Ouseburn Open Studios 17th & 18th March; the ultimate Culture Vulture weekend.

One of my absolutely favourite weekends of the year, a true weekend full of Culture Vulturing, is Ouseburn Open Studios. It’s a weekend full to the brim of everything the Culture Vulture is all about – supporting and championing artists and independents, seeking out the unfound and hidden talent in the region, spending time in one of the creative hearts of the region, experiencing different artistic mediums and going into artist studios and creative spaces.

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Ouseburn Open Studios is a bi-annual event that takes place in March and November every year, and celebrates art, craft and design in the Ouseburn Valley and offers other culture vultures a rare insight into the working world of artists and designer-makers. It all started modestly in 1995 with a few artists from 36 Lime Street opening their studio doors; over the years, Ouseburn Open Studios has grown and grown and now is one of the highlights of the cultural calendar; showcasing the work of more than 100 artists, designers and makers working across the Ouseburn Valley.

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One of the many creative delights in Ouseburn Valley

This year, Ouseburn Open Studios returns on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 March – 10am-5pm offering a unique insight into the working world of artists and designer-makers whilst signalling the start of the new Spring creative season with venues and artists taking the opportunity to announce new projects, new product lines, workshop programmes and events.

This Ouseburn Open Studios, five venues from across the Ouseburn Valley – located a short 15-mnute walk from Newcastle city centre – are taking part in this spring’s event including: The Biscuit Factory, Kiln, Northern Print, Jim Edwards Studio and 36 Lime Street.  Ouseburn Open Studios is open to the public and is free to attend.

I was recently invited to meet project coordinator and general manager of The Biscuit Factory, Rachel Brown, to find out more about the 2018’s Spring Open Studios.

Rachel Brown said: “The spring event has a laidback vibe, and being smaller in scale means that visitors can take their time to explore the different venues. Whether that’s discovering the freshest of work being created from within the studios, enjoying a newly launched exhibition, dropping in to a demonstration or booking into a workshop. It means that visitors can personalise what they want out of the weekend.”

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Handy map of venues

So, for 2018, the spring programme includes:

  • The Biscuit Factory – Inspired by International Women’s Day, the gallery is spotlighting inspirational women in the creative sectors with a weekend that celebrates local female entrepreneurship with pop ups, workshops, demonstrations and open discussions. How absolutely up my street is that!?
  • Kiln – The workshop and kitchen welcomes back its monster making drop-ins; get to grips with clay and make whatever comes to your imagination.
  • Northern Print – The gallery will showcase the work of Japanese artist Katsutoshi Yuasa. Using Mokuhanga – the traditional Japanese woodcut process – his work reflects on photographic and digital images and the time spent in making these hand carved works. And as always, I’m sure there will be print making opportunities for people to have a go at!
  • Jim Edwards – Jim will showcase his new collection of large Nightscape biro drawings of the River Tyne, reminiscent of his sketchbook work. As always Jim will be lurking in his creative workspace and on hand to chat about his working practice.
  • 36 Lime Street – 22 artists and makers will open their spaces over all five levels of this listed building. The theme in the street level gallery is Change, inspired by the centenary of the first votes for women. Visitors can also buy raffle tickets to raise money for building works: covetable miniature prints designed by members and printed by Lee Turner of Hole Editions. I’m building up quite the collection of these raffle tickets! Hannah Scully ones are always beauts!

As always the line up above is amazing but if that’s not enough to persuade you to visit, well I thought I’d gather my top hints, tips and reasons why you HAVE to visit.

  1. You can go inside artist studios.

This is one of my favourite elements of Open Studios. Every single studio is so different and individualistic and they open their doors to the wider public. It’s an opportunity to see works in progress, watch demonstrations, view and take in their work, find out how they make things and about future projects alongside being able to buy lots of lush pieces, prints and cards.

I spend ages just lurking and pottering about – going from studio to studio. For me, it’s a great opportunity to meet new artists and catch up with Culture Vulture favourites. I love hearing about what artists are up to, what commissions they are working on and their creative journey and inspiration.

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  1. It’s a lush opportunity to visit a new venue or space.

Even if you’re an Ouseburn Open Studios regular, as artists are always evolving, moving on, moving in and spaces in the Ouseburn are converted and transformed, there is always something new to see, discover and experience. It provides a great opportunity to finally visit a venue or independent, that you’ve been meaning to but haven’t got round to yet.

I’m super looking forward to FINALLY going to The Kiln; yes can you believe that I’ve not properly been yet? Every time, I try to visit it’s either too full or closing (I swear it’s a conspiracy) so I am making it my firm priority to go and really looking forward to it.

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The Kiln – Ouseburn

  1. It’s ace for boozy Culture Vulturing and supporting independents.

We all know I’m a big fan of the #SundayClub and Ouseburn Open Studios is perfect for this. I love going with a friend, planning a lush lunch somewhere (often Ernest) plotting our route, visiting the galleries and venues, and stopping off on the way at many of the independent bars for a drink. As you can imagine, the more stop offs, the bigger the purchases get…..one minute I’m buying some nice print cards, the next a small print, then a chopping board and suddenly I’m putting a deposit on a coffee table commission. It can be a beautiful blur.

And that’s also the beauty of Ouseburn Open Studios – there is a misconception that purchasing art is mega expensive and it’s really not. A lot of work and pieces are really affordable alongside pieces that I like to label “aspirational” – one day! Open Studios is like my version of walking around IKEA; I pretty much know exactly all the art pieces, the commissions and token creative bits that I want for my own house. My house will be full of bespoke pieces by independents, full of colour and total mis-match – representative of my personality.

The Biscuit Factory and in many of the individual studios, there are often a wider selection of bespoke gifts, prints, cards created by artists and creatives etc – by purchasing those, you’re equally supporting independents and creatives and they are super affordable . Last Christmas, every card I sent was from the last Ouseburn Open Studios – each very different, lush and unique. I like the idea of giving someone their own mini artwork.

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The Biscuit Factory

  1. Ouseburn Open Studios is super accessible.

If you’re a Culture Vulture, have a family of mini culture vultures, creatively curious or looking for an ace afternoon out with your friends, family or on your own (I often go it alone and love it!), then it’s absolutely for you. The vibe and atmosphere is amazing, everyone is always having a lush time so I always get chatting to people. As so many different types of artists are involved, you may go into one studio and think it’s not quite for you or to your taste, then walk into the next one and love it and so on. For me, I’m less about the florals and more about the abstract, or the graphic design, the colourful, the big and the bold, the obscure and the artistically intricate.

And for families, there is always lots to do too. Many of the venues or artists have child friendly activities for your mini culture vultures to have a go at. But the families that I watch going around, because each studio and space and space is so lush and different, for kids it’s like a new discovery behind every turn and they often can’t wait to show their grown-ups what they’ve just seen in another studio.

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  1. It feels like home.

My creative soul feels like it belongs in the creative quarter of Ouseburn. I love the industrial surroundings (not so much the student accommodation!), the graffiti, the lush independents, the vibe and the creativity that is going on all over the place. For me, it’s as much about the outside as it is the inside, taking in the river, popping along to the Tyne Bank Brewery, going to check on the little boat behind Seven Stories and seeing all the small pieces of public art hidden around.

However, true nostalgia and it wouldn’t be an Open Studios without it, is visiting Jim Edwards Gallery Space. You may remember I wrote a recent blog post on him – I’ve been a super fan for a while. I love his work, his depiction of Northern cultural scenes and his representations of views that we all know and love. I was also a super fan of Craig David Pubcat (if you know, you know!) and visiting Jim’s gallery is like a little homage and nod to his memory. I bliddy loved that cat and I love that Jim has captured Craig David in several scenes showing how much he was a part of the fabric of the cultural scene for many.

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Jim Edwards featuring CraigDavid Pubcat

  1. It’s not just about looking at things.

Lots of the artists and creatives put on demonstrations or continue their creative practice so you can watch whilst they are engaged in a new project or commission. There is a lot of opportunity to chat and ask questions. But many run drop in workshops across the day – which is a brilliant addition.

This year The Biscuit Factory is doing something a little bit special and very up my street to complement their brand new Spring exhibition (can’t wait to see it – I’ve avoided going so it’s all a lush surprise); they have several artists from the exhibition on hand to chat about their work – a meet the makers type of thing. They have also assembled a creative programme inspired by International Women’s Day with some of my fave female creatives and artists – including The Crafthood, All Round Creative Junkie, A Woven Plane, Trendlistr and Megan Randall (who I haven’t met in person yet – so yey!). If you want to find out more about the line-up well head on over to the facebook event page – as some activities and workshops have specific timings and charges.

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So I hope that’s enough to get you excited – I will be out culture vulturing across both days – so if you see me, make sure you say hello! I will also be popping my creative adventures on social via facebook, insta and twitter so if you want to follow that you can.

Facebook: @TheCultureVultureNE

Insta: @horts27

Twitter: @reettinker

For more information on Ouseburn Open Studios visit their website: http://www.ouseburnopenstudios.org

Until next time Culture Vultures!

All rise for Lady Kitt; subversive, perfectly ridiculous & immensely talented.

The whole point of International Women’s Day is to celebrate women, feminism, Northern lasses and champion women who rock your world. So for this year’s, International Women’s Day, I wanted to profile an artist and creative that I personally have loved from a far since I first became aware of her – her work, passion, innovative and interesting projects and commitment to creativity and  equality.

Well hello Lady Kitt…..total megababe. Kitt’s projects, work, events and her exciting ambitions are not only inspirational to the regional, National and Internation sector – but to me, she is someone  brave, bold, empowered and doing creative things that are truly exciting and making her mark in a thriving and vibing independent arts and cultural sector. She’s my kinda gal and I’m thrilled she accepted my invitation to be feature in this blog post.

BOOM – Happy International Women’s Day Lady Kitt – reet so let’s start at the beginning; tell me about you and your extremely diverse practice?

Hi, I’m Kitt- I’m a…. “Maker”. I guess that best sums it up. Art, jokes, food, quite a lots of mess, and, with my lovely husband Andy, a couple of super little humans. It’s all making really isn’t it?!

It’s funny – the diverse practice thing, I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot recently. I reckon the tools I use are quite diverse- there’s research, paper cutting, mass bubble blowing, fruit carving, performance, lectures, projects, … but really, the core of my work has always pretty much been the same- it’s all about delving into, developing, celebrating the social aspects of creativity.

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Everyone has a different journey into the Arts; what was your journey into the arts?

I’m not massively into the idea that people are “born” to certain things; but looking at my early life it’s easy to link it to my practice now. I was brought up in a creative family. I grew up with my wonderful younger brother Louise who was severely disabled and terminally ill. He was an amazing artist and seeing the pleasure and power he experienced through being creative has had a huge influence on how I see art and why I think it’s important. I was taught at home until I was 14 – so had a good amount of time to focus on being creative and lots of time to spend with one of the most important people in my life- my sister, Bridie. Our relationship and creative adventures together are big, big part of almost everything I do.

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I’ve always made physical stuff- embroidery, nests, paper cuts- but for a long time I didn’t think I was an artist. I started off wanting to be a dancer. I trained in the Indian dance/drama discipline Bharata Natyam for six years and was taught contemporary dance by the completely awesome Trish Winters. It was through Trish that I started to experience some really playful ways of using and presenting performance. During my art foundation degree, I started making work that combined performance, working with community groups and making stuff all at once. But it wasn’t until I was at university that I really discovered live art and artists with a ‘social practice’ and then I was like- yes- that’s me- I have a gang!

Lady Kitt is an amazing artist name  – I love it!

Name wise-when I was coming up to my 21st birthday- my parents were talking about what to give me as a birthday present. I’ve always been a Republican (in the anti-monarchy sense), really disliking the idea of being subjugated, inherited titles and all that gubbins, so they offered to change my first name by Deed Poll to “Lady”, as a daft, subversive, two fingers up the whole system. I loved it – it’s such a cheeky gift- so we did all the paper work and everything- sent it off, but it was rejected – on the grounds that I was trying to “assume a title”- which is sort of pleasingly ironic. I thought “fuck it- I’ll just call myself Lady Kitt and I’ll keep doing it until everyone else does too” and that’s what I’ve done.

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You have a very strong visual identity within your work and expression of yourself as an artist – how did you develop this?

It’s really interesting that you say I have a strong visual identity; looking at it objectively I can see what you mean, but that’s definitely not how I experience it myself. For me, I have a strong methodological process, and some very definite ideas about making art in inclusive, ethical ways.

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I’ve developed my process by pretty much by throwing myself in at the deep end and seeing what happens. I don’t ever really think “this is too ridiculous” (although it nearly always is). I think “how can I do this so it genuinely, clearly says something I’m interested in” or “how can I get lots of people involved and change something we all want to change” or “how can this be the most fun possible?”.

Like with the first Nasty Women exhibition last year- I just thought “this is really important, I want people in the North East to have an opportunity to be part of this. I want an opportunity to be part of this”. I didn’t think “Bugger we can’t do this- we’ve got no money, no infrastructure, no gallery, no clue”- which was all true! So yup, that’s how I develop the process…

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But visually, with the sort of “end product” – I don’t consider myself to have a very coherent style or visual language- I just make the next thing that I feel compelled to make, without ever thinking does it look like something I’ve done before- will it “fit in” with my existing body of work? Maybe it’s because the physical objects I make aren’t really the “end product” to me- to me they are a tool for getting to the goal- which could be raising awareness, building a community, changing a policy, having a good time.

I love your ethos of experimentation, challenging creative roles and processes – where does your creative playfulness come from?

Thank you! I like to see people reacting to things in curious, inquisitive, ways and I like to create situations that let people do that. So some of it comes from that- basically it just makes me happy!

It‘s fun for me to invite people to apply to be my muse (like it’s a formal job), or to encourage people to use my head as an art gallery or to make a performance where the content is authored by viewers sending me text messages telling me what to do. So that’s part of it- And some of it is more philosophical. People are creative- making things in a (generally!) thoughtful way is one of the things that makes us Human.

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Often people don’t get (or give themselves) opportunities to enjoy that- I want to create situations that encourage people to make physical stuff, make decisions and think about / celebrate the importance of being creative. I also hate all the hierarchical “hi/ low brow art” crap. I think it’s detrimental to individuals and to society. People thinking that they are not creative or not creative in the “right way” stops them from developing vital skills.

Making stuff gives people agency- it’s a chance to physically encounter change. Making in groups is like apes grooming- it’s social glue. When people start being creative together they almost instantly create a little community that has its own culture and rules- just like that, out of nothing, it’s like magic. Once people do that and know that they can do that then, they often start to explore other wider things that they can create and change. A community full of people who feel empowered in that way can be supportive, kind, resilient. Elitist ideas of what is art and who is an artist just stop all that dead. Sorry, I could go on about this for EVER.

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It’s great to be able to showcase you, on International Women’s Day….. what does being a female artist in 2018 mean? What does it mean to you?

Wow- well, I’m extraordinarily lucky. For me being a female artist in 2018 (in the UK), means freedom. I’m free to say what I want to say in the way I want to say it. A few people might think I’m idiotic, a lot of people will question me (and so they should) – but no one can stop me. Being a female artist in other places in 2018 doesn’t mean freedom, it can mean absolutely the opposite. And being a female, or a being queer, or being an activist can still mean torture and death. For me, knowing this and campaigning to change it, is a very important part of being a female artist and of being a Nasty Woman.

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How do you plan to mark it this week and #pressforprogress?

Again I’m so lucky. This year I have work in 4 exhibitions all over the UK all opening on Thurs 8th. I’ll be in London performing at the Creative Debuts and Nasty Women “Empowerment” exhibition along with a group of bloody amazing Nasty Women from all over the world.

We are also launching the Nasty Women International Art Prize this week. The aim of the prize is to: Recognise and reward Nastiness in art and activism. Prizes include an Artist residency, money and opportunities to show work in UK, USA & Holland.

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Last year hundreds of artists from all over the world gave their time and work to Nasty Women events- the generosity was overwhelming. It’s estimated that the movement has raised half a million dollars for Planned Parenthood and other women’s & LGBTQ+ charities so far. This year Nasty Women organisers wanted to create an opportunity to celebrate those artists and an art prize seemed like a good choice! The judging panel consists of 12 Artists, curators, gallerists & activists from around the world including:

Carolina Wheat & Liz Nielsen from Elijah Wheat Showroom, New York (USA), artist and co-founder of NW Amsterdam Airco Caravan (NL), Curator & NW North East Co-founder Michaela Wetherell and me!, to name just a few. There’s so much to say I don’t really know where to start, but we’d love it if lots of North East based artist entered! Anyone who is interested can check out here.

Do you have a female artist that you’re inspired by?

So many, but not just women, not just artists… all sorts of everyone. Me and my sister just went to see Bryony Kimmings “a pacifist’s guide to the war on cancer”; it was so funny and thoughtful and generous and utterly devastating, but in a really cathartic way.

I’ve just read Scottee’s play “Bravado”- it’s had a big impact on me, I’m making a lot of work about toxic masculinity at the moment and he’s perspective as a “sheep in wolves clothing in the world of men” is very shocking and inspiring.

Betsy Greer- the mother of Craftivism!

Nasty Women North East co-founders Michaela W and Aly Smith.

Venus di Milo- a Newcastle based performer who describes herself as “just a drag queen with no arms”.

Leeanne and Gareth at Thought Foundation in Gateshead– running a stunning, creative business whilst bring up two small children….

The world is full of bloomin’ fantastic, inspiring and very Nasty (in the nicest possible way) people.

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Tell me about Nasty Women?

Nasty Women is a global art and activism movement started by New York based artist Roxanne Jackson in Nov 2016 just after the election of Donald Trump. It is pro equality and anti-Trump. There have been Nasty Women events all over the world, raising money for and awareness of women’s and LGBTQ+ rights charities and organisations.

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What is a “Nasty Woman”?

The Nasty Women North East’s definition is:

Anyone!!! It is not necessary to identify a women or an artist

  1. Believing in equality and wanting to protect human rights (in particular women’s rights)
  2. Believing that art (in the broadest sense of the word- poetry, dance, drag, music, knitting etc) can be used to help increase equality and protect human rights
  3. Being happy to welcome and support others who also want to do these things…..

If this sounds like you, then as far as we are concerned you are Nasty- Hurrah!!!

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Will there be another Nasty Women conference in 2018?

I’m not sure- we won’t be organising one because we’re busy with the art prize and creating a feminist art magazine for children under 10! Also, if there was another I don’t think the same group should organise it -as a big part of the movement is about understand other people’s perspectives and doing things in a way that suits your own setting, so if there is another one I hope it’s somewhere completely different. I hope another group do organise one because I’d LOVE to go to it!

That sounds like a something, the Culture Vulture would be interested in…..how can I, and other potential Nasty Women, get involved?

People can get involved in a huge variety of ways- it’s a totally grass roots, DIY movement, you don’t need permission or any kind of initiation! So you can have an exhibition in your garage and invite your mam and 5 friends and raise money for a local women’s charity.

You can send your art work to one of the many NW shows going on around the world- these are listed in the USA website , you can submit work to the Nasty Women International Art Prize & you can volunteer to help a local Nasty women group

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You can also call out inequality and gendered idiocy when you see and experience it, you can tell children you know that they are thoughtful and strong and funny and creative and fierce and fabulous regardless of their gender. You can listen, really listen to the next person who says something sexiest because being Nasty is about being open minded, it’s about understanding perspectives that are not your own and looking for long term solutions.

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But ok – we are kindreds…..but let’s get back to you – Lady Kitt; what projects do you have planned?

I’m focussing on my projects “Worth”, “King Kitt” and the “Making Manifesto”.

Throughout 2018, to coincide with the centenary of (some) women’s right to vote in the UK, I am making a series of works called the “worth” portraits- inspired, in part, by Caroline Criado-Perez’s campaign to have Jane Austin’s image on the Bank of Engalnd 10 pound note. When that campaign was going on I was horrified by the abuse (including death threats) Criado-Perez received for wanting to celebrate the achievements of women in the same way the achievements of many men have been celebrated for years. The works are portraits of amazing women made by cutting love heart shapes from real £50 notes, each one depicts a woman who I feel needs celebrating. I am always on the lookout for new subjects, so if you know a wonderful women who needs celebrating please get in touch!

I’m also hoping to sleep quite a lot after next week as that’s something that’s been a bit neglected of late….

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What does being a feminist/megababe mean to you?

For me being a feminist is not just about women’s rights- it is about equal rights for everyone. The “King Kitt” series of works are about toxic masculinity- which I feel creates a series of circumstances that can make men comically manly, dangerously macho and devastatingly vulnerable. According to the Office for National Statistics- of the 5,965 suicides registered in the UK in 2016, a total of 4,508 were male and 1,457 were female. More equality will, hopefully, create a society where shocking statistics like that can become historical records, not lived realities.

The Making Manifesto is a research project based at Byker Community Centre about the benefits of community making. It involves a lot of the stuff I’ve ranted about earlier- hi art elitism and Making physical things and giving people agency!

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Wow – ok so for me as The Culture Vulture- I feel so inspired – this entire interview has given me a kick to be more Nasty, to be more experimental and to seriously consider doing something North East Nasty Women Conference related.

Big love and happy International Women’s Day Culture Vultures.