Are you ready to get Curious?

So this Summer is all about celebrating the North, creativity, innovation and lushness in the region.  I’m really excited for a Summer full of culture vulturing.

Starting on the 1st July running until 8th July across Gateshead, Newcastle and Teeside is Curious Arts Festival run by one of my favourite humans (and rapidly becoming one of my best friends) Phil Douglas. It’s an explosion, exploration, celebration of LGBTQ through creative and cultural exhibitions, happenings, pop ups, events and performances. I am so excited for a week long of Curious queering the region! You can check out the full programme here – you can nab your tickets here. There are things for you, things for me, for young people, for families (well hello Rainbow rave with Chalk)….

My love for Curious (which is so much more than just a festival; they run ongoing projects through the year) is never ending – they are doing something so special and innovative in the region. It’s no surprise that Arts Council on a recent visit to the region, were blown away by Curious and their work.

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So as the Culture Vulture, I love Curious Festival because….. this is turning into a bit like a  fangirling blog post….

  1. The quality of cultural programming is just amazing – so many diverse cultural experiences and some celebratory party vibes. I’m really excited for the theatre performances this year.
  2. It provides a platform of creatives, artists, venues and performers in the region – that you wouldn’t necessarily see elsewhere. It really champions that firstly, creatives are just made to creative irrespective of anything else. Secondly, that LGBTQ culture is so much more than certain stereotypes.
  3. Part of the core philosophy of Curious Festival is the mantra “Life is for dressing up, not down”…. I take that as such an empowering phrase and ethos; encouraging self-expression and to be proud of your identity and differences. As someone whose wardrobe is full of self-expression – I love this core value.
  4. It’s supposed to challenge you – all that they ask is that you go in with an open mind. Through Curious (and I consider myself the most open minded person and educated in LGBTQ), I’ve learnt so much about the history, the culture, current issues in the wider community and society and the importance of self-identity. Curious doesn’t hide away from these topics – it celebrates them and explores them in creative ways.
  5. People can find a place….. in a world obsessed with labels around sexuality, gender and identity – within Curious and the Curious community labels are important to those who find them important to them personally and not important for those who don’t need them. I used to be so disengaged by labels and the celebration within society and pride festivals of particular labels and the fact, that if you didn’t feel that way – then you didn’t support the community. I’m really fluid in my sexuality – gender is irrelevant to me. Through Curious, I found a real self-acceptance of that.
  6. It’s a positive celebration – from the vibe, to the people, the events and the happenings…. It’s just a wonderful thing to be a part of.

So I’ve told you a bit about what Curious Festival means to me…. And I really hope you attend something across the festival – or if you’re a super fan like me, then you can attend something every day and evening. Now it’s time to hear from Phil Douglas from Curious to hear the real low down on 2018’s festival programme….

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Hi Phil, for my readers, tell me who you are?

Phil Douglas – Artistic Director and Producer of Curious Arts; it was also my idea so maybe founder? But they all sound a bit fancy.

We love a fancy title and you’ve earned it with your amazing work! So tell me about Curious?

Curious Arts is an arts organisation set up to explore and celebrate LGBTQ culture in the North East. Our flagship activity is an annual festival but we do projects and hold events and performances year round.

Let’s start at the beginning…. Where did Curious begin?

After a good 9 years working in arts and culture in local authorities, running LGBTQ bars and social events in Teesside…. I moved to Gateshead in 2015. I started looking for LGBTQ Arts activity in the North East from workshops, films, shows, exhibitions and I quickly found a real opportunity to help promote what was already happening – which actually wasn’t that much.  I then started to develop more opportunities for artists and audiences in the region.

Tell me about Curious Team?

We are a tiny, not for profit, based in Gateshead and are mad about celebrating and exploring LGBTQ Culture and The North East’s LGBTQ Culture. We bring in some nationally significant artists to the region for audiences to enjoy and experience but we are absolutely championing home grown talent too.

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Curious Festival is in the third year how has it grown year on year?

It has grown really quickly; we can barely keep up!  We have to thank Breeze Creatives and Baltic for giving our first festival a home and Dance City have been a constant champion too! From then to now we have some incredible long term partners such as ARC in Stockton and Northern Stage who recently appointed us as an associate company.. it’s really exciting stuff.

But on a serious note – one of the conditions of working with us is that you cannot be a tokenistic engagement. People are queer all year round, not just during pride season or Curious and we are pushing for representation of LGBTQ life in the Cultural offer of the region year round. So we have seen partner organisations get involved and stay involved.

I think that is such an important condition – so 2018….What are your aspirations for this year’s festival?

This year we just hope to survive ha! This is a huge festival and project for such a tiny team of volunteers and project funded team. Please hug one of them if you see them! Everyone is working above and beyond to realise the Curious 2018 programme.

We have so many different activities in so many different venues and no budget for Uber’s!  We have an exciting Autumn programme and already have ideas for next year too! It’s a lot but we are driven by passion and the support of those around us.

If I’m someone who hasn’t been to Curious Festival before – what can I expect?

A really vibrant, friendly feel, we have audiences who engage in the arts, the LGBTQ scene, the community sector, academics and students. Everyone is mixing in a shared space…. They are all curious folk.

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I’m ready to get curious….Ok make some recommendations…

  1. I want to do some mega dancing and throw some shapes – what do you suggest?

If you have little people then the Rainbow Rave with Chalk at Seven Stories on Saturday 7th July! If you don’t well steal a child! Joking! or if you can get a sitter then it’s the Vogue Ball on Saturday 7th July – you can Vogue the night away!

  1. I want to get involved in debate and hear some interesting discussion?

We have a young peoples’ talk on Sunday 1st July exploring gender, a talk about all things Drag in the region on Monday 2nd July and also the Slate is Curious Panel discussion on Tuesday 3rd July sounds pretty interesting!

  1. I want to dress up? Properly dress up, not down!

Head to Seven Stories for the dress up box all week – opportunity to play with their gender stereotype busting costume bag and celebrate your identity with some curious colourful crafts….. Or you can get married in the inflatable Church of Love in Baltic Square on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th July. There will be a wedding dress or two and suits for you to wear if you want to get married…..

  1. Theatre is my thing….I want to see and experience some amazing theatre?

Alphabetti is the answer with two specially commissioned shows – Iconography by Zoe Murtagh and Dietrich: Natural Duty by Peter Groom on Wednesday 4th – Thursday 5th July. We’ve also got a scratch night on Friday 6th July with some of the regions up and coming talent (including Culture Vulture faves Beth O’Doherty and Jon Lue Mckie) and of course, the unmissable Becoming Scheherazade on Saturday 7th July!

If you are in the Tees Valley check out our shows at ARC and Middlesbrough Theatre.

  1. I’ve got mini Culture Vultures to entertain– any suggestions?

Drag Story Time is a must on Sunday 8th July at Seven Stories – Northern Drag Artists Ben and Gladys will be sharing their favourite stories…. if that sells out there is the studio take over too on Saturday 7th July – you can bring your minis to make a piece of wearable art!

  1. What if I want to push the boundaries?

MUM at Alphabetti Theatre is the one – it’s all about the things unsaid in families…..beautiful and poignant.

  1. I really want to learn something new?

The Pop up Gallery / Festival hub is open for the whole festival from Monday 2nd July at 6pm (check website for times). Interesting artists with thought provoking work including Carla B Turner, gobscure, Ida4 and neon maker Stuart Langely with his HIV/Aids awareness light installation as part of the 36point7 tour.

  1. I want to explore gender norms?

We don’t love the word norm /normal.

Ok…badly phrased….I mean wider societal gender labels and everything in between….

The whole festival… get curious!

I’ve been to a few Curious events now and the vibe and community feel is extremely special – I feel a lush sense of belonging at your events, especially as someone who doesn’t identify with labels….. Curious is more than a festival – feels like a movement….. how would you describe the Curious vibe?

It’s a queer space and everyone is welcome, takes their space and has permission to be curious. Everyone is supportive and championing of each other and respects that people are sharing or dealing with sensitive and sometimes personal issues which arise in the themes of the work.

I’m head over heels with MuthaTucka…. How did you meet? Can I borrow their wardrobe? Can they give me lessons of how to walk in heels? Their appearance is a work of art…. I just love it. Lots of self-expression, visual and costume art all with a hint of tongue and cheek naughtiness…..

Mutha Tucka. They are a cracker! One of the growing number of creatives on the LGBTQ scene who have really embraced themselves as an artist. There are some incredibly talented costume, make up and performance artists on the “gay” scene but they are under championed or do not know their talent and some can be seen selling shots around the scene, which there is nothing wrong with, but they can be so much more too!

I met Mutha many years ago before they were Mutha, they ran their own alternative LGBTQ night and I went down to take photos and interview Mutha for a magazine I used to run – OutNorthEast.

Tell me about the Inflatable Church of Love – I got married to one of my besties at Bestival so really excited to do it again? I haven’t decided who/what I might marry….

Love is genderless and takes many forms… so get to Baltic Square and marry your mate, lover, dog, bike or a random stranger.

Curious is more than just the festival – so let’s think post festival – what’s next?

We have a really exciting programme in Autumn with three events we are hoping to announce in the coming weeks.  All the more reason to get on our mailing list and following our social.

Could a Curious and Culture Vulture creative mash up project be on the cards? (yes please!)

Sounds like a date! Let’s pop some time in to hatch a plan and blow the socks some folk. Thanks for being a Curious champion…

Well folks you heard it here first – there is a potential Culture Vulture and Curious Arts collab on the cards.

I’m so excited for this year’s Curious Festival – check out the programme and get looking and booking.

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