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Battle of Hastings

"We'll never please the fishermen. I'm well aware of that." Alan Grieve, chairman of the Jerwood Foundation, is referring to the men who work on the Stade, the seafront in Hastings where they maintain distinctive black huts, or "net shops", and sell fish landed from boats that aren't moored in
a harbour but instead are dragged up on to the shingle beach to disgorge their catch.

The object of the fishermen's ire is the new Jerwood Gallery, which squats on the Stade hard against the net shops and which opened to the public on 17 March. From a first-floor window in the gallery, which houses the foundation's impressive collection of mostly 20th-century British art, a large yellow poster tacked to the side of one of the net shops is clearly visible. It reads, "No Jerwood on the Stade", and is a relic of a vociferous but ultimately unsuccessful campaign to prevent Grieve from exercising what he has described as entrepreneurial philanthropy on the south coast. (Jerwood joins Turner Contemporary in Margate, the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill and Towner in Eastbourne as the latest link in what the marketeers want us to learn to call the "string of pearls".)

Grieve insists he and the building's architects, HAT Projects (one of the partners in which is his son Tom), went through an "extensive" consultation process with local bodies. And certainly the black ceramic tiles in which the gallery is clad suggest some attempt to, as Tom Grieve puts it, "celebrate Hastings" and its unusual vernacular architecture.

His father insists they weren't trying to “make an architectural statement". There's evidence of this inside the gallery, too, where the spaces are intimate and modestly proportioned, as befits what is, in essence, a personal collection (with the occasional gaps and failures of art-historical rigour that this implies).

The director of the gallery, Liz Gilmore, who joined from the Arts Council, is also well aware of her responsibilities to the community into which Jerwood has insinuated itself. Locals, she tells me, pay a reduced entrance fee and, once a month, can get in for nothing.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Mission impossible