Wearside was bathed in the best of creative talent last night as the ninth annual culture awards took place at Sunderland Minster.
Hundreds of people gathered at the jewel in the city’s centre to watch as the cream of the North East cultural quarter were recognised and rewarded for their work during 2014.
Having been held in Newcastle Gateshead and Durham since their debut in 2007, it was Sunderland’s turn to do the honours - and what wonderful hosts they were.
Held in association with See It Do It Sunderland, Sunderland Bid and North East Cultural Partnership and with Grants for the Arts funding from Arts Council England, The Journal Culture Awards 2014 offered an evening of celebration, which will live long in the memory of all who were there - both on and off the stage.
The day had got off to a worrying start when our presenter, actor Chris Connel had to pull out at the last minute due to illness. After sending our very best wishes for a speedy recovery, we were very grateful and pleased to have BBC Newcastle’s Alfie Joey step in to take over compere duties.
Following a drinks reception from events company 1879 - which largely took place outside thanks to the sunshine - around 400 people packed into the glorious confines of the Minster to celebrate the wealth of artistic talent we’re lucky to have wherever you care to go in the North East.
In all, 16 trophies, made by Gateshead artist, Corinne Lewis-Ward thanks to sponsorship from Historic England, were to be handed out in categories including Performing Artist of the Year, Writer of the Year, Best Events in Northumberland, Tyneside, Sunderland, Durham and Teesside, Best Newcomer, Performance of the Year and Visual Artist of the Year.
There were also a duo of special awards given out, the first of which was the inaugural Special Award for Young Achievement, which was given to the pupils who make up Hawthorn Primary School’s wonderful In Harmony orchestra, which is run in partnership with Sage Gateshead.
We were delighted to have 12 of them perform for the assembled audience on the night too.
The annual Special Contribution to North East Arts and Culture was given to Great North Run Culture - the now decade-long cultural companion to one of the world’s most famous half marathons, responsible for the fantastic GNR Million Opening Ceremony last September.
The evening wasn’t just about giving out gongs though.
A top drawer bill of entertainment had been booked to make sure the ceremony showcased talent as well as rewarding it.
Award winning children’s author, David Almond got the on-stage performances underway, reading an exclusive extract from the opera he is writing for Sunderland.
Accompanied by a never-before-heard snippet from the score by composer Marcos Fernandez, David, who was named the Culture Awards’ Writer of the Year, also used his moment in the spotlight to reveal the name of the opera. MIRACLE! An Opera of Two Halves will be premiered at the Minster in the autumn.
Following Hawthorn Primary School’s performance, Sunderland’s Hyde and Beast - finalists in the Performing Artist of the Year category - brought the first half of proceedings to a close. Performing tracks including a special collaboration with the Whitburn singers, Open Your Heart.
In the second half, folk singer Richard Dawson took to the stage before making way for the newly crowned Performing Artist of the Year, Whitburn-born singer, Nadine Shah, who brought the evening to a close in the finest of fashion.
Stuart Birkett, ncjMedia’s managing director said: “The Journal North East Culture Awards help showcase regional artistic talent and what better way to do that than on such a wonderful evening.
“It was great so see a fantastic range of finalists, winners and performers on show in the up-and-coming cultural hotspot of Sunderland. It will be difficult to work out where to take the awards next year, but for now, let’s enjoy the moment and say thanks to Sunderland, and well done to everyone who took part.”