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Towner Cinema (Official)
Functions: Movies (First Run), Movies (Independent)
In Eastbourne, East Sussex, the Towner Gallery was established in 1920 following the death of Alderman John Chisholm Towner, who left 22 paintings, £6,000 and instructions for the establishment of an art gallery.
The Gallery opened in 1923 in a Manor House on the High Street in the Old Town area. This dated back to the 18th century and had been taken over following Towner’s bequest.
Despite having been owned by the town as a public facility for most of the 20th century, the Manor House and its gardens were sold in 2005/6 by Eastbourne Borough Council and the Towner Gallery closed.
In 2009, the Towner re-opened in a purpose-built gallery adjacent to the Congress Theatre. Funders of the new gallery included the Heritage Lottery Fund and Eastbourne Borough Council.
Designed by Rick Mather Architects, and built mainly from concrete, at a cost of £8.6m, the new gallery was planned to be more easily accessible to the public and to store the 4,000 works of the growing collection in a safe and climate-controlled manner. Visually, it was designed to reflect the chalk cliffs of the Eastbourne Downs.
There is a café, shop and space for larger exhibitions.
In 2014, Eastbourne Borough Council transferred operation of the Gallery to a newly created independent charitable trust, while retaining ownership of the Gallery’s building and its collection of artworks.
Housed within the Gallery, the Towner Cinema was established in 2017 with the support of Arts Council England and Eastbourne Arts Centre.
Equipped with a 4k HD projector and Dolby surround sound, according to its publicity, “the cinema’s eclectic programming, relaxed café bar, additional ‘cinema plus’ activities (such as introductions, Q&As and programme notes) and the intimate setting make it a more welcoming, dynamic and affordable alternative to the standard multiplex offer”.
Regular programming partners include Eastbourne Film Society, the University of Sussex’s School of Media, Film and Music, Eastbourne Rainbow, and Eastbourne Cult Film Club. The programmers also work with local community groups in Eastbourne to mark occasions like LGBTQ+ History Month and World AIDS Day.
From 2021 to 2022 the Gallery significantly remodelled its ground floor and cinema (which was closed for six months) to “improve the visitor experience, build visitor engagement and increase Towner’s financial sustainability.” The design work was led by architects Manalo & White.
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