The QT

Monday 17 June 2024
17/06/2024

Creating a creative culture

David Whetstone reports on the launch of a new cultural quarter on Tyneside, warmly welcomed by those who attended
  • North Shields, Newcastle and Berwick have cultural funding from the North of Tyne Combined Authority until 2027
  • Support of up to £10,000 available for projects
Brendan Murphy and Anthony Lo Giudice performing Roma

The North Shields Cultural Quarter was launched with songs, dance and speeches and an insistence this was something for the long term.

North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) has invested in three culture and creative zones — the others are in Newcastle and Berwick — with funding until 2027.

NTCA elected mayor Jamie Driscoll has said creatives, including writers, artists, actors and film-makers, are too often undervalued and their contribution to the economy downplayed.

But between 2011 and 2020, the creative industries in the North East grew by 68%, the fastest rate in any UK region.

In light of this, £1.9m was being invested in North Shields to help grow the sector.

In front of a large audience at The Exchange 1856, the revamped theatre at the heart of the town’s cultural quarter, speaker after speaker welcomed the initiative.

The Exchange 1856, North Shields

John Sparkes, director of regeneration and economic development at North Tyneside Council, said: “We are absolutely committed to the value of creativity and culture.

“It’s a driver for change, a driver for the local economy and a central part of our regeneration of the borough.

“It also provides opportunity and inspiration for many and can be the catalyst for change in people’s lives, be it to their career or how they spend their leisure time.”

Already there had been public and private investment in buildings, particularly in the cultural quarter around Howard Street and Saville Street, he said.

“But that’s bricks and mortar and for this investment to be meaningful it must be animated.

“To bring it alive we’ve been working with creative practitioners, businesses and cultural organisations across North Tyneside to develop a programme that will have a positive impact.

“Everything we do is driven by our conversations with local people. It’s about listening and delivering.”

Dame Norma Redfearn, Steve Bishop, Anthony Lo Giudice, Cheryl Gavin, Rashida Davison and John Sparkes

Ideas, he said, were fragile things and needed massaging into reality.

There’s likely to be no shortage of them.

A North Tyneside Council spokeswoman said there had been a good take-up for a programme, which has just closed, offering creative bursaries of up to £1,000.

“All sorts of people applied — writers, poets, mural painters, artists. It helped us to map who’s out there and it seems lots of creative people live and work in North Shields.”

One resident, dancer and choreographer Anthony Lo Giudice, performed at the launch event with musician Brendan Murphy.

An upbeat performance by the Linskill Community Choir made the point that the cultural quarter embraces amateurs and professionals.

Cheryl Gavin, director of Helix Arts, which has worked with North East communities for 40 years, told her own story of growing up in North Shields and finding a route into the arts through dance classes.

Helix Arts, which supports established and aspiring artists, has moved into North Tyneside Business Centre in the heart of the cultural quarter.

Geoff Kirkwood, a renowned DJ and music star, told how he had left the North East a decade ago feeling it was impossible to achieve his aims here.

Linskill Community Choir performing at The Exchange

“I was always led to believe that a creative career was simply not an option for a working class person from the North East,” he said.

“Arts and music were fine for your spare time but never regarded as a serious career.”

Having worked away in London and Berlin, and recently returned from Mexico, he said he had been struck by a change of mood.

“The North East I returned to felt unrecognisable to the one I’d left 10 years earlier,” he said.

“Creativity was no longer a novelty and it seemed arts organisations and local government were making great strides in finding ways to work together to create a solid foundation for creative individuals to achieve whatever it was that success meant for them.”

Geoff recently took over a Victorian building in North Shields to be OneThreeOneSpace, a complex of studios and workspaces.

Rashida outside the original Globe Gallery where she will return

Also present at the launch was Rashida Davison whose Globe Gallery, championing contemporary art, is to return to the Howard Street premises where it launched in the 1990s.

Karen Taws, project manager for North Shields Cultural Quarter, said: “We’re extremely privileged in North Tyneside because there is an amazing amount of wonderful activity going on, from community arts through to professional practitioners and companies working at local, regional, national and international level.

“We are funded until March 2027 and over that period we’ll provide projects and events, business development and skills initiatives.

“Everything we’re doing is driven by the ideas and needs of the creative community in the area.”

John Sparkes said the intention of the council and its partners was to sustain the momentum beyond the scope of the current funding.

“We’ll continue to work hard as a team to make sure this doesn’t end in 2027,” he said.

Details of current North Tyneside Cultural Quarter opportunities, including support up to £10,000 for projects and events, can be found here .

@DavidJWhetstone

Early on July 17, 2005, 1,700 volunteers stripped naked on Gateshead Quays for a series of photographs by American photographer Spencer Tunick, later exhibited at Baltic

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