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Preview: The Late Shows, Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle

SOMEWHERE at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum, volunteers were washing and disinfecting 10,000 donated plastic bottles.

The Late Shows, the North Easts now legendary culture crawl
The Late Shows, the North Easts now legendary culture crawl

SOMEWHERE at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum, volunteers were washing and disinfecting 10,000 donated plastic bottles.

At the Mushroom Works, artists were preparing an exhibition on the theme of magic and awaiting the arrival of a magician called Flash who once appeared on Britain’s Got Talent.

And goodness only knows what was happening at Wychcraft Furniture in Newcastle’s Ouseburn Valley where, tomorrow and Saturday, a Jack Russell terrier called Rollie will be “working on two of his paintings”.

This was just part of the build-up to The Late Shows, a splurge of late night openings that has become an annual North East institution since it first took place in 2007.

It all began as a reaction to traditional museum and gallery openings which allow scant access after the end of the working day - when, by definition, many potential visitors are suddenly free to do so.

The novelty of a museum, gallery or studio visit in the evening grabbed the North East imagination and has seen a steadily increasing attendance figure.

Meanwhile, the venues, always keen to lay on something a bit special, have been pushed to ever greater levels of ingenuity.

“It’s bigger than ever,” declared Bill Griffiths, of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, who initiated The Late Shows and continues to oversee it.

“We’ve got 60 venues in the brochure, but some have different organisations on the premises so it’s nearly 70 different attractions over the course of the night.”

Last year’s attendance of around 30,000 separate visits was up 20% on the previous year which was up by the same margin on the year before that.

“I’m praying for good weather. If it chucks it down it’ll affect the figure, but we know the interest from people is there,” said Bill.

The Late Shows coincides with a Europe-wide initiative called Museums at Night. It has the same philosophy, but The Late Shows actually preceded it so it keeps its own branding.

This year Bill will be escorting a special guest on the annual Tyneside culture crawl – Nick Stockman, who manages Museums at Night for the organisation Culture24.

He planned to visit Newcastle because the Discovery Museum won a competition to host a new installation by the artist Julia Vogl during the Museums at Night weekend.

Yesterday the British-American artist was supervising the bottle washing ahead of this weekend’s creation of a spectacular-sounding plastic chandelier which is to be hoisted into the roof of the museum’s Great Hall on Saturday night.

Bill said another measure of the success of The Late Shows was that arts organisations were using the weekend to launch longer-running initiatives.

For instance, Newcastle-based Isis Arts will erect their inflatable exhibition space, The Big M, at the Toffee Factory, in the Ouseburn Valley, to premiere a new touring programme of film installations called On the Precipice.

The work, by internationally renowned digital artists, will then tour beyond the region.

At the Mushroom Works on Newcastle Quayside, 19 artists will contribute to the magic exhibition while newcomers Muddy Fingers Pottery will invite people to explore the pottery process known as raku and a backroom space will host a seance-like sound sculpture.

The focus of attention on Friday will fall on Newcastle’s Ouseburn Valley, but on Saturday be prepared to take advantage of the free bus service as venues across Newcastle and Gateshead join in the fun.

Details of all the activities, taking place from 7pm, can be found in the Late Shows brochure or online at www.thelateshows.org.uk

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