Plan for 15-year North East culture vision unveiled

Leaders of a new North East Culture Partnership have spoken of their optimism and recent successes

Gateshead Quayside, The Baltic and The Sage
Gateshead Quayside, The Baltic and The Sage

A new 15-year vision for culture in the North East is taking shape and should be ready for unveiling early next year.

This was the message from the co-chairs of the North East Culture Partnership (NECP) at a meeting yesterday to report on developments since the organisation was set up a year ago.

“We have made some good progress,” said John Mowbray, formerly of Northumbrian Water, at a meeting at Baltic in Gateshead.

He reminded an audience of councillors, business executives and cultural leaders that The Case for Capital, a document unveiled in 1995, had set out what investment was needed to make culture-led regeneration happen.

“It was very short and to the point, very ambitious and very exciting. A lot of the things that were in it have happened,” said Mr Mowbray.

He said the idea behind NECP was that momentum shouldn’t be lost after The Case for Capital had delivered more than £200m of investment in the region’s cultural infrastructure, giving rise to facilities including Baltic and Sage Gateshead.

He said: “When the partnership started there were a few things we wanted to do.

“We wanted to make sure local authorities, cultural organisations and businesses were all linked together in terms of talking about culture and what it can offer.

“We thought there was work to be done in terms of communicating with each other and planning. Beyond that, we weren’t really sure where we were going.”

Since then a series of working groups had been set up with a view to unveiling a new cultural vision, a successor to The Case for Capital, early in 2015.

The Case for Culture would be “another ambitious 15-year plan for what’s going to happen in this great region,” Mr Mowbray said.

He said Ros Rigby, performance programme director at Sage Gateshead, was leading the working group charged with shaping the vision for the future.

“We want to deliver a bold, simple idea that all sorts of people, organisations and artists can get behind,” he said.

Co-chair David Budd, a Middlesbrough councillor, said there was a sense that while there had been major cultural developments over the past 20 years, resulting in strong foundations on which to build, the journey was only half done.

“For instance,” he said, “there is huge growth potential within the creative industry sector which already homes significant businesses across Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland.”

The region’s 12 local authorities have backed the NECP and John Mowbray said the importance of culture had now been acknowledged by the North East and Tees Valley local enterprise partnerships.

“This time last year culture wasn’t even on their agenda,” he said. “It is now.”

He said the NECP had also been invited to address a House of Commons select committee following the report Rebalancing our Cultural Capital which argues for more equitable public spending on culture between London and the regions.

North East-based Peter Stark, one of the document’s three authors, was also behind The Case for Capital.

Other NECP groups are focusing on engaging more businesses in culture, developing the role of universities and maximising the appeal and effect of the many popular festivals and major events that take place across the North East.

One new initiative is to get 100 businesses across the region collaborating with 100 artists.

Mr Mowbray said the annual conference of Culture Action Europe, taking place in Newcastle and Gateshead from October 9-11, represented a major opportunity.

“It’s a really big international conference with big players coming who we can talk to about what’s happening in this region,” he said.

The non profit-making organisation is dedicated to putting culture at the heart of public debate and decision-making.

NECP, which has a 24-strong board, is also campaigning for new funding and more regional influence over funding decisions as an important part of the region’s development.

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