again, we’re going to really be investing in Derek’s legacy as such an important British artistic figure across so many sectors, from writing to activism to filmmaking. The cottage isn’t safe just yet, but it will be.’

Stay tuned for part two, when Alice, Simon and Merrin will take us into the nuts and bolts of how saving Prospect Cottage is being done via the Art Happens website. We'll uncover how a crowdfunding campaign such as this one unfolds, and go into what the progress has been so far. For more information and to make a donation to this appeal, click here.

About the author: Joe Burnett

Joe Burnett

Joe Burnett is Contributing Editor for SOFII.

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