GALLERY owner Ramy Zack last night revealed plans to create the UK’s first “colony of artists” on Tyneside and help the region out of the recession.
The man who founded the North East’s unique Biscuit Factory arts venue has unveiled plans to develop studios for a further 90 artists in Newcastle.
Mr Zack says his the new developments in the same Shieldfield area of the city will be known as the Biscuit Tin and the Biscuit Box.
In premises on Warwick Street adjoining his plastics factory Tyne Moulds and Machinery Mr Zack is in the process of creating space for 41 artists, with 14 of these now pre-let and one artist already in residence.
This is likely to be called the Biscuit Tin and is costing £100,000 to develop. Mr Zack is still hopeful of securing permission from Newcastle City Council to create space for a further 50 artists in a second building on Stoddart Street, which looks set to be known as the Biscuit Box.
He said: “My vision for the arts in Newcastle is to create a colony of artists in the Shieldfield area.
“There is a pent-up demand for artists’ studios and if all of these developments come off we will have studios for 120 artists. There is a critical mass and we can create a colony of artists, the like of which does not exist anywhere else in the UK.
“What we are trying to do is create something that can contribute to the economy by using a modicum of business and common sense.”
The new plans will add to the Ouseburn Valley’s already-impressive array of artistic spaces which stretch from the Mushroom Works studio close to the riverbank, up to the Art Works Gallery on Stepney Bank.
Mushroom Works currently houses 15 up-and-coming artists and designers while nearby Cobalt Studio is home to eight creative businesses. Northern Print, also on Stepney Bank, has over 150 artistic members and celebrates contemporary printmaking in the North East.
Other facilities for artists in the area include Brick Works – a group of studio spaces for artists and designers across a range of disciplines – and 36 Lime Street, home to over 40 accomplished artists.
Ouseburn Councillor Gareth Kane hailed the plans for the new studios as “fantastic” news for Ouseburn’s ongoing development as a cultural hub for artistic talent.
He said: “There are hundreds of people in the Ouseburn area that depend on art to make a living. Obviously it’s very exciting and really worthwhile to keep promoting art. It’s fantastic news as the creative industry has been at the core of the redevelopment of the Ouseburn Valley and we are very keen to see that continue. I would like to see more of these [artistic developments] in the future but that depends on what the market will take with the economic downturn.”
Mark Robinson, executive director of Arts Council England, North East said: “Art can play a role in revitalising areas and creative businesses often benefit from being close to other creative businesses.
“Artists can bounce ideas of each other and collaborate on initiatives. There is definitely a high-level of demand for artists’ studios in the area and this kind of development will be very popular.”
He went on to say a combination of public and private money had helped turn the Ouseburn area, close to the Biscuit Factory, into a creative zone.
He added: “The Biscuit Factory is the most successful example of its kind in the UK and we certainly welcome Ramy’s latest development to support the region’s creative industries.”
Mr Zack founded the Biscuit Factory with his wife Marilyn in 2002. He had owned the distinctive Victorian building since 1984, and spent £1m renovating it and converting it into a 35,000sq ft art supermarket. The Biscuit Factory is now Europe’s largest commercial art gallery where local artists make 70% of the art shown, selling items that range from £10 to £10,000.