Putting artists in the picture

Gateshead has the Angel, Baltic and The Sage and, as conspicuous symbols of renaissance, they could hardly be bettered.

Gateshead has the Angel, Baltic and The Sage and, as conspicuous symbols of renaissance, they could hardly be bettered.

The go-ahead borough has defied the sceptics over the years to become a shining example of culture-led regeneration.

But this could be just the beginning.

On January 31, there is to be a gathering of creative brains at Baltic, in what Gateshead photographer Corinne Lewis is calling an Arts Cluster.

She is calling on artists, writers, sculptors and all creative professionals in the borough to register for the Arts Cluster and meet people who might be able to help them: representatives of the council and various funding bodies and also people similar to themselves.

Corinne believes there are lots of creative people in Gateshead who could do with, at least, a bit of networking and, at most, a place to call their own.

"We've got a lady who is setting up a theatre company and she needs space to rehearse," says Corinne. "We also have lots of artists who would like studios to work in. What we would really love to see is a mini-Ouseburn in Gateshead."

With the blessing of Newcastle City Council and some funding, the Ouseburn Valley in Byker is emerging as a busy cultural quarter.

Corinne featured in The Journal just over a year ago because of a project she initiated in the newly refurbished Saltwell Park, near her home.

She explained then how she had settled in Gateshead after moving from London in 1998 to study at Northumbria University. What the borough - or indeed the region - lacked, she said, was the kind of close-knit network of creative people she had found in Brighton, where she lived for 10 years before heading for London.

Rather than just complain about it, Corinne set about finding people of a like mind. With funding and moral support from Gateshead Council and Business Link, she and her new-found associates have set up the Arts Cluster day.

"The idea is that it will give creative people an opportunity to meet each other and to find out what kind of help might be available to them," explains Corinne.

"Gateshead Council has really given us a lot of support because it will also give them a sense of who is out there and what is going on.

"They believe it will benefit the area if creative people are attracted to the area and can be encouraged to stay, and they support the idea of a network which will help that to happen."

While Gateshead has an arts association and lots of well-documented theatre and arts groups, Corinne believes people working at home - sole traders - can find it a lonely place to be. "There are lots of people beavering away out there but not everybody knows about them," she suggests.

Corinne believes - and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support it - that many more creative people, such as artists and actors, are moving to Gateshead because property prices are cheaper there than in many parts of Newcastle.

Moreover, the borough's image has been boosted by its world class arts facilities, while the council is famously supportive of the arts. "It is quite enjoyable to be creative in Gateshead because of the level of support that we get," says Corinne.

"But there are still things that can be done to improve matters. Since leaving university I've missed the opportunity for debate, and a sense of isolation can stifle creativity. I think a lot of creative people thrive on regular contact with others."

The Arts Cluster session will take place on January 31 with a couple of two-hour sessions, one starting at 3pm and the other at 5pm. "The idea is that it will be quite informal," says Corinne. "There will be a crèche and some music."

Anyone who wants to take part should tel. (0191) 477-3747 or email creativegateshead@hotmail.co.uk

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