UNDER threat arts group Amber has been honoured by Unesco for its outstanding cultural contribution to the country by capturing the often ignored aspects of everyday life in the North East.
The work of the Amber film and photography collective, currently waging a campaign to regain Arts Council funding, is recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
The films made by Newcastle-based Amber over 40 years, along with the work of photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, are among 20 items and collections chosen to represent the outstanding but lesser-known heritage of the UK.
They will be added to the Unesco UK Memory of the World Register, an online catalogue created to help promote the country’s documentary heritage across the world.
Amber was founded in the late 1960s when a group of film school graduates set up a base on Newcastle Quayside to document the passing of a way of life.
Through photography and film they documented the decline of heavy industry and the effects on the lives of North East communities.
Finnish photographer Sirkka-Liisa Kontinnen, a founder member of Amber, started taking photographs of old Byker in Newcastle’s East End, building up a valuable visual record of now vanished terraced streets and the people who lived there.
Having kept in touch with developments in Byker, as is the Amber way, she later photographed the residents of new Byker centred on the Byker Wall housing development.
The work of Amber, including 22 films and 11 bodies of photographic work, has been chosen by Unesco along with items including the death warrant of King Charles I held in the Parliamentary Archives; the Jersey Occupation Archive, recording the Nazi occupation during World War Two; the archive of the Wedgewood Museum, detailing the history of the distinctive crockery; and the archive of the Children’s Society, detailing childcare practice from Victorian times onwards.
Sirkka-Liisa Kontinnen, who lives in Whitley Bay, said: “This means a lot to us. It recognises the cultural significance of our endeavours and celebrates the richness and the importance of the lives the work has documented over the years.”
In March the Amber collective learned that their Side Gallery, dedicated to documentary photography, had not been included on the Arts Council’s new National Portfolio of organisations which will receive regular funding after April next year.
Previously a regular recipient of Arts Council funding, having received £58,000 this year, the Amber collective have argued that the decision jeopardises their future.
An online petition has garnered 2,000 signatures and last week a House of Commons early day motion laid down by North East MPs including Easington’s Grahame Morris and Catherine McKinnell, of Newcastle North, called on the Arts Council to review its decision.
Ms Konttinen said the acknowledgement by Unesco “shows the value of a practice that is long term, committed and on-going”.
She added: “I simply would not have been able to make my work without the context that Amber and Side Gallery provide”.
David Dawson, chair of the UK Memory of the World Committee, said: “We were incredibly impressed by the diversity and richness of these nominations to the register.
“These are some of the UK’s exceptional but lesser-known documentary riches.
“By awarding them with the globally-recognised Unesco Memory of the World status we hope to elevate them to the world stage.”
Details of all the selected items and collections can be seen on www.unesco.org.uk/ukregister