(#AD) What to do with 24hrs in Co.Durham….the choice is endless!

My partnership with #Durham2025 has been going down a storm – seems like you Culture Vultures are all cheering Co. Durham as a finalist in the running for UK City of Culture, just as much as I am. I’m so excited about what this could mean for the county, but regardless of win or lose, it has shone a light on the lush spaces, places, faces and happenings across Co. Durham. I have officially fallen back in love with Durham – it has so much to offer and if you haven’t visited for a while, well the Summer months are a perfect time to do just that.

The Culture Vulture at Bowes Museum // photo credit: Marion Botella

So, if you’re planning a day out or a staycation in Durham – I thought I’d pull together a little blog post to give you some inspiration and Culture Vulture suggestions of how I’d spend 24hrs in Durham.

The Culture Vulture at Gala Theatre enjoying the BFG exhibition // photo credit: Marion Botella

Durham has real energy about it at the moment and during my visits across the county, the best thing was the people (lush) and strong sense of community but it was also interesting to see whilst the infamous attractions, architecture, history and uniqueness remains, there have been some redevelopments, new buildings have popped up, creative communities thriving, art murals and areas of the County have had a bit of a glow up, whilst maintaining the character and integrity. Certainly feels like a new chapter for Co.Durham.

Durham City Centre // photo credit: Marion Botella

So where should you go on your visit to Co.Durham, I hear you ask, well I’d first suggest you check out my listicle posts – that might give you some inspiration as a starter for ten whilst you’re planning  your trip.

For Top Indies Durham City Centre click HERE

For Top Picks of Attractions to Visit click HERE

For My Review of Bowes Museum click HERE

For Top Picks of Places to East click HERE

For Top Picks of Summer 2022 events click HERE

For My Review of Ushaw Historic House, Chapels & Gardens click HERE

There are LOADS in those listicles – you could spend a week in Co.Durham exploring and enjoying using those.

The Culture Vulture in Durham City // photo credit: Marion Botella

My other suggestions and some of my go-to things to do when I visit Durham are:

#1 Take in a Riverside walk

I go to Durham to walk along the River Wear often in all the seasons – it’s beautiful, it’s pretty flat, I feel so relaxed and it’s like an oasis escape mentally during the hustle and bustle of the daily grind. I used to visit when I was younger and go walking with my Dad, lots of very happy memories.

The Culture Vulture walking along the riverside // photo credit: Marion Botella

#2 Hire a boat

Whilst you’re walking along the river, you may take inspiration from the rowers training and decide that you want to hire a boat yourself. I’ve certainly done that. This is a really fun way to spend some time with pals and partners – it’s only great as long as you share the rowing, as it gets tiring! I laughed so much last time I did this; my pal and I were gloriously TERRIBLE.

Durham Riverside // photo credit: Marion Botella

#3 Visit Durham Cathedral

I virtually think it’s a physical impossibility to visit the city centre and not go to Durham Cathedral. It just has to be done – I must have visited close to 100+ times and it never gets old. It’s beautiful and I thoroughly recommend booking a slot to climb the 325 steps up the central tower, I did that a few years back and loved it!

The Culture Vulture at Durham Cathedral // photo credit: Marion Botella

#4 Visit Durham Castle

Love a castle! The thing I love most about Durham Castle, is that students who live in the castle (yes you read that right), actually have to give public castle tours to tourists, as part of the agreement of living there. The tours are actually really good, tour guides hugely knowledgeable and it still makes me giggle thinking that those students have the biggest flex for life – “I lived in a castle once”.

Durham Castle // photo credit: Marion Botella

And if you’re thinking of staying overnight, there are two magnificent suites available to book and you can take breakfast in a medieval hall ahead of getting back to exploring the city.

Durham Castle // photo credit: Marion Botella

#5 Potter Around

Sounds like a cop out – but actually, it’s my favourite thing to do in Durham. Take in the streets, their character, enjoy the cobbles, seek out indie cafes and shops, look out onto the river from the bridges. There are 12 castles and historic houses in and around Durham, alongside many churches – so it’s just lovely and it’s such a special place.

The Culture Vulture Pottering in Durham // photo credit: Marion Botella

#6 Indoor Market

I really hate that we’ve knowledge down and got rid of so many markets across UK cities – it’s not only a fun way to shop and usually a treasure trove, but it’s also one of the most affordable way for small businesses to get their start. If you want to support small business or shop local, indoor markets are a great way to do it. And Durham Market Hall has such an eclectic mix of stalls and stands, I was in love with it.

The Culture Vulture in Durham Market Hall // photo credit: Marion Botella

#7 Palace Green Library

This is a brilliant gallery space, you folks know I’m a big art gallery lover, but I also love museums and this space seems a perfect combination of both. Every time I visit Palace Green Library, I learn so much (my most recent visit about the Romans!) and their exhibitions are always really well put together.

The Culture Vulture at Palace Green Library // photo credit: Marion Botella

#8 Head to Barnard Castle

It’s a lush market town in the Durham Dales –the type of town that makes you love living in the UK, like out of a film! It has a great selection of B&Bs, you’ve got Bowes Museum walking distance away from the market square, lots of indie shops and cafes and whilst you’re there, why not get a famous eye test!? Apparently people drive far and wide to Barnard Castle for them! Oh, and make sure you visit Ruby & D, it’s a lovely shop selling unique vintage items, interiors, art and more and Raby Castle isn’t too far away by car….

Bowes Museum // photo credit: Marion Botella

#9 Head to Bishop Auckland

Bishop is having a total revival – across my partnership with #Durham2025, I’ve met so many artist folks from Bishop, heard about creative projects in Bishop, folks recommending Bishop as an exciting bubbling hub of happenings. So of course, I’m all over it. The Auckland Project brings together several venues and attractions; history, grand house, galleries, gardens, museums, visitor’s centre and a tower, meaning that Bishop Auckland is a full-on day out.

Mining Art Gallery (part of Auckland Project) in Bishop Auckland

#10 Head to Seaham

I always forget that Co.Durham has a gorgeous world renowned coastline. Stretching 14km, the coastline is home to incredible views and the cliff-top harbour town of Seaham. This coastal town is has picturesque views, a lovely habour to walk along, seaside indies galore and tasty ice cream! People travel from all over to visit this beach and hunt for sea glass – there’s an abundance available with each tide thanks to Seaham being home to the UK’s largest bottle works between 1850-1921. And that’s not all, Seaham also has its very own food festival which this year is happening on 6th & 7th August; perfect excuse to visit for some lush scran by the sea!

Seaham beach and coast

#11 Old Cinema Launderette

It’s an iconic must visit culture vultures; by day it is a retro-chic, professional, family-run launderette, offering washing, ironing and dry-cleaning services to customers in and around the Durham area with a canny café! And by night, it’s one of the most unique and intimate music venues with a programme of live music and a bar. It’s just a beaut and has to be visited to be believed – so go visit The Old Cinema Launderette.

Old Cinema Laundrette gig

#12 Durham by Night

I’m often visiting Durham at night for events or to eat, and Durham at night is so magical. Everything you see in the day, just hits different at night – especially in the warmer nights, when you can enjoy a stroll through the city and stop at riverside bars with outdoor seating. If I’m staying over in Durham, I tend to stay at The Town House as a treat, it’s a beautiful boutique hotel, outdoor hot tub, yummy breakfast and I love the décor – very Instagrammable. And if you like Durham at night and lights, well keep an eye out for one of my favourite North-East events, Durham Lumiere – a light festival across Durham city centre with light art installations and projection. It happens every couple of years, so next one will be 2023 or 2024.

Durham Cathedral at night // photo credit: Marion Botella

Well then, that’s it – that’s your lot from me and all my suggestions! If you’re planning a visit to Co.Durham – This Is Durham is their tourism website and has lots of information on there so you can dig even deeper beyond my recommendations.

The Culture Vulture at Durham Cathedral // photo credit: Marion Botella

Durham. No Ordinary County.

Part of Culture Vulture x Durham 2025 campaign partnership.

Durham is now one of just four locations shortlisted to be UK City of Culture 2025; title announced late May.

Find out more & back the bid at Durham2025.co.uk

#Durham2025 #lovedurham

Interview with sand, ice, pumpkin sculptors and large scale artists Sand in your Eye

I’m busily supporting Enjoy Redcar & Cleveland // Redcar & Cleveland Council’s Christmas events programme – this is the second year in a row, I’ve supported this festival programme! Really loving working with them and most importantly, they are investing money into culture, which I LOVE.

The next headline event is this Saturday (11th December) in Redcar town centre – Redcar Ice trail; a winter walkabout wonderland a day of frosty fun, festive pop-up performances await, amazing ice sculptures by Sand In Your Eye along Redcar High Street and Esplanade and live ice carving.

I absolutely adore Sand In Your Eye – I first became aware of them when I worked on Pages of the Sea in 2018 and they created large scale sand illustrations of North East World War One veterans on Roker Beach and Redcar Beach. Pages of the Sea was a unique event to mark 100 years since Armistice and the end of the first world war. Across the UK and Ireland communities gathered on 32 beaches to say a collective thank you and goodbye to the millions who left their shores, many never to return. I was in awe at their creations and then went on to discover they created large scale land art, sand sculptures, ice sculptures and many things in between.

Credit: Sand in your Eye & Pages by the Sea – Photographer: Kevin Scott

Reconnecting on this Redcar Christmas event, I thought I’d take the opportunity to get to know Sand In Your Eye better and do a little Culture Vulture interview…..and I have MANY questions, like how does someone become a ice sculptor!?

So let’s go and do it…..

Hi there Sand In Your Eye….can you introduce yourself?

We are an arts company based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. We make ice sculptures, but we also make sand sculptures, land art, sand drawings and in October you can find us carving pumpkins.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Tell my fellow Culture Vultures about Sand in Your Eye – what is it and how did it start?

Sand In Your Eye started nearly 20 years ago, when our Director and lead artist Jamie Wardley was on holiday in Norway; he met a sand sculptor and was asked if he wanted to have a go! The answer was yes, and this began a career as a freelance sculptor working with sand and ice. Eventually Jamie started his own company and developed more ways of making art with lots of artists joining Sand In Your Eye, including Jamie’s wife Claire. We now work across the UK on events throughout the year. 

Credit: Sand in your Eye

What are you bringing to Redcar on 11th December? What can families expect to see by dropping in 10am-6pm on the day?

We are bringing a Christmas themed ice trail; people can explore Redcar town centre to look for them along Redcar High Street and Esplanade. Families can also write a letter to Santa and post it in our ice post box, watch live ice carving of Santa’s sleigh being made on Redcar High Street and also lots of walk about theatre and pop-up performance.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Tell us about your ice sculptures and sculpting ice?

Depending on how big the sculptures are, they can take between a day to nearly a week to make and we make them in a freezer in our studio. The big sculptures can last for a few days, but the smaller ones usually melt after a day. Ice is really fun to work with, but you have to use very sharp tools including chain saws so you have to be extremely careful!

Credit: Sand in your Eye

How does someone become an ice sculptor? What tends to be the career path?

There are lots of different ways of getting into ice sculpting; the Sand In Your Eye team include people who started off as artists, woodworkers, gardeners, designers and all sorts. The thing that unites them all is that when they were asked if they wanted to have a go – they said yes.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Your sand sculptures and sand drawings are amazing – can you tell me about a recent favourite?

We do a lot of work that is to do with the environment. In the last couple of years, we have made a sand drawing portrait of a girl from Ethiopia for WaterAid, a land art portrait of the activist Greta Thunberg, a climate emergency themed pumpkin trail, a sand sculpture of a turtle, and a personal project appealing to world leaders ahead of the COP26 climate conference to halt climate change which saw children and families helping to make a giant sand drawing and ice sculptures of children on a beach.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Can you tell me about your Pages of the Sea involvement and project?

We were contacted by 14-18NOW, the Imperial War Museum and the director Danny Boyle to coordinate and design Pages of the Sea, which commemorated the centenary of the end of the First World War and saw over 30 faces of servicemen and women who did not return to our shores appear on beaches around the UK (including one on the beach at Redcar) on the 11th of November 2018. It was a very moving, exciting and an important project to be a part of. We were thrilled that it won several awards, including the Sky Arts South Bank Visual Award.

Credit: Sand in your Eye & Pages of the Sea – Photographer – Mark Richards

Thoroughly deserved! Your pumpkin carvings are amazing – how long do they take to do?

Pumpkin carving can take anything from a few hours to a couple of days to make; we do a wide range of styles including 3D spooky and silly faces and more complex pumpkin etching. We do them for pumpkin festivals and trails as well as for companies for their Halloween social media. They can last for up to five days after they are carved.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

They are very Instagrammable….as is all your work! Your work and installations bring people together in public spaces, folx and families who may not engage with art in galleries– how does that feel? Is that an important element of Sand In Your Eye?

Yes, very much so. We love doing our workshops and showing people of all ages how to sand sculpt or carve pumpkins but our largescale artworks such as sand drawings and land art can also engage with communities and bring people together.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Do you have artists/sculptors that specialise with specific materials? Or do members of your teamwork with all of them?

Everybody has a go at making all the art – it’s a real team effort.

Tell us about the workshops you offer – they look really fun and such a unique offer?

We do workshops in most of our art forms; sand sculpture, pumpkin carving, ice sculpture and sand drawing. Most often children and families take part, but our workshops can be for all ages. We started off doing sand sculpture workshops on the beach, but we now have sand tables – this means we can bring the beach with us, wherever we go, and people can learn how to sand sculpt wherever we go. We’ve done sand sculpture workshops in towns and cities, shopping centres and even inside castles.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

What’s been your Sand In Your Eye 2021 highlight so far?

The COP26 sand drawing and ice sculpture project was a very personal one for us and it was great to involve so many children and families.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

What’s in store for 2022 – anything you can tell us about? 

It’s all top secret so far but there will be lots more sand art, land art, sculptures and pumpkins. People can follow us on social media to find out what we get up to. We are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. (All handles are @sandinyoureye).

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Well thank you Sand In Your Eye……..the images in the blog post kind of speak for themselves really – their work is just show stoppingly amazing! You can check out Sand In Your Eye – Ice Sculpture Trail this coming Saturday in Redcar Town Centre; perfect for families in Tees Valley! For full event Redcar Ice Trail listing visit HERE

Mulled wine, mistletoe and memory-making – speaking of memory making, there is a lot to look forward to across the towns of Redcar and Cleveland this year! For the full calendar of events visit HERE

Credit: Sand in your Eye

(#AD) Middlesbrough Art Weekender; an eclectic mix of creative, festival lushness happening across Middlesbrough until evening of 3rd October // Interview with MAW co-founder Liam Slevin.

I’ve got a pure culture vulturing weekend ahead – it’s time for Middlesbrough Art Weekender, 30th September – evening 3rd October. MAW is the North East’s biggest contemporary art festival and it’s taking over Middlesbrough for the next few days to serve a whole lot of art from homegrown Teesside talent and beyond. Attending a festival like this is a great way to support artists (supporting artists can be as simple as checking out their work!) and galleries and indie venues; alongside enjoying a real eclectic mix of creative lushness.

I’m heading to MAW on Saturday (2nd October) and a feast of more than 50 artists showcasing their work via exhibitions, installations, immersive experiences, performances, workshops and activities inspired by Middlesbrough’s industrial heritage across Middlesbrough awaits.  I will be sharing my experience across the day on my Instagram stories – so feel free to check them out via @theculturevulturene

After Warsama by Dominic from Luton
Image credit – Dawn McNamara

Middlesbrough Art Weekender is free to attend, family-friendly and accessible. The full programme is available at www.middlesbroughartweekender.com so you can get planning your visit – so if you’re in the North East of England, why not join me in some culture vulturing and visit too!? Top tip though, based on my previous year’s visit, I recommend plotting your route pre-visit so you can make the most of your time at MAW.

Ahead of my visit, I’ve had the pleasure of catching up with MAW festival co-founder, Liam Slevin, to get the full low down about it all and for some vulturing suggestions. I wanted to do this interview with Liam in 2019, so I’m thrilled it’s finally happened; so let’s get to it and hear from Liam.

TRANSMIT, TRANSFORM, TRANSLATE by Stephen Hurrel
Image credit – Stephen Hurrel

Hi Liam, can you introduce yourself for my fellow culture vultures, peers and pals?

Hi, my name is Liam Slevin; I am an artist-curator originally from Ireland and living on Teesside for just over 5 years now. In that time, I co-founded the Middlesbrough Art Weekender and am now its Creative Director. I programme and run the festival alongside my partner Anna Byrne and Kypros Kyprianou

Liam Slevin

Tell us about your journey into creative industries/arts?

I studied Sculpture and Combined Media at Limerick School of art & design back in Ireland. I finished my BA just as the recession was kicking off and Ireland was devastated by it. Recession can be opportunistic for artists, and I was lucky enough to be part of a collective that opened up a gallery. That was the start of my journey……

For those, that don’t know or haven’t visited before – what is Middlesbrough Art Weekender (MAW)?

The tag line is a multi-site contemporary arts festival happening across the town of Middlesbrough but it’s a lot more. The creative energy that’s happening in Middlesbrough right now, is amazing and it’s great to see it all explode over one weekend of the year.

We Walked Out of the Wilderness by John Ayscough

Why did you start MAW? What was the inspiration behind it?

I think everything should be a festival! MAW is an opportunity to platform and profile a festival full of artists, creative work and venues.

Quite right too! Tell us about this year’s weekender? What can folx expect?

We have a jam-packed programme of exhibitions, workshops (for all ages) projects that include Virtual reality works and a live lava pour.  This will happen across the following venues, The Auxiliary Project Space, Pineapple Black, The Masham, MIMA, Platform A, Gilkes Street Studios, Basecamp and a number of pop-up spaces along Albert Rd. Make sure to check out our programme page for what’s happening, venues and timings.

Keep Your Distance by Peter Hanmer

Can you tell me your #5 MAW programme highlights?

#1 Working with the estate of Gordon Matta Clark has been an absolute highlight. Jessamyn Fiore (estate co-director) has been so generous with her time and knowledge.

#2 The restaging of artist Russ Walker 1986 Degree show. The process of the re-creating and restaging of the work, alongside all his original documentation has been a really beautiful piece of work to be involved in.

#3 The Navigator North produced public works are all amazing, for the weekender they are putting on Stuart Langley’s Beating Heart and Dominic From Luton’s massive wall Mural. Two pieces that are impossible to miss!

Beating Heart Middlesbrough by Stuart Langley
Image credit – Ashley Foster

#4 Jo Lathwood’s performance and ladder drawings. Jo did a performance a few weeks back out in Darlington and she was amazing. Speaking passionately and engaging about rocks is quite the skill.

#5 Anna Ridler; a lovely contemplative take on Tulip mania mirrored with current crypto currency obsessions. 

Anna Ridler ‘Myriad (Tulips)’ (2018) Photo credit: Emily Grundon

How did you go about programming /curating the weekend?

The festival is curated by myself and Kypros Kypraniou. We start with a basic word or sentence as a jumping off point.  We then tap into what’s happening nationally and internationally. This year’s theme is Infrastructure. We’ve all been through a wild 18months and the different infrastructures or lack thereof, have been very evident; MAW programme this year is a way for us to make sense of what’s just happened and how we can move forward. 

This Trust Idea by Andrew Wilson

Tell me about the art trail? Can folx do that any time across the weekend?

Of course! The art trail is there is give people the best overview of the festival and what’s on offer. The art trail kicks off at The Auxiliary, from there folks are invited to meander over to Albert Rd, taking in a number of public art commissions along the way. On Albert Rd, we have 5 pop exhibition spaces, and this is where the main festival exhibition is housed.

DYAD

Advice to folx who haven’t attended MAW before? Where should they start?

Head into town, to a participating venue, grab a programme and jump in. Staff and volunteers will be on hand to answer any questions and point you in the right direction.

Tell me about The Dorman Long Tower Reimagined – A Virtual Reality Experience? That’s going to be so surreal as it was recently demolished……

We’ve been planning a project at the Dorman for a while now, so when we got word it was earmarked for demolition we had a lot of groundwork done for this VR project. For MAW, we’ve reimagined the Dorman as a contemporary art gallery and commissioned three very different exhibitions to take place in a virtual reality experience of the Dorman Long Towers interior and invites you to come and explore. The tower has been transformed into a VR contemporary art gallery, created by artist Iain Nicholls with assistance from Ste Bruce and Connor Clements.

Bobby Benjamin

I invited local artists Bobby Benjamin and David Watson to recreate a show that they have done through Dovetail Joints. They present traditional painting with a post-industrial town narrative. US artist Birch Cooper also exhibits hyper-realistic sculptures that can only be experienced in VR worlds, while new arts space WetDoveTail showcase their studio holders through digitally created 2D & 3D works.

Birch Cooper

For folx who want to stay out a little bit later across MAW and have some bevs – where would you recommend going? What’s on?

On Friday and a bit more arty, we’re working with local legends Bobby Benjamin and John James Perangie for a Picasso Baby x MAW collab. That’s on at Disgraceland and Gordon Dalton’s road move, filmed across the A66 is happening at Pineapple Black. On Saturday night, it is to Basecamp where Mouses will be making a racket. Mouses are one of the first bands I saw when I moved to Teesside; I think it was Stockton Calling 2016 and I’ve loved them since.

ESTATE at Platform Arts Centre Easterhouse Glasgow – Image credit Coulson & Tennant

How would you describe Teesside art scene right now?

Something that is coalescing into something beautiful

Boro Through Time by Sofia Barton
Image credit – Dawn McNamara

Any Teesside artists that are up and coming, that you want to tell me about and profile?

Loucey Bain, she’s great and is doing some amazing work.

What’s next for you after MAW?

Back to Auxiliary work; we’re changing how the space runs and are opening it up to other curators etc to run the programme. It is also grant writing time for us so there’s always that excitement!

Oh I hear you…..how can folx keep up to date with you and the festival?

@middlesbroughartweekender

Build Bridges by Teresa Poulton

Thank you Liam – you’ve really whet my appetite and I’m really looking forward to the weekend ahead. Check out my Instagram Stories (@theculturevulturene) across the day to follow my MAW Saturday visit or better still, why not join me and VISIT!? Get plotting and planning your route via: www.middlesbroughartweekender.com/programme and you can download the programme via: https://buff.ly/39ciuaq

Interview with visual artist Bethan Maddocks – paper rainforests, creative anarchy & being a nosy parker.

I’m so excited to share this Culture Vulture interview with you all – this interview is with brilliant, Newcastle based visual artist, Bethan Maddocks.

Bethan was actually one of the first artists, I became fascinated with before the Culture Vulture was even a sparkle of an idea in my eye. She’s a multi-disciplinary artist that works with different types of materials – in fact, I’m pretty sure, if you look up multi-disciplinary artist, you’ll see a picture of Bethan smiling back at you. I found it so inspiring when I was first starting out, to see a fellow creative, confidently working across lots of different types of projects and refusing to sit neatly into a box – Bethan to me was an artist that represented creative possibility, opportunity and the beauty of constantly evolving and growing through projects and collaborating with people.

Her work, projects and sculptures bring to life people’s stories and her own ideas, into technically brilliant, unique visual interpretations. They are often socially engaged too – which in present times, is not only crucially important, it also shows that art has a really powerful role to play, reinterpreting and reframing thoughts, ideas, history and can often enable audiences to see and consider things in a different way.  

Bethan was one of the first artists, that I noted co-creating art with communities in such an inclusive, warm, participatory way and I witnessed, the joy of folx seeing their contributions become a final professional artwork or sculpture! Participatory arts in the community, in my opinion, outside of the art world, isn’t really understood and massively undervalued. Bethan was my first real exposure to not only the positive impact of a participatory arts project but also, that the art work created can end up displayed at a professional exhibition or light art event.

I’ve always been a little star struck by Bethan too, a little bit in awe of her. If you know me – you know, I’m not detail focused, I’m not precise, I’m creatively chaotic and methodical process just isn’t a natural thing for me. Bethan’s work is often so delicate, so precise, made from paper, all about the small touches and detail – she probably represents my polar opposite type of creative! I admire her technical brilliance so much – she creates type of work that I look at in total awe, as she’s so highly skilled, accomplished and brilliant.

So this artist interview has been on my “NEED to interview” list pretty much, since I started out as Culture Vulture. And across the years, our paths have crossed many times and I’ve been lucky enough to support a few projects she’s worked on over the years. She’s an absolute North East gem and a really lovely, kind, open human.

Over to you Bethan!

Visual artist Bethan Maddocks

Hello Bethan, can you introduce yourself and tell my fellow Culture Vultures a bit about your practice? 

Hello! I’m a visual artist; I work with light, paper, fabric and found objects to make large sculptures and installations that audiences can touch, explore or add to. The last few years I’ve become really interested in paper-based work so currently I make lots of intricate paper-cuts.

I often work with archives, communities and organisations to collect stories and make socially engaged, political or site-specific artwork.

Bethan Maddock’s piece – From Junipers Branches Grow

I ask every artist I interview this question; can you tell us about your journey into the creative industries? 

Ever since I was little, my twin sister Catriona and I, were always scavenging things for ‘projects’; bottle tops or bits of scrap metal from outside the tiny blacksmiths in our village. Haberdasheries and DIY stores were our treasure troves. I’m grateful that I’ve always been encouraged in playing, exploring and creating since I was a little kid; probably one of the reasons that workshops and community sharing are such a core part of my practice nowadays.

I studied art at college, then Northumbria University and also at a Finnish University for an Erasmus Exchange. After graduating I volunteered on every creative project I could find, till I started getting small projects myself – I think it was easier for recent graduates in the last years of the Labour government as there was more support for young artists and a greater all-round appreciation and understanding of the arts from those in power.

Bethan Maddocks – Floraphone – Photocredit: Colin Rose

Huge congratulations on being awarded the Dover Prize – so excited for you! Can you tell us about the Dover Prize?

I was really lucky (and completely blown away!) to win The Dover Prize in 2019. It’s an amazing £10,000 bursary awarded every two years to a UK-based artist. Its aim is to help artists develop their practice and  comes with the gorgeous ethos to ‘provide the artist with time to think, research, reflect and experiment with new ideas’.

As an artist you’re always applying for things, seeking ways to make your work fit a commission proposal; what’s brilliant about the Dover Prize is that it’s centered around the artist’s own work- the initial application form asks useful questions about your practice and your aims – things I found helpful to reflect on.

In February 2019 I was shortlisted from over 100 applicants and invited for an interview where I got to meet the judges and discuss my work and practice in person. The judges were great, and again asked really helpful questions about my aspirations and inspirations (I even somehow managed to talk about meeting my favourite artist Louise Bourgeois as a wide-eyed 20 year old. I’d like to think Louise was looking down, helping me to win -a sort of artist fairy-godmother!).

The Dover Prize 2021 is now open (deadline February 14th!) and I’d hugely encourage any artist to have a punt at it – it’s been incredible support for the last 2 years. You can apply HERE.

Bethan Maddocks

Can you tell me a bit about what you’ve done with the award these last 2 years?

The Dover Award originates in Darlington; having grown up in County Durham it felt great to focus my practice on a part of the world where I began my journey as an artist. I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the history of the area and trying to connect its historic backstory with contemporary politics. Darlington’s schools, libraries and social infrastructures were massively developed by several powerful Quaker families in the 18th century, so I connected with the local Quaker chapter to learn about their ethos of listening, equality and stewardship to help ground some research. Sitting in silence with a group full of kind strangers, waiting for ‘ministry’ is quite something!

I also used the bursary to help fund a residency to the incredible Studio Garonne in Southern France, where I collaborated with designer Remi Bec to make a series of paper and light sculptures and drawings and I also embarked on a research project to Canada to meet some brilliant paper artists such as Crissy Arseneau, Rachel Ashe and  Brangwynne Purcell. I’ve made lots of experiments combining my papercutting work with machine cut elements, and I’m hoping to translate some papercuts into metal this year.

Bethan Maddocks – Book of Shadows

Can you tell me a bit about your relationship with Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland?

I’ve worked with Woodhorn Museum on and off for the last few years often creating large installations in their huge, ex-mining industry buildings. A lot of my work is about exploring hidden stories, and Woodhorn has a great ethos for uncovering Northumberland’s lesser-known stories – so we’ve collaborated together on some really fun projects.

The Programming team often invites me in, to create installations based on brilliant random ideas they’ve had for exhibitions such as ancient forests, homing pigeons and orchid growing!

Even in 2020 they managed to commission a new project for myself and Unfolding Theatre (as well as the ever-brilliant Ruth Johnson, Nick John Williams and Jill Bennison). The Quest of Missing Questions was Woodhorn’s invitation to its audience for its re-opening after the first lockdown. The commission personally was a bit of a life saver, showing me that good organisations can (and should!) support freelancers even in tough times and in doing so create lovely rich collaborations.

Woodhorn Museum

Here, here! You’ve worked with them a few times in the past? Tell me about one of those projects? 

One of my favourite pieces was The Fallen Forest that explored the prehistoric carboniferous forests that existed here 250 million years ago, which formed the coal so key to our region’s economic and socialist development. I spent several months researching fossil records, becoming my own pretend geologist. I did a residency over in Borneo and managed to connect the kind of foliage that you find in modern Asian rainforests with similar foliage from these ancient rainforests. I created giant ferns and cycads and huge 5 metre tall papercut trees- each paper-tree’s surface referencing the bark patternations that you find recorded in fossils.

It was open for 9 months and the audience could attend workshops to make small paper artworks to add to the forest, so that it grew, expanded and then collapsed; mirroring the ancient forests growth and demise.

I love projects like that; I get to obsess and learn so much about random things. I’m always dreaming that one day I’ll go to a (very specific!) pub quiz and know all the answers from all the avid research I do (it has not happened yet!)

Bethan Maddocks – Fallen Forest

A lot of your work involves engaging with communities and community contributions – why are community contributions important to your practice? Why are opportunities to contribute to creative projects important?  

I’m a huge champion of creativity for so many reasons – it’s the great unifier; when you get a group of people making artwork alongside each other there will always be brilliant, eye opening, heart expanding conversations. There’s some magic that happens when people use their hands to make; it sort of frees up their thinking and people reconnect with their inner child.

I love working with other people as it’s always a helpful side-step for my thinking, I can have the best laid plans for what I want to create for an exhibition, and then a conversation or even a throwaway comment from someone, plants these delicious seeds, and sends me in ways I’d never of thought of. It’s an honour to work alongside people from such diverse backgrounds – there’s always so much to learn from other people.

Bethan Maddocks – NHS Celebration Artwork

You often create sculptures/artwork to scale – what is your favourite thing about that type of work? Do you enjoy watching folx take it in?  

When I go to exhibitions, it’s alwayslarge-scale sculptures and installations that I love to see and experience the most; that sense of becoming aware of your own scale – a little like standing at the top of a massive mountain and feeling so tiny in this all-encompassing landscape.

I also love making loud noises in quiet acoustic buildings, touching stuff that maybe you shouldn’t, opening drawers, prodding around, and I want to make artwork that encourages that, where you can be a playful nosy parker! I made an installation a couple of years ago, where there were hundreds of sandcastles inside a tent, all decorated with cocktail umbrellas. We opened the tent and loads of kids came in, all wanting to smash them down but thinking they ‘weren’t allowed’. Watching the first kid (my nephew- ever a proud Auntie!) go and kick one down and then all the other children running forward to join in; it was just absolutely gleeful to see all that work disappearing in joyful, anarchic seconds. I want to create moments like that.

Bethan Maddocks – Everything There Ever Was

What is your role at BALTIC? Have you been involved in any of their online creative work during lock down? 

I’ve worked freelance for the Learning Team at Baltic for about 12 years; they took a punt on me as a relatively inexperienced but eager workshop facilitator just after I graduated and I’ve been working there ad-hoc ever since. I love the range of groups that we get to work alongside and the Learning team’s encouragement to try out new stuff, take over spaces and explore the exhibitions. They were also brilliant at the beginning of 2020 madness (we’ve got to champion the good ones!), paying all freelancers for sessions they couldn’t deliver, and helping support us to do online workshops. I’ve made quite a few online videos since, and it’s a learning curve, but I spent a lot of my childhood apparently critiquing Neil Buchanan for his crafting on Art Attack, so perhaps it was meant to be. You can watch them here and here and here

Bethan Maddocks – Floraphone

How has lock down/pandemic affected you as an artist/freelancer?  

Well it hasn’t been easy for anyone has it (except perhaps for political donators and disaster capitalists…)!? I had a week in March where I had 7 exhibitions and two years of work cancelled which wasn’t particularly fun. It has been difficult being self-employed and I hope the brilliant work that people have done in raising awareness of the vulnerability of self-employed and zero hour contract workers has helped the public to appreciate cultural and hospitality workers better.

On the flip side, I’ve had more time in my studio at 36 Lime Street, which is just a dreamland to work in, a building full of lots of talented, diverse makers in the heart of the Ouseburn – my windows open right onto the river so I get to work to the sound of the water and the ducks and swans flapping about.

I’ve  also loved watching things like #ArtistSupportPledge, Beccy Owen’s Pop up Choirs, Mutual aid support groups and Artists’ Union England’s solidarity fund come together. The arts are a mixed bunch of brilliant, creative, bloomin’ hard working people, and even in all this weirdness, they’ve given me lots of moments of joy and celebration.

Bethan Maddocks in her 36 Lime Street Studio

That made me so teary, I’m so proud to be in this sector with wonderful folx like you! Do you have anything to say about artists being described as “unviable”  ?  

I mean it is ridiculous isn’t it!? Weapons manufacturing, the aviation industry and fossil fuel use aren’t exactly viable, if we want to have a happy, existing planet, and yet governments never seem to pull them up…

I think there are things in the arts that aren’t particularly viable – like reserving huge amounts of funds for top management and the running and upkeep of buildings rather than fair living wages for all employees, and I hope that this can change.

And look at everything that we’ve ever sent into space to be found by future/other civilisations, or any time capsules that we’ve buried in the ground and they are full of the arts – music, literature, artwork, Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man carved on the side etc. Our society is defined by its culture past and present – make that unviable and you have a pretty grey world.

Bethan Maddocks – Frost of Forgetfulness

An answer like that is exactly why I bliddy love you Bethan! I personally believe creative opportunities for all are more important now, than ever – as a process for folx to make sense of what’s happening, feel connected to others, express themselves…… any thoughts? 

Definitely; it’s what’s kept us all sane hasn’t it! As unsatisfying as culture being mostly online can be it’s also opened the doors for some brilliant new ways of engagement and accessibility- I think of all those people with mobility issues, with young kids, with low self-confidence who in the past haven’t have been able to engage in the arts physically, who were effectively blocked from going over the threshold and now they can join in. They can settle their kids, pour a glass of wine and go online and join in on a bookmaking course, or watch a piece of live theatre, or go to a gig on their couch. We’ve got to celebrate that. And when things become more open again, we’ve got to make sure that we keep people with us, that this new accessibility doesn’t stop with a vaccine, but changes the landscape. We’ve got to make this the best learning that we can.

Bethan Maddocks – NHS Celebration artwork

Can you tell us a highlight of 2020? 

I’ve missed live music; there’s not much better than having a dance at a gig with your mates, so I had a particularly brilliant birthday, in amongst this strange year. County Durham based arts organisation Jack Drum Arts, were organising doorstep gigs with musicians and storytellers coming to perform for small groups during the summer holidays. My Mum surreptitiously organised for the legends that are Baghdaddies to come and play in her garden for me and my twin sister on our birthday. We had our own tiny festival- sousaphones, trumpets, drumkits popping out of the flower beds, mojitos in our hands as we “wiggled our bums, our big fat bums…”. That was pretty heady.

Bethan Maddocks – Book of Shadows

Sounds glorious! So, what’s next for you? Can you tell us about a project you’ve got coming up? 

I have an exhibition ‘Finders Seekers’ that has just ‘opened’ at Greenfield arts (although currently no-one can visit it!). It was a lush commission to create artwork around ideas of possibility, changing perspectives and inquiry.

The exhibition is made up of a series of paper installations of trees, mushrooms and lichen combined with objects such as ropes, ladders and magnifying glasses – tools of investigation and elevation.   I spent most of Christmas hand-painting and cutting 300 paper oak leaves to thread onto a ladder!

I wanted to create a fun, celebratory, optimistic exhibition; artworks interconnected like an ecosystem, where the viewer enters a childlike world, a paper-made forest full of metaphor, imagination and elevation.

Where can we keep in touch with you and check out your work?

I’m currently reworking on my website with the brilliant Branded by Naomi and I’m hoping to have a snazzy new launch of it early this year www.bethanmaddocks.com. Or if you want to find photos, drawings, papercutting videos and the occasional lycra-clad leg kick you can find me on Instagram bethan_maddocks.

Bethan Maddocks – Christmas Carol Lit & Phil

Thank you Bethan! Interviews like this make me feel so certain that I’m in the right sector, working and collaborating with glorious humans and that the power and potential of art, is that it can change the world and make such a difference in people’s lives.

That’s all for now Culture Vultures……until next time!

An interview with The Social Distance Art Project Team – a response to cancelled 2020 degree shows for artists & audiences

The Social Distance Art Project popped up on my radar towards the beginning of lock down – and what a wonderful gift to lock down me it was! I have discovered and connected with SO many wonderful artists through it.

The Social Distance Art Project started as a response to the reality, that for many students studying Arts related degrees, their final year physical degree shows or degree related “creative sharings” were off the cards and for the majority cancelled. This was truly heart breaking – for many artists, the degree show is THE thing you’ve been working towards for your whole degree and for some, it is their first opportunity to exhibit. These shows are important to their creative career, as a means of showcasing their work, profiling themselves as artists and a moment of achievement! I still meet artists my age (mid 30s) and many still talk about the positive experience and value their final year degree show brought them!

From this challenging and shitty situation, the wonderful TSDAP was born and the team (5 Northern lasses – BOOM!) set up their website to champion artists providing a collective digital space to feature themselves so that folks like me can discover their work. AND as a platform for Universities and students to tell the world about the reinvented digital versions of the degree show and connected events!

Out of the gutting nature of cancelling these final year degree shows and sharings, I think they is an upside…..the TSDAP has shown the potential of taking elements of a degree show online, uniting audiences and artists in this way and being more accessible. Whilst I’m a regular attendee of North East University degree shows – through the TSDAP, I’ve been able to engage and attend things across the whole country and chat to artists Nationally – that wouldn’t have happened before! I hope that Universities consider keeping a digital strand forever!

Another positive, for me, is that the artists and their work are presented within The TSDAP by name and not split up by medium. This has meant, that instead of just seeking out the stuff I normally like, I’ve been taking in such a wide variety of work. Honestly, if you have a spare hour, instead of mindlessly scrolling on social media, go to the Directory and just click through each artist. It’s my favourite thing to do right now!

As I’ve loved the TSDAP so much, I of course, reached out to the team behind it to tell them and to thank them – I invited them to take part in a little Culture Vulture interview so here we are doing just that!

Take it away TSDAP team!

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Well hello The Social Distance Art Project team….. can you all introduce yourselves!?

Julia – There are five fine art graduates involved in the project! The founders were Natasha Alexander, Alex Appleby and Jasmine McKnight (York St John University). Julia Pomeroy (Leeds Arts University) and Emma Trevor (Newcastle University) joined us a little later on as things really started to pick up!

As a proud Northerner and passionate support of womxn in creative industries, I’m buzzing that a womxn led Northern team created this!  Can you each give me a flavour of your journey into the creative industries?

Natasha – I’m originally from Sunderland; I wouldn’t say that working in the creative industries is pushed as a possible career much in the area. I’ve had a lot of “so your degree is just drawing pretty pictures, right?” and a lot of questions about how I will earn a living. I got into the arts because I didn’t have the best time throughout my time in Education and when I decided to go to University, I really just wanted to do something that I loved. As it is, studying a fine art degree has opened up so many doors I never even knew existed. I have no regrets.

Alex – Upon looking at my university choices, I originally planned to study Psychology, a more ‘academic’ choice; but through exploring the possibility of studying Fine Art I knew that this was the right choice for me. Throughout my studies many opportunities and avenues have opened up, and I cannot wait to see where my further studies at MA will take me.

Jasmine – I pursued a creative degree as art is something that is just a necessity to me; there was never anything else that I wanted to do. My degree has allowed me to explore my identity as an artist in a way that I couldn’t have done on my own; now I’m ready to carry on with my artistic career by continuing my practice while pursuing a job in design.

Julia – My degree has given me the confidence to maintain a strong momentum with my practice’s direction (oil painting at the moment) and how to take on the artworld as a freelancing artist. This combination and just being determined that my artwork can have an impact is what’s driving me in this career decision and completing my Fine Art BA at Leeds Arts University this year. I’m ready to see what the creative industries think.

Emma – There was never a question in my mind that I wanted to study fine art at university. For me, the creative process has always acted as a mental escape and studying in order to build my practical skills as well as engage in critical reflection of my work has allowed me to turn a hobby into a viable career path. My long-term goal is to become a forensic art therapist, using my experience to help inmates reclaim their identities and hopefully make a positive impact when it comes to recidivism in the UK.

Natasha

A piece by Team TSDAP Natasha

Honestly, if we were in person – I’d love to unpick all of that more over a gin! I’m so excited for you all at the beginning of your careers! So, let’s chat the Social Distance Art Project….for my fellow Culture Vultures, what is it?

Julia – TSDAP aims to give a platform to graduating creative students of 2020 whose degree shows have been cancelled due to the outbreak of Covid-19. As fine art students, we felt like we’d spent the most part of our degree preparing for the exhibition and so were heartbroken at its cancellation.

The project consists of an Instagram (@thesocialdistanceartproject) where we upload submissions daily and a website which acts as a library of all past submissions.

The idea is to give creative students a space to show off their work in the absence of a degree show and a space where students from all institutions can get together in solidarity, getting to know each other’s work and how they’re staying creative during current times!

Why did you set it up? What was the impetus?

Julia – We set it up the day our studios closed. We just felt like we couldn’t just sit by and do nothing when hundreds of students were in the same position as us. We started with the Instagram account, getting in touch with Universities and their followers hoping that they’d get involved. It took off in a way we never expected!

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Emma

It has been so brilliant – honestly from the bottom of my heart, thank you for doing it! And well done! From your perspective, how did students feel when the realisation dawned that shows were cancelled?

Julia – We’ve had so many messages from heartbroken students and the majority of our submissions start with a note about how disappointed everyone is. We’ve spent three/four years planning for this and it’s just so quickly been taken away and it’s such an awful situation for everyone.

And, your own experiences…..how did you all personally feel when your shows were cancelled?

Alex – It was immensely underwhelming, the degree show was something that drove my practice throughout third year, both in terms of opening up opportunities for our futures and as a final celebration of our achievements. Online alternatives have given us some exposure as artists, but I am still saddened that we did not get the chance to have a physical show.

Jasmine – Extremely disappointed. Our whole degree works towards this exhibition. Now it’s been taken away, it feels like our degree has been left open, without any real closure.

Julia – It was incredibly disheartening that the big finale of our creative degrees just wasn’t going to happen. I think I was subconsciously in denial about it because it seemed so set in stone for such a long time. Once the upset and anger subsided, I learnt that we still need to make the most of showing off our artworks, and for now doing that virtually is the best thing to do.

Emma – It feels like such an anti-climax, we’ve spent the last four years of our lives working towards degree shows which open up so many post-graduation opportunities and are almost seen as a right of passage for it all to be cancelled in a matter of weeks. Documentation of degree shows is vital in future applications for studios and grants so it’s hard not to feel at a disadvantage compared to those graduating in years before us.

For those who aren’t aware of the importance of degree shows within the creative degree framework, can you tell us why they are important?

Julia – There’s such an opportunity for networking; you really don’t get online – speaking in person to other creatives and people from outside of your institution. Even the planning and curation of the exhibition is a really vital experience as we all embark on our careers. Through the degree many of us have had the opportunity to put on smaller shows but the degree show is really where you get to experience the organisational aspect.

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Alex

What has the response been like to the project from Universities and artists to SDAP? And the wider world/audiences?

Julia – Universities have been super supportive of what we’re doing! Especially since we’ve been using our home page to promote virtual degree shows across the UK. We’ve had a lot of contact from institutions asking for their shows to be added and sharing links to their student’s work on our platform. I think it’s been really great for institutions to see what others are getting up to and supporting each other.  Wider audiences have been really interested too which has been so nice to see – that students are being noticed as a result of what we’re doing to promote their hard work!

I’ve discovered loads of artists via your website that I just wouldn’t have discovered otherwise and their Insta as a digital canvas representing their portfolio of work – I think this could be the dawn of lessening the importance and focus on physical galleries and increasing the importance of creative digital spaces….what do you think?

Julia – What’s happened as a result of Covid has really given everyone some wake up calls as to the way the world has worked, bringing up a lot of questions about accessibility in particular. It makes you wonder about access to the arts for people who have to live permanently “socially distant” lives; whether that’s due to disability or any other factors. I think digital galleries are a great way to open up creative industries to a much wider audience.

Being able to view so much amazing work from your living room is so amazing whether that’s through Instagram, digital exhibitions or virtual tours. In thinking about the North/South divide that often sees “big names” of the art world exhibited primarily in London too, the five of us living in the North often can’t afford the travel for every exhibition we’d like to attend. And that travel has you debate the environmental impact that traveling to exhibition.

That being said, I really don’t think you can belittle being able to occupy the same space and the effect it has on your experience of it.  Maybe for some forms digital galleries would be a great accompaniment to physical exhibitions to provide an alternative for those that cannot visit.

Absolutely a digital strand to go along the physical! Various forms of research are showing that audiences are more likely to take a risk with art/art form in a digital space than in a venue…. I’ve been engaging more with things like sculpture (for example) that I just wouldn’t normally seek out. Digital space seems to remove the fear factor of being in a creative space and realising the work isn’t to your taste or you “don’t get it”. What are your thoughts?

Julia – I think digital spaces definitely offer the opportunity to spend more time with a piece of work. Especially with more conceptual art, or performance etc being able to view it in your own time in your own space means you have no fear of looking ‘silly’ as you figure out what it is you’re viewing. Perhaps you give certain pieces more of an opportunity in a digital space as it’s less intrusive.

Julia

A piece by Team TSDAP’s Julia

Going forward do you think having a digital form or platform for graduating artists like this – will/should it continue? I personally love the fact, I’ve discovered works and about educational programmes in other cities, that I wasn’t aware of.

Julia – Definitely! I really think platforms like ours should continue in future years as accompaniments to physical degree shows. We’ve been able to build space for a community of graduating artists from institutions across the UK to promote their work and discuss their practice. The inspiration you can find from other creatives is invaluable and being able to promote your work digitally to such a wide audience of your peers is super helpful for the next steps of our creative careers.

Have you missed the “in person” being creative?

Julia – 100%. One of the big things, is missing the energy that we feed from each other in our studios. The resilience you gain from tutorials and critiques with your tutors and peers is so beneficial to us as art students as it allows you to constantly think about your work from different perspectives and so work and concepts develop at a much faster rate. On top of that, the physical limitations that 2020 graduates have experienced have been at times impossible to navigate. Vacating studios at such short notice has left many of us without equipment or even adequate space to create.

Do you think graduate artists have missed the real time ability to showcase in their degree shows in person and feed off that energy? (Digital can’t replace that!).

Julia – We keep reiterating that platforms like ours have only arisen due to the absence of any adequate alternative. This digital space we’ve created, and many of the virtual degree shows that are now being launched, have nothing on the real experience of a degree show. I think most students have now experienced the anti-climatic virtual end to our studies and share this sense of loss.

Are there any artists or creatives that have submitted to your site – that are personal faves? Or doing work that has caught your eye? (All of the names mentioned below you can search out in the Directory of the SDAP website)

Nat – There are so many amazing creatives submitting work to us that it’s super hard to choose! Some of my favourites have Annie Graham’s sculptural practice whom I wrote about in my own blog, Reuben Brown’s exploration of growing up queer in Northern Ireland and Olivia Taylor’s amazing black & white photography of urban landscapes.

Alex – Ameerah Dawood’s work stood out to me, her use of textiles and screen printing has a simplicity and preciseness that I really enjoy.

Jasmine – My personal favourites are Holly Sarll and The Overload Project.

Julia – A personal fave whose work resonated with me was Alice Miller from Loughborough University and her oil paintings. The awkward yet familiar angles of everyday social situations, surrounded by figures, makes us feel like we’re there and her painting techniques make these moments feel fleeting. Ideas that I’ve been exploring with my own paintings.

Emma – Tiggy Beaman’s nude paintings really stood out to me and got an amazing reaction from our community. Also, Adonia Hirst’s work with textiles and soft sculpture, she is from my university so I may be slightly biased, but I’ve always thought her work is amazing.

Jasmine - Photo from Julia Pomeroy

A piece by Team TSDAP’s Jasmine

Any black artists or creatives that you’d like to suggest folks check out/champion?

JuliaAD DADA was one of our earliest submissions and his work is amazing! He engages with black culture and identity in contemporary society through a whole range of mediums. His portfolio is super interesting to look at and reflects on the point of view of a black artist questioning British Institutions of art.

How long are you going to keep the project up? How can people get involved at this stage?

Julia – There’s no deadline for the project! It’s been so successful and exciting that we just want to keep going. We’re still taking submissions and soon we’ll be moving towards also posting the work of students who are not in their final year who’ve also been affected by studio closures.

We just want to keep everyone’s timelines creative and supportive at these tough times. We’re looking to begin to support emerging early career artists who aren’t necessarily just recent graduates. The possibilities are endless and this is just the beginning.

What’s next for the Social Distance Art Project?

Julia – Our next steps are to evolve the project into representing recent art graduates and emerging artists and become an active contribution to help early career artists venture into the artworld. We hope to provide opportunities online through open calls, various exhibitions ideas and explore what art promotion will be in the future, alongside social distancing. We hope we’ll be able to execute these opportunities in real life at some point. Currently, we have teamed up with SHIM (@shimartnetwork ) who are a fantastic online artist network who present exhibition opportunities through Artsy and we are directing TSDAP artists to them. We have more plans on the way with them coming up later in the year.

As graduating students, do you have any advice to creatives and artists about to go to University?

Julia – Take advantage of every moment you’re given. Utilise the creative people you’re surrounded by on a daily basis, it’s a situation you may never find yourself in again and the advice and support you can receive is invaluable.

Then what about you folks as a team – what’s next on a collective basis and individually?

All– Our work with SHIM and one day hold our first physical exhibition and achieve funding.

Nat– I’m working on my art criticism via my own website before I start an MA in Critical and Cultural studies in Leeds next year.

Alex– I am hoping to study Fine Art MA at Leeds Arts University whilst also working part-time. Working in the community arts sector is something I really enjoy and hope to continue.

Julia– I’ve decided to see how my artistic career will change without being in education anymore and act on the skills I’ve learnt on BA. I hope to find a studio space in Leeds to keep developing my practice and continue putting in my own group shows alongside applying for open calls.

Emma– I’m hoping to find a job as a creative arts coordinator, ideally working with inmates or former inmates, so I can gain the experience needed to study an Art Therapy masters.

Anything else you want to share?

All – We would just like to thank everyone for their wonderful support. We have been overwhelmed by the response from 2020 art graduates getting involved with us and we can only wish them the very best with life after university and what the future has in store.

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Thank you SDAP team – what a wonderful interview and how exciting to hear about your future plots and plans! Check out TSAP via their website and Insta and give them some love – they deserve it for creating this wonderful platform. Very excited for the next chapter and I’ve got a feeling, this is the beginning of something MEGA for this team – both collectively and individually!

All my love, The Culture Vulture xx

Interview with Sunderland artist Kathryn Robertson – making waves, rebels & lock down.

I am so proud at how the artistic and creative community has been coming together and rallying at this unprecedented time of….well it’s nothing short of a Black Mirror episode of crazy that I keep thinking I might pinch myself and wake up from at some point. I am more determined than ever to use my platform and voice to help and support artists – I want to show you the talent that exists in the world, how bright and beautiful creative humans are and the amazing things many artists are doing even when the chips are down….

Kathryn Robertson –  is one of those artists doing lush amazing things. I wanted to interview her long before this COVID-19 thing kicked off – but having a little bit more down time has provided me with the ability to get through my “must interview” wish list and start reaching out to folks. And what a better place to start than Sunderland muralist, illustrator, graphic designer and all round gloriously talented Kathryn! #ganonlass

Kathryn Robertson

Head over to @kr.illustrates on Insta to get a flavour of Kathryn’s work – it’s so lush and if you’re familiar with Sunderland, you’ll see lots of lush sites and re-imaginings of things you might recognise. Kathryn has also collaborated remotely with @martintype (Insta) on a screen print to raise funds for North East food banks during their time of arguably greatest need. Head over to HERE to see it and purchase – it’s Pay What You Decide.

I had the pleasure of recently, remotely catching up with Kathryn and here is our interview…. It’s lush one!

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Kathryn Robertson

Hiyer, so tell my Culture Vultures who you are?

I’m Kathryn Robertson, 25, some kind of artist from Sunderland.

Standard Vulture question – what was your journey into the creative industries?

It was a bit of a winding road, apologies in advance for the long answer. I went from: Apprenticeship in Design & Print when I was 18 then unemployed then worked in bars/cafes then an apprentice chef (for a very short but painful while) then realising I was a bit awful at all of these jobs.

Ben Wall (HI BEN), gave me some work in designing event posters for Independent (Music Venue & Nightclub in Sunderland), I worked behind the bar at the time, but I basically ended up quitting the bar to design the posters and other things instead. I registered as self-employed, went to uni in 2016 to do Graphic Design at 21, carried on with illustration/graphics on the side, did a bit of hustling/selling my own printed products/couple of art fairs here and there.

I structured my final project at Uni around public artwork and illustration, and since then I’ve worked on commissions and public artworks with University of Sunderland, Sunderland Libraries, The Council, Pop Recs, Holmeside Coffee, Vaux and many others! I’ve been lucky to have been supported, and to have worked with some great orgs like Sunderland Culture and The Enterprise Place along the way.

Kathryn Robertson

I love your illustration – when did you fall in love with drawing?

I liked it when I was little because my sister is an artist, and she would give me drawing lessons and take me to The Baltic, and out to see street art when she lived in Manchester. I used to draw/try to emulate things like the typography off food and drink labels quite a lot. I properly fell in love with it when I was around 17, when people started to ask me to draw things for actual purposes, like gig posters, and stuff for fanzines etc.

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Kathryn Robertson

You do SO.MUCH; tell me about your practice?

This is something I’m not very eloquent at. I usually look to others to describe my work back to me (lol). I’d describe my practice as: Graphic Design, illustration, and painted murals, sometimes/mostly heavily influenced by my surroundings in the North East.

How you finding “lock down” as an artist/creative? Any advice to creatives struggling right now working from home?

I’ve never been the *best* at working from home, but it is something I got used to when I was freelancing as a graphic designer, so I’m mentally prepared for it. I’m easing myself into it at the moment and feeling very lucky that I have the option to do so. I’m doing organisational things that I’ve been putting off for ages, stuff like backing up my work up 7 million times, organising folders and filing receipts. I find that “getting dressed” in the morning is a canny good start though.

 

Kathryn Robertson

SAME – terrible working at home; a dynamic learning situation! You’ve got quite a recognisable style in terms of design work – how did that develop?

Thanks! I guess just a lot of practicing makes for the natural development of your own style really. Everyone has a unique style, so the more you work, the more you iron it out and make it your own. We’re all just an accumulation of our other influences as well though, innit.

You were awarded University of Sunderland 2019 Design Student Award, how did that come about? How did it feel to win?

I did a mixture of sort of hands-on things as part of my final Graphic Design Project at University. It included an illustrated surfboard which is on display in The Beam, an entry in Vaux’s beer label design competition, and a mural of Sunderland in The Priestman Building, along with some other things. The award was for Creativity & Individuality – probably just because of the weird mixture of not-very-graphic-designy things I decided to do (lol).

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Kathryn Robertson

Thoroughly deserved! You create fantastic murals – tell me about the mural connected to Holmeside Coffee in Sunderland and the process behind creating it?

Joe from Holmeside got in touch as they wanted something to jazz up the doorway of their take-out shop when it first opened. We struck up a deal of a doorway mural in exchange for me selling my merch in the shop. That was sort of the first ‘mural’ I did really, (other than a terrible one I did in Independent in 2014).

It’s a mash up of Sunderland buildings in HC doorway, and it was kind of made up as I went along, and drawn in paint pens, it was snowing at the time, so I went delirious with the cold. When people ask if the made-up-buildings are certain places I’m like “yep, that’s exactly what it’s meant to be, definitely didn’t make it up”.

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Kathryn Robertson

HAHA! How does it feel having your murals pop-up all over Sunderland bringing it to life? Do you ever lurk and watch folks looking at it to get a sense of what they think?

It’s great 🙂 I like having my work so visible, but I’m very shy, so when I see people looking at stuff it’s nice to just wander past in the knowledge that they don’t know that I made it (if that makes any sense) (creepy). I like hiding (figuratively) behind the artwork I guess, that’s probably why I’m an artist in the first place, to let the drawings do the talking for me. I’m bad at talking.

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Kathryn Robertson

I’m QUEEN lurker/introvert/socially awkward and shy – I hear you! As a social media professional I LOVE your personality on Insta and that you’ve got the breadth of your practice (including yourself!) on there; loved the @teatowelontour Insta channel – how did it feel finding out about that? (Reminds me of the Innocent smoothie stapler going across the world!)

Yeah it’s great to see Helen (@lifeouels) travel with the Sunderland Tea Towel, just a really canny idea to take a bit of home with her around the world, love seeing the updates 🙂

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Kathryn Robertson

In addition to tea towels – you sell some of your work and your available for commissions (loved the design for Lamp Light Festival graphics!) – where can people buy stuff from you and get in touch?

Thanks!! My online shop is partially down for the time-being while I figure the whole ‘freelancing whilst social distancing’ thing out, but I’ve got something out now with another artist pal (Andy Martin) at the moment, a print – you can get it HERE.  Other than that it’s: @kr.illustrates (insta), @krillustrates (FB) and krillustrates@gmail.com for work enquires!

I feel like you’re really making waves and your mark on the Sunderland creative scene – what do you think of the creative scene in Sunderland? Any Sunderland peer creatives you admire that I should check out?

I love the creative scene in Sunderland. Here are some names/instagrams of Visual artist pals based in Sunderland (I think) : @heatherchambersart, @chris_cummings_art, @saragibbesonillustration, @mar9ntype, @mariegardinerphoto, @sue.loughlin, @maverickartjo, @cwnutsandseeds, @charliepasquali , @faostyles.

There’s so many more but my brain is not working. Need coffee.

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Kathryn Robertson

Speaking of making waves….tell me about the “City by the Sea” exhibition and your piece in it?

There was an open call for artists based in Sunderland to design a surfboard to part of this exhibition in The Beam (that building on the Vaux site). I proposed a very Sunderland themed design of past and present buildings. I was picked as one of the artists to be commissioned.

They delivered this 6ft surfboard to me and I drew on it in paint pens, they lacquered it, and now it’s upstairs in The Beam, alongside some other local artists versions, and they got some schools to do a few as well. Canny!

Can you tell me about Rebel Women Sunderland – what the project is and how you got involved?

Laura Brewis (Sunderland Culture) is the mastermind behind The Rebel Women of Sunderland project, and I believe it was inspired by a book called Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, as well as her daughter. It’s a project to shine a light on notable women from Sunderland, and to tell their stories in an engaging way. We created illustrations and stories for each of the selected women. I was commissioned to do the illustrating, alongside writer Jessica Andrews who wrote their wonderful stories.

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Kathryn Robertson

How were the notable women selected?

Sunderland Culture put a post out for people to nominate women or give suggestions of notable women, or women that have shone in their field, or gone somewhat unsung, I believe they got a huge list of suggestions, and had to condense it down (which will have been very difficult!)

Why are projects like Rebel Women important in 2020?

It’s important to tell the stories of all of these women, and I think it’s particularly nice to be able to show and tell them in this way, there’s been a lot of RW themed events where people can get involved, the exhibition has been around a couple of different venues in the city – and I’m sure the stories will have inspired some young people to think “I can be that too”. As Laura quoted at one of the past Rebel Women events, “you can’t be what you can’t see.”!

I love that – Brewis is such a lush human! And rebel lass in her own right! Tell me about the new recent additions to Rebel Women Sunderland for this year’s International Women Day?

The newest editions are Nadine Shah, Florence Collard + The Shipyard Girls, Ellen Bell, and Aly Dixon.

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Kathryn Robertson

What’s next for Rebel Women Sunderland as a project? Where can we see the pieces in the future?

It will expand in the future hopefully, there’s still plenty of lasses to feature! Laura wants to make a book, which I’m so down for. I’m not sure where the pieces/stories will be available to see next, maybe we should make it into some kind of virtual exhibition though (!!?)

I am so here for that – so tell me about a few illustrators or muralists you admire and suggest I check out?

Sheffield-based artist Jo Peel @jo_peel (obsessed with her), James Gulliver Hancock, @gemmacorrell @vicleelondon @mul_draws, @pandafunkteam, @sophie_roach, @mr_aryz @ashwillerton

What’s next for you? What projects do you have in the pipeline?

As with everyone, I’m a little uncertain for the next however many months, as public work is off, art fairs either postponed or cancelled, but I’m hoping to have plenty of new illustrations by the end of this, and if I’m dreaming about the future, then I’d love to have my first exhibition of my own work somewhere one day – if it was something people wanted to see.

I’d love to carry on with public artworks too. Also I have this (maybe slightly ambitious) dream of doing a stop-motion animated mural, inspired greatly by Jo Peel, check this out HERE

Love what you do and thanks for the great questions!

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Kathryn Robertson

That love is right back at you and I am so excited for what you do next! You are a glorious human!  Check Kathryn’s work out…

That’s all for now Culture Vultures! I’ve got a great list of blog posts coming!

#AD Observe Experiment Archive – a photography exhibition at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Photography exhibitions for many years, were my comfort zone in art gallery spaces. In my late teens and early twenties, I didn’t feel empowered enough in my own creative sense of self to comment on paintings, sculpture, textiles etc. But photography to me always told some kind of a story! The first photographer that I ever became truly aware of as an “artist” was Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, a Finnish photographer that ended up living in Newcastle and has an extensive body of work. I loved her depiction of Byker and the sense of place, people and home – she managed to create.

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Neon at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

I’ve always been a fan of photography as a means to communicate and explore difficult issues – to display various shades of the same thing and of course, to capture a moment. In fact, I’m working up a project funding proposal at the moment with photography at the heart of it. But my love of photography and respect for it as an art form, has grown exponentially as a social media and marketing professional – it’s ALL about the high quality, visually impactful visuals. And that’s why I invest so much money and resource into the photography of events, projects, people, audiences, places, venues and moments. The right image can have far reaching impact and tells a story….

I was recently, invited to view Observe Experiment Archive – a group photography exhibition curated by North East Photography Network at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens – support by Sunderland Culture. For those Culture Vultures unaware, yes Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens does have a beautiful gallery space so add it to your gallery culture crawl list…. It’s where the Da Vinci exhibition was housed AND they are one of three new venues, to have been selected to present work from The Arts Council Collection (first exhibition in February) until 2022!

It’s great to see how many folks have followed my “story” showcasing my exhibition visit and how many of you have followed up my social media posts, championing the exhibition, telling me that you’re going to visit or have visited!

Observe Experiment Archive is available to view until 5 January and presents multidimensional view- points of our ever changing world. It’s for the curious seekers, experimenters, future innovators and creative thinkers – my visit lasted over an hour, I read ever interpretation cover to cover, it got me thinking, reflecting and full of wonder for the natural world and how we have interacted with it in the past, present and the possibilities that lie in the future. The exhibition explores human interventions, innovations and inventions and the global challenges that can no longer be ignored.

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The exhibition showcases the skill and diversity that exists within contemporary photography, reflecting scientific and environmental concerns through both a modern and historical lens. I went in with an open mind – I’d read the blurb before going in, on the website, which in no way captured how truly fantastic this exhibition was. It’s certainly in my top 5 of 2019.

Beautifully curated, inviting and thoroughly interesting. The supporting pamphlet that you can pick up on entry, was the perfect thought fuelling accompaniment to the exhibition as I walked around taking it all in. All 8 photographers featured are very different in style, subject manner and provide a gateway for folks like me, to consider, explore and observe the world in a new way. I learnt a lot, thought about things that I hadn’t really considered in a world that is so busy and it certainly triggered my appetite to learn more.

This exhibition is in no way passive – it invites you to think, reflect, go on google, check out the photographers, participate in their narrative and really demonstrated to me, the unbelievable power of a photo to capture a moment, tell a story, challenge a pre-conception and to trigger thought and potential change. The thing I loved, is that the current state of play around themes like the “environment”, “intrusion of technology”, “human intervention”; the press and on social media present it in an often angry and preachy manner – things MUST change dogma and those who are not participating in the change…. Well, they are unfavourable. What this exhibition manages to do, is explore and present, many of the same elements, impacts and what humans have done, doing and may continue to do but invites you to question and reflect on WHY.

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I’m going to give you a little overview of my thoughts on each photographer’s work in the exhibition – without hopefully spoiling it, as you have until 5th January to visit so go go go! Order presented is based on how I worked my way around the exhibition.

Robert Zhao Renhui’s work is a colourful guide to the flora and fauna of the world – it presents a catalogue of curious creatures and their life forms mixing fact and fiction, whilst demonstrating the present and possible effects of human intervention. His pieces are visually stunning and thoroughly Insta ready and his work explores the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. To accompany the exhibition, there is a wonderful A3 size hand-out which I skimmed over, but properly read when I grabbed a tea at Holmeside Coffee. Very interesting!

Robert’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Maria McKinney’s recent projects have examined the relationship between humans and cattle collaborating with cattle breeders and genetic scientists. From this work, there is LOTS of learning, especially for me as someone who doesn’t have much knowledge around how humans influence breeding of animals and their genetics. Contemporary cattle farming is depicted in large scale animal portraits, which really do remind me of large scale cow portraits from 18th & 19th century, that can be seen in the collections of Bowes Museum, Northumberland and Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle.

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Maria’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens (Robert’s in back ground)

Mandy Barker’s work, I found I kept on going back to on my visit to view again! Mandy’s work investigates and showcases marine plastic debris by collaborating with scientists. Her main aim is to raise the awareness of plastic pollution and effects of plastic on marine life. Her photographs are visually beautiful – it wasn’t until, I got up close that I realised exactly, what I was looking at. Whilst, we know humankind treats the sea, like our dustbin, seeing this…… well, it really demonstrates that fact and I think Mandy’s naming of this work, as “SOUP” is just perfect. You can see toys and possessions that I imagine at some-point were much loved and now, they end up floating in the sea creating a kind of “plastic soup” – the plastics float forever, attracting marine life to them, which will eventually lead to their death by poisoning or choking.

Mandy’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Liza Dracup’s work, embraces an ethos very close to my heart and something, I try to practice as Culture Vulture in my own work; looking at the extraordinary in the ordinary (we are all extraordinary in some way) and the perfection that exists within the imperfect. Her work was full of colour, light and made me smile. This collection of work is inspired by Joseph Swan, inventor of the incandescent electric light bulb – which makes sense as the theme of light and bringing to light nature features in her work. Also loved that she had included the practice of taxidermy, as a means to connect the past and present natural world – I’m fascinated with the practice and it’s having a huge revival!

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Tessa Bunney’s work was super interesting – contemporary farming is not something that I really think about (I probably should – as you know, I rely on it to eat…). In her work, she showcases the faces and new world of farming, a mix of traditional practices, innovation and artisan. A theme that runs through this work concerns, the changing nature of rural life and how humans have really shaped that landscape. I’ve worked on a few “rural” arts projects recently so I’m aware of the disconnect between the rural work that we rely upon and the urban world, that for folks like me, is our work and playground.

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Penelope Umbrico’s work was one of my favourites- especially as I’ve just wrapped a large scale outdoor event that was all about celebrating the moon! Penelope displays screenshots of photographs since 2015 that are tagged “full moon” from Flickr. These screen shots are presented both in print and in digital form. I could have stared at the digital screen for hours – one moon with MANY different representations! Really interesting and beautiful – I liked the element of collecting content from a digital platform, consuming it and then sharing it with a wider audience…… in that way, so many people have contributed to the work and have ownership of it.

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Penelope’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Sophie Ingleby’s work ‘Seed’, explores human fertility treatment. Now this is something that I am extremely aware of, with lots of my friends having fertility challenges (1 in 6 couples struggle to become parents). I guess, as a trigger warning, this element of the exhibition might not be right for you, if you’re very close to that journey right now or potentially at the recent closing of that capture – but none the less it’s fascinating, showcases the process, the science, the embryologists leading the way, the people hoping to become parents one day…..

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Sophie’s Work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Last but not least, Helen McGhie’s work explores the nature of darkness and astronomical observation. Again, coming out of wrapping a project all about the moon which also explored space, time, the stars, and moon-landings etc. – this work was just fascinating to me. Helen captures her own personal encounters with the night sky, which are just beautiful to look at and also presents a collection of photographs of objects used as a Northern Astronomer. I spent ages looking at each object capture – really interesting and certainly a bag of tricks.

Helen’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

This exhibition was organised by North East Photography Network (check out their insta!) who were established in 2009 to promote and develop photography in the North East of England and beyond. They work with photographers, artists, curators and a wide range of cultural partners, to create a lively and informed context for photographic activity and to encourage new audiences for photography. NEPN are really going great things – providing commission opportunities, ensuring visibility of photography within the cultural landscape and showcasing what contemporary photography is and could be in the future. Observe Experiment Archive is not only an opportunity to check out an amazing exhibition, but it’s also an opportunity to get a sense of what NEPN is all about. So if you’re an aspiring photographer or photographer in the North East, they are THE organisation to connect with.

Observe Experiment Archive is on to view until 5th January at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, check it out this week or this weekend….you honestly won’t regret it! It has certainly, reignited my interest in photography and given me A LOT to think about.

 

Women’s House exhibition: a transformed Tyneside flat exploring feminism from diverse perspectives.

A few months ago, I was contacted out of the blue, by artist Padma Rao about her upcoming exhibition ‘Women’s House’ with fellow artist Miki Z. The exhibition (and wider project) inspired by Judy Chicago sees a flat in South Shields transformed into a gallery space, exploring feminism in social, political, cultural and historical contexts and the notion of “otherness”  through various art forms. This exhibition is a culmination of research, individual and collaborative interrogations, conversations, workshops with diverse women, and discussions with artists through a symposium.

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

I get contacted all the time with exhibition information but this really triggered my interest for several reasons….

Firstly, in case you’ve been living under a rock, Judy Chicago, pioneering feminist artist, author and educator is having her work exhibited at The Baltic (until April 2020). The AMAZING exhibition at The Baltic spans Chicago’s fifty-year career, from her early actions in the desert in the 1970s, to her most recent series, The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction (2013–16), which has not been previously shown outside of the US. As a feminist, I’ve admired and been away of Chicago for some time, so any project that is inspired by her work is something I want to see and be involved in.

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

Secondly, it’s a genuine community engagement project. So many exhibitions and art projects have “tokenistic” engagement! This is not the case for Women’s House – they worked tirelessly over the last year engaging with community groups, organisations, artists, peers, researchers etc – having meaningful interactions with the wider community and creating opportunities for people to collaborate with the project. I really believe “co-creation” (artists working with the community) enables higher quality art work and more interesting outputs.

Thirdly, it’s a gallery in a South Shields flat; I love that concept on its own. It’s so interesting when you watch people in traditional gallery spaces, “gallery behaviour” exhibited and the audience barriers erected once art is put in a traditional gallery space. Instead with Women’s House – you’re greeted by either Padma or Miki, offered a cup of tea and then free to explore the ‘living room’, ‘ kitchen’, ‘bedroom’ and ‘bathroom’. It’s lush, it’s relaxed and it feels very special.

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Miki (left) and Padma (right) – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Finally, at its core is the exploration of feminism and different experiences of feminism via different art forms and cultural expression. I’m a passionate and proud feminist – I’m so interested at the fact the word “feminist” can have such triggered and polarised response. In the past, when I’ve supported a feminist art project, I’ve received some pretty horrible messages from people who really dislike feminists. And in championing this exhibition so far – whilst the responses have been really lovely and positive, there have been a few “stop with your feminist agenda pushing” or “I hate feminists”. Being a feminist is just about being a good human….

I went to view Women’s House a few weeks ago and it was so beautiful. Different art forms and styles in each room; there was a feeling of questioning, exploring, challenging the representations of women in various cultures and storytelling. The bathroom featured the work of members from Sunderland Women’s Art Group; over six weeks, members worked with Miki Z and Denise Lovell to explore domesticity, cross-cultural identities and gendered roles in the context of feminism. Some of this work is presented on sanitary wear including pads and tampons – which I just loved and extended debate around, why sanitary pads are STILL classes as luxury products and period poverty.

Women’s House is available to view until 20th December – they welcome individuals, community groups – anyone and everyone to get in touch to view by appointment via projectsangini@gmail.com . It’s a must see for feminists and art lovers alike.

I was lucky enough to interview Padma and Miki just before the exhibition opened to find out more! This interview was one my favourites as Culture Vulture and is peppered with such honesty from two fantastic creative humans!

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Miki (left) and Padma (right) – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Well hello both, so if we could start at the beginning…tell my readers who you are and what your arts’ practice is?

Padma: My name is Padma Rao and I am a contemporary visual artist, practicing abstract painting and contemporary drawing.

I am passionate about women’s issues and equality, and through my work I investigate the role and status of women in our current society, especially within the South Asian cultures. I use of traditional materials, such as vermillion and turmeric. Though my work is largely experimental and abstract, I include figurative elements as part of the narrative.

I have worked extensively in the arts and the wider cultural, voluntary arts sector in a variety of roles, including arts manager, poet as well as Diversity officer at the Arts Council of England and as an advisor on the panel for Sunderland City of Culture Bid 2021. Having left my job at the Arts Council of England, I have since set up a social enterprise ArtsConnect that runs an art studio/ gallery ‘Makaan’ in South Shields and works as part-time manager at Sangini, a BME led women’s charity in Tyneside.

Miki: I am Miki Z, a visual artist and natural builder. My creative practice is based on experimentation where process is as important as finished product. A significant element of my work centers on materialiality as well as collaboration. Play and accidents are an integral part of my creativity, working in a tactile way across materials. Alongside theoretical research, my practice is a point of research which deepens and informs my thinking process. This fluid approach draws in elements of installation, performance and community participation.

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The Storytellers – Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

So tell me about your journey into the Arts?

Padma: I have always been interested in writing and painting. I  have loved drawing since my childhood and studied literature in India.  I grew up in an artistic environment where music and literature was part of our daily lives as my mother was a classical musician and my father played guitar.  I wrote stories which were printed in local literary magazines and a collection of my poems was published while I was at college.

As a first-generation immigrant in the 80s, I found that the arts sector for the diverse artists wasn’t that developed and it was quite isolating. Much later, I entered the arts sector as a volunteer, helping out to put dance events on in Newcastle for Kala Sangam, Bradford. I also volunteered for a writing group in South Shields. Whilst developing knowledge and skills, organising workshops, I continued to practice my own work around painting, drawing and literature. It was during this, I learnt about the wider arts sector and the disconnect that existed for Black minority ethnic artists, arts organisations both at personal as well as wider level.  This marginalisation of Black artists concerned me and I began asking how can I instil pride in my daughter who was growing up as part of this society but had not experienced the richness of different cultural expressions around her. The history she was told in her school as part of her curriculum was not the history I grew up with about the British Raj and India.

I realised that the picture wasn’t right and in order to correct the picture, it was important that I was part of that narrative.  It was during this time, the Arts Council of England rolled out its ACE Fellowship programme, a fast track senior management training programme for Black, Asian and Chinese arts professionals who, despite working in the industry for a long time, found it hard to gain an entry point into the arts. It was the first-time Arts Council had recognised the lack of representation of BME artists and arts professional within the arts and it became a turning point for me. I was placed at ARC, Stockton where I learnt about all aspects of arts management, programming, marketing, events co-ordination, funding and finance.  Finally, I progressed to work as Diversity officer at the Arts Council of England, North East where worked till 2011.

At 50, I decided to leave my job to become a full-time artist, but that road has not been easy and it took me further 8 years to finally arrive at this point to show my work publicly with the Women’s House project.  All this time, I kept working in the arts with Sangini, creating projects involving women, highlighting women’s issues, took on governance roles with various organisations which contributed to the depth of experience that I am able to bring to my art today.

Miki: I studied 3D Design at Northumbria University 20 years ago. I left feeling completely disengaged with art and design, creativity had been educated out of me.  Some years later I started an abstract painting class with Linda Kent. I found I could connect with this way of seeing the world and letting the materials inform expression.  Alongside this, I attended various community arts workshops as a participant; this encouraged me to find a way back into my own creativity and the value of the arts.

What made you turn your house into a gallery space?

Padma: The gallery space is called Makaan, in Hindi/Urdu it means a house (that inhabits art and artists)

I feel passionately about the transformative power of the arts and know how ‘spaces’ can play an important role in giving access to rich, life changing arts experience.  Not everyone is able to, or likes to or comfortable to go to galleries, thus the buildings can become barriers in engaging public in the arts.  So, by converting this terraced flat into an art space I plan to bring the arts to the people. It exists quietly as part of a residential neighbourhood and has welcomed artists, women and people from diverse communities.

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Padma – Tracing The Evanescent

Tell me how the project came about and developed over time?

Miki: Woman’s House came about after many conversations Padma and I had shared over the years about our shared interest in feminist issues, working with women’s groups and our own creative practices. One question kept coming up in these discussions- Why could we not make our art and developing as artists be the most important thing in our lives?  We both felt passionately about pursuing this as a priority.  It became clear that there where many reasons why this didn’t happen. Everything else in life was given more importance -caring for people, doing other work just to survive, putting other projects and people first before ourselves.  Alongside these practical concerns, the underlying narrative is equally important. We have not valued ourselves as artists, the immense feelings of guilt spending time developing our creativity and under confidence in expressing our identity in the world.

In 2015 I visited New York where I went to see The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago. It was a fantastic and inspiring opportunity to see this iconic piece of work. What I was most struck with was the time spent working with hundreds of participants to create this striking art work. The highly skilled use of craft techniques, often seen as women’s work to depict each element is incredible.  It is an impressive collaboration between people, technical skills and ideas.

Padma: In 2018 while visiting a major women’s art exhibition in Paris, I saw some of the other work from the original project Womanhouse, 1972 the iconic project about women and domesticity by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro.

The Womanhouse, 1972 presented a variety of feminist art by various women including sculptures, performances, installations in a mansion, making this into a large scale site-specific installation, challenging the status quo around women’s issues and patriarchy.

The experience of seeing the original work by Judy Chicago was transformational; however, the exhibition presented a White, heterosexual, middle-class female perspective leaving a particular gap around Black and LGBTQ perspectives.

I got back from Paris and spoke to Miki at length about the exhibition I had seen and how these issues were still relevant, especially in the light of the Centenary of the Suffragette movement and the #MeToo campaign.  That’s when we decided to revisit the original exhibition Womanhouse. We both felt that there were still conversations to be had using Judy Chicago’s project as a departure point.  We wanted to understand how feminism is understood and defined by women from the BME and LGBTQ communities.

Four decades on, Women’s House considers BME and LGBTQ women’s narratives around some of the issues they are facing in current times in the light of the wider political, social and demographical changes.

What is it about Judy Chicago that you find so inspiring?

Both: The work of Judy Chicago opens a way to start dialogues about feminist issues.  Her iconic work Womanhouse seemed to fit well in the realms of what we had been talking about over the years, we both identified with parts of this particular work. The house being a main element of significance.  Padma had already converted a Tyneside flat into a studio/ gallery and my recent additional career direction in working in sustainable construction.

Having seen her work before, we both have a particular connection to Judy Chicago’s work. The tenacity, the boldness and expansiveness in her work has deeply inspired us to explore a lot of issues through our own lenses.  Her work has been pioneering in putting women’s work in a main stream context; highlighting women artists in their own right giving voice to feminist  ideas. It provided a radical language of expression for artists and viewer at a time when second wave feminism was active. Her work has influenced our own practice giving us courage in our own expression and aided more direction in enquiry within our creativity.

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

Tell me about some of the events and groups that you’ve engaged with so far as part of the project?

Both: The framework for this project included workshops with community groups, a networking lunch for artists and a symposium.

We held six workshops with 30 BME and LGBTQ  women across Tyne and Wear with the aims of the workshops were to engage women in a discussion around the themes explored in Women’s House using creative approaches help elicit visual narratives.

We also worked with Sunderland women’s art group and facilitated the process of developing an idea into a visual piece, enabling them to make site-specific art pieces for this exhibition.

We hosted a networking lunch for artists; eight BME and LGBTQ women artists were be invited to take a critical view on the issues of feminism and the impact on their personal lives and the artistic practice. What transpired was prioritising space for more in-depth conversations in the future about these discussions.

Finally, a symposium – Working in partnership with National Glass Centre; Sangini organised the symposium whereby a panel of women artists and art professionals were invited to present their views and experiences of Women centric work in the context off feminism in current times.

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Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

What do you want the audience experience to be when they visit the exhibition?

Miki: I want the audience to be challenged by the work created both collectively and individually.  Part of the exhibition is an immersive space to be viewed by minimal light enabling a space for individual imagination and narratives to be added into their own perception of the work. Their part of the story is an important aspect of this work; the boundaries are in no way solid, providing fluid interpretation.  I would like the audience to experience an emotional response to the work.

Padma: The work is largely visceral, personal and emerges out of deep introspection, unravelling small incidents with great care and honesty.  We are telling stories and I hope the audience is able to pick up on these threads and explore personal stories long after they have seen the exhibition.

Why do you think this exhibition and project is important?

Miki: This project is really just a starting point of opening the discussions around intersectionality. The uncomfortable, unsaid things are of interest to me, many of these topics have only been touched upon within this project. The tensions we see around our communities are real, but how do we address them? This project has started to make a space for dialogues between different women from diverse background. There is so much fear involved in talking about the real issues, the way we see ourselves in our own context and then how we may be able to see ourselves in a wider context.  Creating a safe space to have, what might, for many be unsafe conversations is challenging.  Using the creative process and facilitated sessions is a tool opening cross sectional dialogue.

Padma: This project is an important point of transition for me as an artist as it has helped me to affirm my identity, develop an understanding of the collaborative practice as well as my own individual practice.  Many of the issues explored in this project more in-depth conversations both internal as well as externally at wider levels.  Aside from the issues of race and sexuality, there are plethora of other issues that prevent women from leading a decent day to day life which goes to show that more is needed to achieve a level playing field.

The exhibition is personal yet it’s also reflective of the wider narratives we have encountered while working on this project.  It’s a conversation piece between Miki and I, a portrayal of the female world, as we saw it and experienced it.

This project helped us to link up with Baltic and the Women’s House exhibition coincides with Judy Chicago’s exhibition at Baltic. This is a major co-incidence which we are not taking it lightly. We are delighted with the opportunity to work with Baltic on this and we will be hosting an event to mark Judy Chicago’s exhibition.

Can you tell me about some of the pieces and the processes behind the making?

The Storytellers

Padma: A collaborative, immersive, site specific piece that draws on intersections of our identities in terms of race and sexuality.

This piece uses the techniques of Warli tribal art from India, where the outside walls of the house are painted in red natural pigment and using rice flour and water, women depict their daily lives on the painted surface.  We have used this traditional art form to portray our stories in the contemporary British context.  Using white line drawings, both Miki and I have attempted to bring together our experiences over the past year.

The piece creates an immersive environment, presented in a darkened room where viewers are invited to see the work using small hand-held lights, restricting their view of the artwork as a whole.  The viewers will only see parts of the work, forcing them to develop their own narrative/s based on the limited view of the installation.

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Miki (left) and Padma (right) – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Tracing The Evanescent

Padma: “Can’t remember the last time a south Asian female figure was portrayed in a mainstream art gallery.’

This became the starting point as I began investigating into the notion of feminism among South Asian women who are often seen as ‘passive’. This concern was further widened with questions such as, ‘Where are the stories of South Asian female activism?’  ‘Why there are very few or little South Asian female stories represented in the galleries or museums?’ ‘Where is the South Asian feminist art in the UK?’ After much research, there is a distinct lack of narratives to assert British South Asian feminist voices, especially through creative expressions.

This piece is a series of process based drawings involving the act of mark-making and erasure as the main method to ‘trace’ the lost or hidden faces of women of South Asian descent. What began as a quest for stories of feminist art expression among South Asian women artists, soon became a concern. There has been a distinct lack of narratives of the British South Asian feminist voices, especially through creative expressions.

Angry and upset, I began rendering by drawing and erasing the faces in a repeated fashion, as if to experience the notion of invisibility that happens to the women on daily basis. In some of the drawings, by slowly making the circular gestural marks over the face, thus partially covering the faded face, I was able to connect deeply and emotionally with these women.

Who are these women?  Despite the concern about the lack of presence of feminist expressions, what I found exciting was the ordinary and the everyday acts of feminism which pervade these women’s lives.  Hence, the largely lost or hidden faces of ordinary women who are brave, courageous and strong become the heroines and their narratives are explored through their gaze and emotional state. They are portrayed in oversized scale using charcoal, graphite and kumkum (vermillion).

Exploring Other

Miki Z: A process led investigation into gendered space both physical and emotional. Using abstract lines, mixed media and water colours, it explores the queer space in-between, capturing the non-binary state of depiction of a person. It’s open to challenging those boundaries, disrupting the binary position. Using intuitive way of working, there is the accidental or the unseen. What happens on the paper informs the next.  There is fluidity and sense of movement in the pieces that allow the viewers to gain a sense of flow that is largely internal, feeling like they are floating in a space of their own occupying a liminal space.

Sum the exhibition up in 3 words?

Both: Immersive, poetic, bold

What do you think about the current North East creative scene?

Both: The North East creative scene is a unique place to showcase as well as experience fabulous arts and culture.  Just take Sunderland and you can see how a city is transforming its cultural landscape through great music, dance, festivals and visual arts from across the world.  Despite the squeeze on funding, there are great advocates for the arts in the North East who keep fighting for the region and that gives us hope for the future. We do need more diverse artists from the region and their voices to come through and more diversity of audience participation, especially inclusive of minority ethnic, disability and LGBTQ communities.

Tell me about an artist that you find in the present, super inspiring?

Padma: There are several artists that I often refer to, depending on the subject I’m working on, for inspiration and to learn from; Kara Walker, Kiki Smith, Chitra Ganesh and Zarina Hashmi to name a few. But the one artist whose work I find particularly inspiring and deeply interesting, in terms of drawing, is Julie Mehretu.  Mehretu’s work is multi-layered with marks, architectural shapes, designs to create complex large scale abstract paintings.  I have not seen her work, but I am sure it will be just as transformational as it has been with Judy Chicago’s work when I saw it for the first time in Paris.

Miki: Throughout this project I decided not to do research on other queer or BME female artists. I was more interested in theoretical research which in turn influenced my creative practice becoming research, ideas and thoughts. The main area of importance for me goes hand in hand with my other work as a builder in various ways. Looking at gendered space as a concept, how we interact with spaces around us and how space is conveyed on a two dimensional plain.

Tell me about another project you’ve worked on?

Padma: Last year, I produced a retrospective for a national Rangoli artist Ranbir Kaur at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.

Miki: As well as being an artist I am a natural builder.  During my recent postgraduate degree in Belgium I was involved in the design and build of a women’s centre in a village in Morocco. Through this experience I have become motivated in researching practical design principles for best practice in working with marginalised  communities.

What’s next for you in 2020?

Both: We plan to carry on developing our collaborative work, expanding narratives working with communities to make larger scale artworks taking over public spaces.

Miki: In the next year I have many projects I aim to undertake, part research, part practice where one will influence the other.  I will attempt to undertake a research project which focuses on gendered space, crossing between physical built environment, body, emotional and the place in-between.  Alongside this I want to produce a body of work that crosses between my abstract art work and technical skills working with lime and clay in construction. Melding the two disciplines together.

Padma:  ‘The Female’ – as in consciousness, a metaphysical body, remains a primary concern of my work.  I would like to continue exploring some of the issues I uncovered during my research on this project, such as the notion of visibility, migration and identity from a feminist perspective. I have been deeply moved by the recent forced mass migration of Rohyingyas in Myanmar, but this is not in isolation. Mass movement of people is symptomatic of where humanity is at right now and I plan to develop a body of work on this topic.

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Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Wow…..I’ve loved this interview. I could talk about all of this all day – I really love when personal passions become the inspiration for projects. It’s all about people power!

Women’s House is available to view until 20th December – they welcome individuals, community groups – anyone and everyone to get in touch to view by appointment via projectsangini@gmail.com. It’s a must see for feminists and art lovers alike.

(#AD) Festival of Thrift 2019 – let’s get thrifty!

It’s September….it’s Autumnal and this is my favourite time of year…. It’s also time for Festival of Thrift!

There are some events and festivals that go on every year in the North East and you can mention them to folks and you’ll see a glint in their eye and their face lights up because they love them so much. In the North East, it doesn’t take too long if you put on a really lush festival/event that’s all about the people attending and connects with folks with a lush offer, that suddenly, it’s like the event is a North East tradition and we embrace it as one of our diamonds.

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(All photos belong to Festival of Thrift in this post)

Festival of Thrift is one of those events…..and this year it returns 14th & 15th September 10am-5pm in lush village of Kirkleatham – it’s a MUST do for everyone.  This annual award-winning festival is in its 7th year and is a proper celebration of sustainable living, positive change and protecting our planet….which has never been more necessary! Whilst there are lots of lessons and things to take away from the festival, it’s also a lush event and around every corner of the magical festival site is something different for you to discover and enjoy. And lots of my fave artists and creatives work on it…so I’m a bit (a lot) biased!

Each year, Festival of Thrift brings fresh themes and #thriftfest 2019 highlights clean air and celebrating the anniversary of the moon landing. Expect new journeys of discovery, thought provoking performances and a special mix of hands-on fun, food, music, dance and song. There are over 160 stalls selling all manner of thrifty, upcycled and recycled goods, delicious food and drink as well as a few surprises along the way….

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Since it started 7 years ago, I’ve never been able to fully enjoy it as it’s always clashed with Gateshead Family Sculpture Day, the day itself or the event prep, so my mind has been elsewhere and had to rush back. So this year, I’m excited…I’m going for the full Saturday, my mind will be all about enjoying the event and yes, I will be charting my full Thrift experience over on my Instagram……

There is loads to do and take part in across the two days…..drop in and pre-bookable workshops, storytelling, performances, lush live music, installations, thrifty stalls, advice pop-ups, talks, thing to make, see, do and experience….things for adults and families alike…..

Download Festival of Thrift programme to get plotting and planning your festival experience and for those who are just hearing about Thrift or haven’t quite decided if you’re going to go….well, by the end of this blog post, I hope you will!

I recently caught up with the wonderful  Festival of Thrift Director – Stella Hall for an interview; Stella is the visionary behind the festival and has been at the helm since its birth seven years ago! I met Stella at Make & Mend Festival 2019 and her passion for culture and events, across Teesside, in my opinion is largely responsible for lots of the excited happenings that are going on now and are set to come……

Interview with Festival of Thrift Director – Stella Hall

For those who are unsure, never been or curious, what is Festival of Thrift?

Festival of Thrift is the UK’s first large-scale festival promoting sustainable, socially responsible living, and creative, resilient communities.  Each September since 2013,  it has provided  a free weekend event  presenting  a mix of professional and emerging artists, community driven projects, skills and learning activities – with a focus on upcycling, recycling, making, growing, volunteering, skills building, learning and saving money.

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Let’s go back to the beginning…..How did it all start? What was the inspiration?

Festival of Thrift was launched in Darlington in 2012 at Lingfield Point business park inspired by the creative reuse of the buildings there, together with the UKs growing DIY and reuse, recycle, upcycle  culture.

Over the last seven years, the Festival has attracted 200,000 visitors, and is now recognised as playing a pivotal role in the social, cultural and economic regeneration of Tees Valley. It won the Observer Ethical Award for Arts and Culture and the North East Tourism Event of the Year 2015 and was shortlisted for Best Event North East for 2018.

In 2015, after the closure of the steelworks in Redcar, we moved the Festival to our beautiful Kirkleatham site and established as a Community Interest Company.

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For those who this will be their first year, what can they expect? Any pre-festival advice to get the most out of the weekend?

A beautiful , wooded green site  in a lovely village with play areas, fields  a museum absolutely packed with activities, stalls, performances, stages, demonstrations, food and drink .

Advice wise…

  • Bring walking shoes, dress for the UK weather, a picnic blanket and reusable cup and water bottle.
  • Bring your surplus fruit and veg and we will make soup and jam.
  • Bring things you don’t need – and swap them for things you do at the swapshop.
  • Bring stuff that doesn’t work and we will help you fix it at the Fix It café.
  • Dress in your finest remade clothing and get picked for the catwalk.
  • Book in advance if you fancy any of the workshops – but there will be plenty to see and do if you don’t!
  • Download the festival programme to plan your day(s).

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The theme changes every year, so tell me about the theme for this year?

Clean Air is one of our big themes his year – being in the Great Outdoors in the Tees Valley – we just don’t deserve the name “Smoggies” anymore, we’ve moved beyond that and Art is an invaluable way to help people to understand serious issues, as tapping into people’s emotional responses is far more powerful than simply presenting bald facts.

The other artworks in this year’s Viewpoints by Festival of Thrift will also respond to the Festival of Thrift’s clean air theme for 2019…. View Points is a series of pieces with a clean air focus curated by the Festival of Thrift for its second Viewpoints project, which sees sculptures, installations and artworks displayed across the Tees Valley from 12 -19 September to prompt discussions about sustainability issues.

The works include a lung cleaning experience at its railway station, a giant drawing using ink recycled from exhaust fumes, a series of enormous painted canaries using a dazzle camouflage technique, an extraordinary green house, a free-standing observation platform and Human Sensors consisting of wearable costumes that respond to air pollution levels.

The works we have selected for Viewpoints are effective ways to explain and help people to experience and explore the clean air crisis that we simply can’t afford to ignore.

You can find out more about ViewPoints HERE!

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Your marking the anniversary of the moon landing this year too, how has that influenced your festival programme?

It’s a great theme for celebrating what we can do if we really try – and boldly go! The theme also reminds us that we only really have one planet to live on – so let’s make the most of it and look after it well.

Plus we will be

  • Taking off with Whippet Up’s – Mission (out of) Control – an interactive re-imagining of the 1969 Moon Landing. Whippet Up’s vision will bring the excitement and optimism of space travel in the 1960’s to the Festival of Thrift.
  • Putting girls in charge with Space Rebel princess theatre show – a fearless young princess raised for royalty but not for rocketry, dreams of becoming an astronaut. Outsmarting the confines of her palace upbringing, she must boldly go where no princess has gone before!
  • Building your own rockets with Woodshed – this year they are building rockets out of reclaimed wood, hammers and nails, once the building is complete we will ask you to get creative with paint to personalise your invention.

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Now this is a toughie question….what are your programme highlights for 2019…your top picks?

I love all of it of course!

If I were a teenager (or adult!) it would be brilliant to be part of

  • Manic Chord’s search for an alien  in The unknown – Amber, a tech savvy teen and her rather more traditional grandmother, Dawn are onto something supernatural. With fellow members of the Society for Speculation, can the daring duo get to the bottom of these gravitational goings on? This show is free but prebookable HERE!
  • Urban Playground in the parkour show looking into the future, Zoo Humans. It’s a brilliant visual fast paced spectacle.

If I were under eleven I would go and be a Little Inventor…. Little Inventors is a creative initiative that takes children’s amazing ideas seriously and brings them to life working with local makers. From food waste to space travel, Little Inventors have tapped into children’s creative powers to engage them with the issues of today. At Thrift…

  • Dominic head inventor at Little Inventors (and Sunderland-born designer) will launch the new Pioneers Energy Challenge right at Festival of Thrift, a new project for children aged 8 – 12 to invent better ways to make, use, store and stop wasting energy.
  • Work with Little Inventors to create your own invention from ideas that help generate, save or use energy better. Come and draw your idea and have a go at making a simple prototype model using recycled materials, helped by the Little Inventors team. Your idea could help to save the planet!

If I were under five I would want a go on…  

  • The hand-carved wooden roundabout – The Bewonderment Machine. A visually stunning cycle-powered carousel creating a magical journey for small children-This handmade, human-powered merry-go-round combines hand carved animals, puppetry, and music. This is a miniature theatrical flight of the imagination, empowering the very young to care and to be curious. Climb on and embark on joyful journey. For times visit HERE!

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For adults – there is literally loads to do see, do, eat, listen to but this year….

  • I can’t wait to taste this year’s menu in our community meal – The Town is the Menu, inspired by the town Guisborough – The Town is the Menu is created by Simon Preston with Menu by Jess Miller and Sammy Coxell, the Ugly Duckling team. It’s £7 for 3 courses and there are limited slots left….you can see the whole menu HERE!
  • I always love the ingenuity of the Oxglam fashion show; it’s moon inspired this year! The Oxglam fashion show, features stunning creations using recycled clothing donations, is one of the highlights of the Festival weekend.
  • I am fascinated by the WRAS show – The Best of All Possible Worlds.. The story of a trio of innocents continuously buffeted by fate – 3 characters torn out of the pages of a book, Candide, and placed in an unfamiliar, unstable world. There’s a wilderness, the growth of civilisation, territorial disputes, war, a flood, a miraculous get-away, bad weather, hell and a happy ending that isn’t what it seems This puppet/object theatre show  will be presented with all the visual panache and wit expected from the Whalley Range All Star. For times visit HERE!
  • And all festivals are about their live music and we’ve got a great outdoor live music programme….

These highlights are just a fraction of what we have lined up this year. There’s plenty more to come and, as ever, people can expect the unexpected at the Festival of Thrift…..

Tell me about the Friday community parade launching this year’s festival?

We began the Parade last year to join the town to the village – it was a hit so we have created another one…. This year’s Thrifty parade will launch the seventh Festival of Thrift in joyful style, championing creativity and community in Redcar and helping to spread the Thrifty message of good living in sustainable ways.

Led by Stellar Projects, the procession will include a combination of local community groups, professional performers and musicians, including last year’s popular CowCar (has to be seen to be believed), to restate the highly topical warning of the dangers of methane emissions, and dancers wearing Kasia Molga’s extraordinary Human Sensor costumes, which measure and reflect  diesel emissions in the atmosphere!

Setting off from Kirkleatham Museum with a cohort of bikes which will make their way to Redcar town centre where they will meet the walking parade participants which will include school and community groups, performance groups and structures. The parade will take Thrift through the heart of the town centre and along the sea front to finish Bandstand.

It starts at 6.30pm at from Kirkleatham Museum and it’s going to be ‘Breath of Fresh Air’!

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Festival of Thrift is a jewel in the North east events and festival programme…..rightly so! Why do you think Thrift is SO popular and much loved?

We take huge pride in being a one-of-a-kind event with our packed celebration of sustainable living and we are promising another riot of ways to have fun at the festival this year.

It’s just a joyful weekend packed with sustainable arts, crafts, music, fashion, food, entertainment, shopping, demos, workshops and upcycling inspiration, our hugely popular Festival offers a weekend of free eco-friendly fun and attracted over 35,000 visitors last year.  A true weekend to remember!

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Whilst the festival is a lush weekend, there is a really strong environmental and sustainability message – what could the eco-curious take away from Thrift?

That each of us has a responsibility and each of us can make a difference but altogether, we can make a big difference.

Do you think events like Thrift has positive change making effects for the everyday?

Certainly – our audiences tell us this every year. But we also need to get active, join campaigns, make our voices heard. It’s a 365 day a year project – not just a weekend! Festival of Thrift is a great starting point for the rest of the year and an excellent way to discover new ideas….

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What’s one bit of Thrifty advice you have for my readers?

To ask ourselves questions in the moment….

  • How much do we really need?
  • What can we share?
  • What would we want our grandchildren to think about how we have contributed to creating the world they will live in?

We have those answers ourselves.

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Well thank you Stella – I’m totally in the mood for Festival of Thrift right now and I hope my fellow Culture Vultures are too.

Click here for 10 Festival of Thrift 2019 highlights and get planning your visit and happenings. The official Thrift website is a fountain of EVERYTHING happening across the weekend….or be like me, plan nothing and just discover as you go…..

Until next time Culture Vultures…. xx

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(#Ad) Why you need to go to Lindisfarne festival 2019….

Right, I’m an avid festival goer….. I’ve been to festivals here, there and everywhere. I’m a big fan of independent festivals, the type of festival where you live in a bubble for the weekend, dress like a 90s TV presenter covered in glitter and sparkle, back comb your hair within an inch of its life, eat LUSH street food, discover some amazing new music, dance until you drop (or go cross eyed like I did at Bestival one year), make best friends who you will never see again, have some really unique experiences and, this might just be me, but I’m all about the festival décor. I love sculptures, projection, flags, things designed by artists….hidden treasures around every corner. I’m getting excited just thinking about it……and that’s exactly what I’m going to get at Lindisfarne 2019!

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There might be some of you out there, thinking – festivals aren’t for me….. or some of you avid old festival goers, that think you’re too old…. But to put it plainly you’re wrong. You are totally wrong and I’m going to tell you ten reasons why, festivals are essential to your happiness in life in general (bold statement, I know) and I’m going to weave in my festival handy hints and reasons why Lindisfarne Festival 2019 is the end to your perfect Summer.

Line up and tickets available here: www.lindisfarnefestival.com

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  • It’s like #Friyay feeling times a million…… do you remember John Simm as Jip and his “the milky bars are on me!” monologue. My festival experience always starts with that explosion of excitement – and it’s like that for a whole weekend, I can experience total escapism and freedom from ordinary life constraints and have an unforgettable shared experience with other festival goers. Now of course, come the Monday morning….. it’s also like hangover times a million….. but that’s Monday’s you problem. Thursday, Friday & Saturday you are free to go wild.

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  • It will restore you faith in humanity again…..dare I mention the landscape we live in at the moment? Festivals unite people…..a lot of festivals have a diverse crowd and Lindisfarne with its genre hopping ways will be no different. But at festivals, people leave their baggage at the door, connect and have a lush time doing so. We are conditioned to be adversarial and to hate…. At festivals you’ll have conversations with people from different worlds and you’ll gain new insights, new perspectives and a renewed sense that people aren’t all bad. We can be a canny bunch when we want to be.

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  • Focusing in the moment and away from social media……now this sounds bizarre for someone who makes their living via social media but actually at festivals, I tend to switch off from the digital world. A festival has enough shenanigans and good times, to hold me in the present instead of in limbo on Instagram. Festivals clear my head and I often return with a renewed sense of self and a reminder that there is more to life than work, work, work….

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  • It’s an opportunity to go a little feral…. Bare with me on this one. When I was younger, yes I embraced a festival with baby wipes and sacked off the showers. Now, at 33years old – showers are not a “nice to have” but an actual “I need to or I will die”. We are so obsessed with being clean, looking social media glam and a whole host of other things – that again we forget about just being ourselves. Due to my poorly skin (I currently have the skin of a 14yr old) – I’ve had to give up make up and it’s been lush and freeing. The world didn’t stop, I choose when to dress up and I dress for me! I think everyone should go a little feral every so often….

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  1. Don’t ruin yourself on the first night…..oh we’ve all been there. You’re buzzing to be at the festival….so you drink yourself to death, pass out way too early and then don’t recover for the whole weekend. I once went to a festival where I couldn’t eat food or even keep water down due to this for 48hours….this is especially true, if you’re not a regular booze hound. Pace yourself, don’t show off, there are three nights…. Save the big night, for the headliners…. Or at least just don’t ruin yourself on the first night.

Another thing about drinking too much is forgetting everything…. I’ve been to a festival where I got up to clear my tent on the Monday and I had total festival blackout – what’s the point in that!? You want lush memories and good vibes…..not blank mind and sicky sickerson.

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  • Prepare yourself for a hangover straight from the apocalypse…. Dioralyte is your new best friend, alongside Milk Thistle and any other hangover remedy that you can think of (chocolate milkshake is my go to). You don’t have time for a hangover at a festival….ain’t nobody got time for that. You need to be up, out and exploring. I hate wasting the day at festivals…..the day is all about discovering the hidden treasures, having a go at something new, stepping outside your comfort zone and truly embracing the festival vibe.

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  1. Make a list of things you want to do….. when you get to a festival time will slip away! So before you get there or once you’re pitched up, make a bit of a plan! What are your must sees, your would like to dos and make it happen! Even if you manage only a few, you skip the regret and Lindisfarne Festival has SO many stages….you’re going to want to be strategic until you’ve drank to the point of just wanting to dance the night away regardless of where you are and what you’re listening to.

Step outside your comfort zone at least once……festivals are all about trying new things, taking part in workshops, listening to new music, speaking to new people…..

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  1. Support independent festivals……independent festivals like Lindisfarne aren’t about big business or making money….they are about a team of freelancers, artists and creatives wanting to realise a lush dream and bring people together. You buying tickets makes the festival happen and possible.

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  1. TISSUES, TISSUES, TISSUES……bring lots of tissues for the toilets. Tissues are your festival best friend.

Do you have any other suggestions of your own?

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So are you going to join me at Lindisfarne Festival 2019…..you absolutely should…..just look for the Tina Turner Hair’d 90s TV presenter!

Tickets: www.lindisfarnefestival.com

See you there to get a little bit feral…….