Cultural leaders from across Europe have arrived in the North East for an intensive weekend ideas session.
The annual conference of Culture Action Europe (CAE), whose delegates represent 80,000 cultural organisations, usually takes place in capital cities but NewcastleGateshead got the nod this time.
Could that be because this year’s theme is Beyond the Obvious?
Not so, according to Mercedes Giovinazzo, Barcelona-based chairman of the CAE executive committee.
“Last year we were in Rome and before that Brussels but coming to a city that is smaller than a capital makes a difference for us,” she said.
“We were very happy to come here because we felt there was the potential for major engagement with the public and that’s very important.”
She said the conference was an opportunity for people to exchange views about their work but also to influence society.
“What we’ve always wanted for Culture Action Europe is that it becomes a platform for advocating for a better place for culture in policy-making.”
Besides, she added, it was her first visit to the region and she wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall.
The conference, attended by about 200 delegates, comes to Tyneside after a determined pitch by Clymene Christoforou, co-founder of Newcastle-based Isis Arts, and Julia Bell, national and North East coordinator of the Contemporary Visual Arts Network.
At a reception at Newcastle Civic Centre, Clymene said NewcastleGateshead was an appropriate location for the conference for various reasons.
Firstly, there was the debate about the relationship between London and the regions in terms of focus and funding.
“That is something that is happening here but also across Europe,” she said.
Secondly, delegates would be looking at the issue of wellbeing in relation to cultural activities.
This, she pointed out, was a factor in determining which arts organisations benefited from the Newcastle Cultural Investment Fund, the council-initiated funding pot whose list of successful applicants was announced recently.
“We will be looking at the fundamental nature of culture and how we create business models so the cultural sector can survive,” she said.
“But also there is the question of the relationship between the UK and Europe.”
Prof Eric Cross, dean of cultural affairs at Newcastle University, said the conference could make a big impact here.
“One of the things that interests me is rural cultural policy,” he said.
“It’s good that the conference has come to a city but there are a lot of issues to do with cultural inclusion in a rural context, here and across Europe, which tend to get ignored.
“For me, the conference is also a chance to talk to colleagues around Europe about what we are doing and how we can influence policy.”
Among others attending are Luca Bergamo, secretary general of CAE, Robert Manchin, chairman and managing director of The Gallup Organisation in Europe and Julie Ward, recently elected MEP for the North West.
Julie, a founder of Jack Drum Arts, based in County Durham, sits on the culture and education committee of the European Parliament.
The conference is being funded by Arts Council England and the British Council and is supported by Gateshead and Newcastle councils, Newcastle and Northumbria universities and NewcastleGateshead Initiative.