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Towner Director leaves for new job at firstsite

  • Date: 13 December 2012
  • Area: South East
firstsite building

The impressive firstsite building which was built in September 2011. Credit: Richard Bryant

The director of an award-winning visual art gallery in Eastbourne will be leaving his role this December in an exciting shift to become Director at visual art centre, firstsite, in Colchester.

Matthew Rowe has been the Artistic Director with the Arts Council England National portfolio organisation Towner Gallery and Museum since it opened in spring 2009. The £9m building was developed with a £2m Arts Council England capital award.

During his time, Matthew has made numerous successes and achievements for the gallery, from record visitor numbers - over 350,000 to date - to first class exhibitions and work acquisition. It is the largest visual arts space in the South East that also boasts an award winning learning and participation programmes.

In the New Year, Matthew will take up the role of Director at firstsite, also an Arts Council England National portfolio organisation, which opened in September 2011. Founded in 1994, and formerly based at The Minories on Colchester High Street, firstsite has encouraged thousands of people to get involved in contemporary art over the years, nurturing new talent and providing a network of opportunities for the community to participate in ambitious learning programmes.

Matthew Rowe, said: "I am delighted to have been appointed as Director of firstsite, an organisation which has successfully presented important contemporary art to a broad range of audiences and positioned itself at the forefront of the contemporary visual arts in the UK. The positioning of firstsite within the local community is essential to my new role, therefore I hope to extend firstsite's mission in bringing excellent art to everyone, supporting artists from the region to develop their careers and demonstrating the social value that contemporary visual art brings to society.  After just over a year in its outstanding new home, firstsite has made excellent progress and I hope that I can contribute to the next phase of its success and to assist it reaching its full potential in the coming years."

firstsite has enjoyed a very successful first year in their new building, welcoming over 175,000 visitors to their exhibitions, engaging with over 28,000 people via their learning programme and fostering new creative businesses in the 15 Queen Street premises.

Helen Lax, Director, Arts Council England, East, said: "Matthew brings vast experience and knowledge in the visual arts and has a national reputation for imaginative programming of national and international work, alongside education activity. His vision and leadership will take firstsite into the next phase of development, offering new opportunities for exhibition and artist development and building on the excellent community and schools work. We look forward to welcoming him to the region and working together in the future." 

Rowe will take up his new position in January 2013, during firstsite's exhibition entitled "Nigel Henderson & Eduardo Paolozzi: Hammer Prints Ltd 1954 -1975".

Speaking on his time at Towner, he added: "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."

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).

Sally Abbott, Regional Director, South East, Arts Council England, said: "We are proud of 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. 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."