Nearly 100 art works by 60 artists that can, in varying ways, be linked to the greatest poem of the 20th century are to go on display in the seaside town that gave him inspiration as he wrote it.

An exhibition at the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate will open on Saturday inspired by TS Eliot’s The Waste Land.

The show tells a fascinating story and also represents something of a first, in that works have not been chosen by professional curators steeped in the subject. Instead, a research group of about 60 local volunteers has spent three years getting to know the difficult but gloriously rewarding poem, choosing works that often have a personal and surprising resonance.

Prof Mike Tooby, who came up with the idea, said forms of community curating existed for social history exhibitions. “It is kind of standard practice to go the community and say, ‘have we got it right?’ So why not for an art exhibition?”

There was no need for project members to know the poem at all. Nor is there a need for the visitors. “I think our job will be done if people leave feeling that they want to know more, about both art and poetry.”

Anny Squire, a volunteer at Margate Museum and project member, had read the poem in the 1970s, but it made little impact on her then. Now, she says: “It is absolutely a daunting poem, but it is so rich and you see something new in it every time.” Read more