An arts festival in a place where they don’t usually stage arts festivals gets underway this week. It’s very ambitious and it could be the start of something really big.
East Durham Creates includes a new animated film featuring local people, a unique art lending library and an extraordinary commemoration of the 1962 George Elmy lifeboat disaster in which nine people died.
To those who haven’t been closely involved, the festival is the first sign of a new initiative – funded by Arts Council England and called Creative People and Places – to bring top quality arts events to East Durham, an area deemed to have been lacking that sort of opportunity in the past.
Large sums of money were up for grabs for parts of the country which the arts appeared to have overlooked.
East Durham won one of the pots of cash and set up East Durham Creates, run by a partnership including Beamish Museum, East Durham Trust and art production company Forma, which is based in London but has roots in the North East. The initiative is supported by Durham County Council.
Bait, in South East Northumberland, and The Cultural Spring, uniting 10 council wards in Sunderland and South Tyneside, have also had money to spend on bringing top quality art to their respective areas.
In East Durham they opted to focus on festivals in the spring and autumn (up until 2016), each the result of collaborative work between local people and artists with a national or even international reputation.
An early event signalling the approach of East Durham Creates involved two live screenings of Billy Elliot: The Musical at Easington Social Welfare Centre, where part of the film was shot, at the end of September.
Now there’s more... much more. Programme manager Nikki Locke and her team have consulted widely and now people can enjoy the results.
Skill, by Dryden Goodwin, is a new animated film based on the artist’s encounters with 12 local people. It focuses on the drawings he made with them as he watched them working. The conversations he had with them form a soundtrack.
The artist, whose work has been exhibited in Tate Modern, projected on a building opposite the Houses of Parliament and displayed throughout the London Underground, talked to local people who told him that the art they most respected demonstrated a clear skill.
Consequently he chose 12 patently skilled people to draw and to feature in the film which is to be screened outdoors at the shopping centres of Castle Dene, Peterlee (October 29 to November 10) and Byron Place, Seaham (Nov 6-15) and inside at venues across East Durham.
Artists Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich, internationally renowned but based in the North East, offer the Art Lending Library, which is precisely what the title suggests.
“Imagine going into a gallery, falling in love with a piece of art and being able to take it home,” they say.
“With the Art Lending Library, a piece of art is yours to exhibit and enjoy for three days. We will install it, take it down and take care of things like insurance – and ensure there are no holes left in your walls.
“Choose a piece for your school, community centre, workplace or shop – it’s up to you.”
The Art Lending Library can be found at Peterlee Methodist Church from October 29 until Nobember 1 and then at Thornley Community Centre and the Robin Todd Centre, South Hetton.
You might remember Ed Carter from ~Flow, the raft-like sound sculpture which was moored on the Tyne, near the Pitcher & Piano, during the Olympic summer of 2012.
His latest vision is Fl10S: False Lights Seaham which commemorates the tragic events of November 17, 1962 when Seaham lifeboat George Elmy set sail in treacherous seas to assist the crew of a fishing coble, Economy.
Having rescued four men and a boy of nine from the stricken vessel, the lifeboat was overturned by a huge wave. The crew of five men perished, as did all but one of the coble’s crew, 32-year-old Donald Burrell who clung to the hull until it was washed ashore.
An exhibition in St John’s Church, Seaham, from November 1-13, will feature a huge oak-framed musical instrument containing10 orchestral bell plates which are designed to create haunting sounds when played using electromagnetic fields.
A special musical performance will take place at Seaham Marina on November 15 at 4.30pm when hot food and drinks will be available.
For details about the festival, which runs from October 29 to November 16, and booking information, visit www.eastdurhamcreates.co.uk