Newcastle Gateshead has been named the arts capital of the UK. Hannah Davies discovers why there is such a thriving arts scene.
IN the dark days of the 80s, culture on Tyneside meant the Bigg Market, the Toon and Newcastle Brown Ale. But in the 1990s, one Antony Gormley was commissioned to build a giant angel – and a renaissance was born.
Of course, the people at various places – the Theatre Royal, the Laing Art Gallery, The Journal Tyne Theatre, the Tyneside Cinema and independent galleries such as the Waygood Gallery – would tell you the arts have always existed in Newcastle.
But the Angel of the North symbolised a new beginning on Tyneside.
Hot on the heels of the Angel came Baltic and The Sage Gateshead, both internationally reknowned establishments bringing millions of pounds of investment into Tyneside.
So it is no surprise the specialist TV channel Artsworld, using data compiled by statistician Dr Geoff Ellis, of research firm Jaywing, named it the arts capital of the UK.
Dr Ellis looked at the accessibility of the arts and the involvement of the local population in them.
It rated them according to six categories (per capita) – attendance numbers at art galleries, museums, concerts and events; the level of funding from Arts Council grants and local authorities; arts sources such as libraries, bookshops, and shops selling art materials and musical instruments; the number of music, dance and drama schools or teachers; facilities such as museums, galleries and theatres; and the number of arts students in the city.
Newcastle registered the highest number of arts students and the second highest number of theatres per capita (behind Edinburgh).
It also boasts attractions including the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts in Gateshead.
Commenting on the results, Baltic director Peter Doroshenko said: “Culture and the arts have played a central role in transforming the image of the North-East and particularly Newcastle/Gateshead.
“It is an incredibly exciting time to be living and working in a region which has so many opportunities to experience world-class art.”
In the survey of 14 cities, London managed only ninth place.
Nottingham was second in the survey, followed by Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
Bristol, Manchester, Plymouth, London and Liverpool came next with Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield and Birmingham at the bottom of the table.
But why are people so involved in the arts in the region? It may be partially due to that famous Geordie pride.
Like many people throughout history, the population of Paris notoriously detested the Eiffel Tower, perhaps Geordies weren’t too happy when the Angel was built.
But when it was draped in Alan Shearer’s number nine shirt, it was a sign that not only the Angel, but the arts as a whole, were now an integral part of North-East culture.
Mark Robinson, executive director of Arts Council England, North-East, explains how this new culture has grown.
He adds: “The North-East has a vibrant and thriving arts scene. Our region’s icons are no longer the trappings of heavy industry, but arts buildings like The Sage Gateshead and mima, or public art works like the Angel of the North. Our artists are reaching more people than ever before, achieving international recognition for their creativity.
“We’ve made fantastic progress in the last 10 years; you can look around the North-East and point to any number of examples of world-class creativity.
“From mima in Middlesbrough to public art at Kielder, it’s hard to travel through our region and not be touched by the arts.
“There are also many opportunities to participate in the arts from Creative Partnerships in schools to Stockton International Riverside Festival. These, and many projects like them, are bringing the arts to life every day of the year.”
It is the direct involvement with the people of the region in the arts, which begins at school, with outreach projects by the likes of The Sage Gateshead and Baltic, which fosters this love of the arts from a young age.
Educating, not patronising and involving, not excluding, are policies adopted by the region’s arts leaders which make sure the people of Tyneside and the region as a whole regard the arts important and relevant to their lives.