Delegates will fly into Newcastle next week as an influential European culture conference, normally hosted in capital cities, takes place for the first time in the UK.
The annual conference of Culture Action Europe (CAE), which promotes culture as a force for social and economic change, will be attended by more than 200 delegates who in turn represent more than 80,000 cultural organisations.
They include people who hold the culture brief in their own countries and the chief executives of European networks of orchestras, museums, art galleries and other cultural institutions.
While in the North East for the conference, which takes place next Thursday to Sunday, the delegates will be given a taste of the region’s many cultural attractions and see how they have helped to improve its national and international profile.
The conference, which in the past two years has been staged in Brussels and Rome, will be coming to this country for the first time – but to the North East rather than London.
A determined pitch was made to CAE on behalf of the region by Julia Bell, the national and North East coordinator for the Contemporary Visual Arts Network, and Clymene Christoforou, co-director of Newcastle-based Isis Arts which supports international art projects and those involving audiences with little experience of contemporary art.
Both organisations represented by the women are CAE members.
Julia, who is based at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, said she and Clymene spoke to CAE secretary general Luca Bergamo at last year’s conference in Rome about the possibility of the conference coming to the UK where the membership is not as great as in other countries.
They spoke to him again when he came to the UK on a separate matter and were encouraged to go up against rival contender Portugal and submit a bid for this year’s conference.
“We spent the beginning of this year trying to determine whether we could pull together the partners to host the conference this year,” said Julia.
“I suppose we could have bid for 2015 but we thought this was a good time to have it in the North East, just after the Scottish referendum when the issue of devolution has been on the agenda, and also because of the recent ROCC (Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital) report which makes the case for rebalancing funding away from London.”
The report, initiated by a team featuring North East cultural commentator Peter Stark, made headlines earlier this year.
Julia and Clymene were delighted when their proposed bid was backed by the big cultural players in the region including all the major venues, Newcastle and Northumbria universities, Gateshead and Newcastle councils, Culture North East and NewcastleGateshead Initiative.
Arts Council England and the British Council contributed to the £80,000 cost of hosting the conference along with the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.
Graham Sheffield, director of arts at the British Council, said: “Culture makes a huge contribution to social and economic regeneration and development globally and this event is a chance to share best practice and forge new collaborations.
“The creative industries are one of the UK’s great strengths and are increasingly recognised by governments around the world as a major driver of growth.
“Arguably these issues are more pressing than ever and the British Council is pleased to be at the centre of the debate.”
Julia Bell said: “In terms of profile this is great for the region because we successfully bid for the conference against a European country.
“CAE is very highly respected because it is seen as the European platform for culture. It informs a lot of European Union decision-making on arts and culture.”
Since 1992 CAE has published numerous studies and reports, had a say in cultural funding programmes and been active in European debates.
Luca Bergamo said CAE had been swayed to come to the North East by the “impressive coalition” which had backed the bid.
He said: “At a crucial moment for the UK in Europe, this joint backing and the quality of the proposal placed NewcastleGateshead as our first choice to host the international conference.”
He added: “Across Europe we are striving to strike balances: balances in cultural investments inter-regionally as well as between regions and their capitals; balances between continental futures and national pasts.
“Failure to find a fair balance for cultural investment in a time of spending reviews risks neglecting our basic human right to access the arts and science and hampers the equality of opportunity for social and economic development.
“Failure to reach an agreement on a common future in Europe may lead to harsh conflicts, no different to the bloodiest that this continent has seen in its history.”
The decision to hold the conference in the UK, he said, “indicates how strongly we believe that Europe needs the UK and vice-versa to build a prosperous, peaceful and sustainable future”.
Julia Bell said while most previous CAE conferences had taken place in a single building, this one had been arranged to show delegates as much of the area’s cultural assets as possible.
Sessions will take place at venues including Baltic, Sage Gateshead, Northern Stage, Great North Museum: Hancock and Newcastle Civic Centre.
Speakers include Alan Davey, chief executive of Arts Council England, Alistair Spalding, boss of the Sadler’s Wells theatre in London, philosopher Renata Salecl, from Slovenia, and Prof Chris Csikszentmihalyi, of the Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute (M-ITI), who will give a free public talk at 6pm on Thursday in Newcastle University’s Herschel Building.