WHEN I was asked to write something for '100 Reasons...' supplement, I knew I was going to struggle.
Quite frankly, it would be easy to come up with 100 reasons why it’s good to live in the North East, which only related to the cultural scene.
When a previous incarnation of this supplement was compiled back in 2005, The Sage Gateshead had just opened; Dance City was leg-stretching in its new home on Newcastle’s Temple Street; Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art had bedded itself in nicely; and The Journal had launched its Culture Magazine. Five years later, the developments have bloomed.
The Ouseburn (featuring Northern Print, The Mushroom Works, Star and Shadow Cinema, 36 Lime Street and more), nearby Hoults Yard (with its string of film production, animation and design companies) and The Biscuit Factory complex of art studios, are three examples of how the creative industries are flourishing.
The more we speak to artists, writers, film makers, animators, designers... the more we’re told this is a wonderful place to be.
Northern Stage – what was Newcastle Playhouse – reopened in 2006 and is fulfilling the innovative potential which fuelled its £9m refit.
Its co-production of Apples, the stage adaptation of Middlesbrough writer Richard Milward’s debut novel is having a lovely time in Edinburgh after a Teesside premiere. It will come to Newcastle in September.
Live Theatre on Newcastle’s quayside has benefited from an expansion programme. In 2007, Live reopened in smash-hit style, as it turned out, with a new play by one of its success stories, Lee Hall.
The award-winning Pitmen Painters has enjoyed sellout runs, in the North East and the West End, and is due to open on Broadway.
Other good news has seen a multi-million-pound refurbishment of Newcastle Theatre Royal; Gala Theatre in Durham launching homegrown productions (the Durham Mysteries and the upcoming All Creatures Great and Small are two good examples); and the Berwick Maltings and Arts Centre enjoying a transformation for its 20th anniversary.
Moving away from theatreland, Seven Stories, the centre for children’s books, which opened in 2005, is getting even more enchanting while the new Newcastle Library has been a hit across the board.
Other notable re-openings include the Great North Museum: Hancock, which exhibits everything from the living planet to world cultures.
No surprise then that thousands of people were welcomed during its opening weekend in May 2009.
The trend of brilliant installations at Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens has continued and attracted more than 100,000 people in the past few years.
Picture House in 2007 and Extraordinary Measures (which runs until late September) have sprinted with the baton passed on by Fashion at Belsay and its predecessors, resulting in a stunning set of transformations for the historical property.
What has become clear from the past five years of cultural doings, is the festival programme which has embedded itself in the region’s psyche.
The Winter Festival, Summertyne, Northern Lights Film Festival, Wunderbar, AV Festival, Juice, Evolution, the Durham Gathering, the Hexham and Durham book festivals (both supported by our supportive writing agency, New Writing North), BRASS, Berwick Film Festival, Mouth of the Tyne, Stockton International Riverside Festival, ¡VAMOS!
Now will you look at that... I’ve hardly scraped the surface, and I’m running out of space.... so here is a tiny selection of the solid gold nuggets of cultural delight our region enjoys.
NORTHERN PRINT BIENNALE 2009
This was the most extensive print exhibition in the country for 20 years and ran from June to October.
Spread across three city venues – the Hatton Gallery, in the quadrangle at Newcastle University, the Laing Art Gallery and Northern Print on Stepney Bank in the Ouseburn Valley – the Biennale welcomed more than 800 entries from all over the world.
A wide programme of events including exhibitions, symposiums, performances and the launch of a major public print commission ran alongside the main competition... and the great news is that it will return in 2011.
BALTIC and mima
One of the beacons of the region’s cultural renaissance, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art has welcomed millions of visitors since it opened on July 12, 2002. During the eight years, there have been too many highlights to mention. Nevertheless, I will namecheck Antony Gormley’s Domain Field, Yoko Ono’s Between the Sky and My Head, Sam Taylor-Wood’s Still Lives, The British Art Show in 2005, Jenny Holzer and the current Perpetual Canon from Cornelia Parker.
Meanwhile, the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima to its many friends) was welcomed at the beginning of 2007.
Its first exhibition, Draw featured drawings by Picasso and Andy Warhol, while its Bauhaus exhibition closed year one, attracting international attention.
An exhibition from Anish Kapoor was a programme highlight, scheduled to coincide with the unveiling of the artist’s large scale sculptor, Temenos... the first of the Tees Valley Giants.
THE SAGE GATESHEAD
The curves of The Sage Gateshead continue to seduce thousands of music lovers and music makers every year.
The venue celebrated its fifth birthday at the end of 2009 in a style befitting its tuneful charms.
Sting, one of the region’s most successful exports was the headline act in an evening of entertainment, led by Kathryn Tickell.
Plucked highlights from the upcoming programme include L'Afrique Festival 2010 in September; the aforementioned Sting with the Northern Sinfonia and Bryan Adams – both in October; The Divine Comedy in November; and Kate Rusby in December.
Could there be a place more likely to make you smile than Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books, in Newcastle’s Ouseburn?
After more than 10 years of planning, development and fundraising, founders Elizabeth Hammill and Mary Briggs looked on in the summer of 2005 as best-selling author Jacqueline Wilson cut the ribbon on the converted warehouse, dedicated to the celebration and preservation of children’s literature.
Supported by a who’s who of the genre (Jacqueline Wilson, Eva Ibbotson, Phillip Pullman, J K Rowling, David Almond, Michael Rosen, and illustrators Quentin Blake and Nick Sharratt are but a few), its exhibitions and activities, stunning archive, bookshop and cafe have combined to make it a must for book lovers.
Recent and current exhibitions include The Tiger Who Came For Tea, There’s Nuffin like a Puffin and Green Drops and Moonsquirter, the first exhibition to bring Lauren Child’s books to life.
ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY @ NEWCASTLE THEATRE ROYAL
This partnership of more than three decades continues to pack ‘em in during RSC’s annual residency on Tyneside.
Since its inaugural season in 1977, which included Romeo and Juliet and The Comedy of Errors, a crowd of actors have trodden North East boards.
Sir Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Alan Bates, Francis de la Tour, Vanessa Redgrave, Lesley Phillips, Donald Sinden, Peggy Ashcroft, Kenneth Branagh, Ralph Fiennes, Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Ben Kingsley, Juliet Stevenson and Imogen Stubbs are among them. As well as plays – performed at the Theatre Royal and (in recent years) at Newcastle’s Northern Stage and Live Theatre – a participation programme ensures the impact of their presence is felt far and wide.
In 2010, a special project is set to be launched to ensure the Theatre Royal’s special relationship with Shakespeare will be remembered for decades.
After more than 60 years, the Tyneside Cinema on Newcastle’s Northumberland Street, has a special place in the hearts of many. It’s a trend which looks set to continue after a £7m overhaul and reopening in 2008. A refurbishment and extension offered the Tyneside a new auditorium, bar, coffee rooms, and a programme of courses.
THE JOURNAL CULTURE AWARDS
For the past four years, The Journal Culture Awards have honoured the best of the region’s cultural sector.
The Futureheads, Sarah Millican, Kathryn Tickell, Jon Bewley, Juice Festival, Picture House at Belsay, Katie Doherty, Richard Milward and Matt Stokes are all previous winners. Nominations for the 2010 event are already being solicited, visit www.journallive.co.uk/ cultureawards to find out more.