Artist Jim Edwards & Craig David Pub cat…..

Two weeks ago I attended Ouseburn Open Studios and was a true Culture Vulture– I took myself around all the galleries and called in to lots artist pals and of course chatted to lots of new creative folk and other attendees. I had a blissful conversation with an artist about the 90s and owning a type writer when I eventually own my own house (I want everyone to be able to type a message when they enter/visit).

Ouseburn Open Studios is such a fantastic vibed weekend – I also like to make sure I buy lots from artists and creatives whilst grabbing a drink in many of the lush bars and independents along the way. Hence my purchasing gets more and more along the way…….


And I always finish (it’s traditional for me now!) in Jim Edwards studio on the Sunday afternoon and promise myself that when I’m grown up, I’m going to buy myself a Gateshead themed Jim Edwards painting. I love Jim Edwards work – it’s colourful, enthused talent and I always view it with a huge smile on my face – as every single piece to me, looks and feels like home. He depicts many lush scenes from the North East – some iconic, some comfortingly familiar and some perfectly stylised.

One of my favourite pieces of his – depicts Craig David. I imagine – 50% of you reading this, know exactly what I’m talking about and the others, probably think I’m talking about actual Craig David (even typing that makes me call out “can I get rewindddd!”). Craig David was a lovely pub cat – he was a regular lurker at the Free Trade Bar and his spot was on top of the Jukebox. He’d often swagger in and make himself at home or you’d go in for a bev and he’d be in his spot snoozing or watching the world go by……

(732) The Free Trade

Craig David died this year and of course, there was an outpouring on social media. And when he died, I suddenly thought of Jim’s painting – which depicts a quiet Free Trade afternoon with Craig David absolutely in pride of place checking out the view of the Tyne. He’s forever immortalised in that picture. It reminded me why I love Jim’s work so much – real scenes, with real goings on filled with real detail. I love that painting!

So I thought I’d take Ouseburn Weekender as the perfect opportunity to catch up with Jim Edwards – find out more about him, his work and his style.

Hi Jim – right tell me about your journey into the arts?

I’ve always been interested in creating artwork. As a child, it was always the enjoyment of getting lost in a creative practice, and also for the praise that came from making a strong image, and being regarded as good at art.  I had two older brothers who were also good at art, and so the competitive nature between siblings challenged me to become better.

I concentrated on art throughout school, art foundation and a degree in illustration. After I graduated, I wasn’t sure how to continue a career in the arts.  I attempted illustration for a while, but it wasn’t for me.  Whilst working as a picture framer, I started to sell small paintings and drawings at a market on Armstrong Bridge (Jesmond Dene, Newcastle) on Sundays.  I tried out all sorts of work, abstract, surreal, figurative, but the thing that really took off were paintings of Newcastle.  I gave up becoming a picture framer, to give more time painting cityscapes, and I’m still a professional artist 18 years later.


Tell me about your practice and your strong recognisable style?

I mostly paint contemporary cityscapes and landscapes, centred on the North East.

The style has slowly evolved over time. When I started, it was quite naïve in style.  I worked a lot with biro, with washes of acrylic paint.  I then used hairspray to bleed the biro colour through the paint.  It was an interesting affect I stumbled across by accident, but I stopped this method because it wasn’t good for my health.

For a while my style even went a little bit abstract, but the cityscapes started to become too unrecognisable; I like to play with colour and over exaggerate the light in my nightscapes, I have to build up several  layers of paint to get the desired tonal effect, making the city glow.  A slow process, but rewarding.

My work is strongly rooted in memory, how we remember a place, rather than a straightforward representation. I like to reimagine the cityscape, even if certain elements are forgotten or altered.


What’s it like being on the Ouseburn creative scene at the moment? Your studio is beautiful!

I’ve been working in the Ouseburn for most of my career, hopping from one studio to the next. One of the earliest was at the Biscuit factory, followed by the Mushroom Works.  Then after a brief 8 month stint in Northumberland, I came back to 36 Lime Street, before taking on my own place at 59 Lime Street.

I couldn’t imagine having a studio outside of the Ouseburn, it feels like my creative home. It’s quietly paced, and feels like an escape from the city, even though it’s quite industrial.  Renowned as the cultural hub of Newcastle, it’s crucial to be here for the numerous open studios events that take place throughout the year.  This is where all the creative venues join forces and open their studio doors to the public.  Whether it’s the Ouseburn Open Studios or The Late Shows, both are valuable to my work.

It’s quite a lonely profession being an artist, which I don’t mind, because I love my own space. But it is beneficial to mix with other like-minded people, to work together of bounce ideas off each other.  So I’m often over at 36 Lime Street having a cup of tea with friends.

(638) Starry Tyne III

How did you go about securing that studio space?

I spotted it was coming up for rent, so jumped at the opportunity to get it. It’s a huge jump in rent, to what I was used to at 36 Lime Street.  But the increase in visitors to my studio, with having on street access, has more than made up for it.  It’s a small, intimate space to work in.  And sometimes I don’t know if the space is a studio or a gallery, so sometimes it struggles to function as both; as long as visitors don’t mind the creative clutter when they pop in.

Any new work or projects you’re working on?

I’m currently working on a few paintings, trying to get them finished before Christmas; including a large canvas of the Ouseburn. I have a huge to do list of paintings, mainly because the ideas come far quicker than I can actually paint them.  And so I’m looking forward to making a start on some paintings of Cullercoats and the Lake District in the New Year, before getting round to everything else on the list.


And what does it feel like – people coming into your studio and looking at your work?

It’s quite a strange one. It’s always amazing selling paintings, really spurs you on to paint more. Especially being able to meet the buyer and talk about your work, which you don’t normally get in a gallery situation.  The rhythm of creating a painting gets thrown, whenever someone comes in.  It’s surprisingly disruptive, and I probably produce a lot less work these days.  But I can’t complain, it’s important for my work, and I want people to pop in.  And if they buy something, even better!


Next year – it’s the Angel’s 20th Birthday and also Great Exhibition of The North – obviously, your pieces champion the North East and landmarks – do you see an opportunity for yourself next year?

I’ve got an Angel of the North painting on my studio wall, right now. Hopefully the birthday celebration will encourage it to sell.  Who knows what will happen during the Great Exhibition of the North.  I’ll see if I can tie in my paintings somehow.  There may be an Ouseburn Open Studios event during the event.  I look forward to it, and hope it benefits the creative industries in the Ouseburn.


One of my favourite pieces of yours is The Free Trade depiction with Craig David in it….. as a Free Trade lover and prolific cat cuddler – it always made me smile and I’m super happy his legacy lives on forever in that piece.

I do like The Free Trade painting too, reminds me of the lazy days spent in there, before children, enjoying a pint. And yes, Craig David pubcat lives on in the painting.  I also like the window view, almost giving a painting within a painting.


You manage to have successfully develop what I’d class as a commercially sustainable practice – do you have any advice for other artists currently trying to?

I think it’s crucial to know how to position yourself, to know if there’s a gap in the market, and can you create something to fill it. When I was a picture framer, I gauged the sort of paintings people were buying, and I thought there was a lack of cityscapes and landscapes in my style of painting.

You’ve also got to be stubbornly determined in your pursuit; have a fire in your belly to see it through, and not be too distracted by what others think or do.

What’s next for Jim in 2018?

Lots more art and getting through that to do list of paintings. Exploring more, and painting places in the North East I haven’t got to yet.  I really want to get round to painting more of Durham and Hadrian’s Wall, when I have a free moment.  Ouseburn Open Studios returns in March, and the Late Shows in May, plus other events through the year.


Well thank you Jim – lush to catch up with you! Jim’s Studio is located at: 59 Lime Street, Ouseburn, NE1 2PQ and open Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 4.30pm and Saturday, by appointment – it’s certainly a must see for Culture Vultures and check out his work online too via his website – I just love it so much. And if like me you can’t quite afford a big picture painting – there are lots of prints and greetings cards you will be able to afford!

And of course, big love to Craig David pub cat – the cultural scene misses you!

Till next time Culture Vultures!


Stupid at Arts Centre Washington : a review

So here I am – I’m in Arts Centre Washington Theatre. I’m watching Stupid by Sian Armstrong, directed by Anna Ryder as part of Sunderland Stages Autumn programme.  I’m sat towards the back – near my mum. Mama Horts – we’ve just driven to the venue – she’s lectured me about my career choices on the way.  Still can’t drive.  Still don’t own my own house. Still single. Still unruly hair.

I drank two gin and tonics in the bar. My mum cross because I’m not the best at self-restraint. She’s also annoyed because I was late to meet her. I’m always late.

So we are sat and I’m ready to watch Stupid. This is a play I’ve been excited to see all Autumn. I loved hearing about it when it was in development. I love the story now – I just connect with it. I love that the all-female team behind it – are ladies that I admire and in the spirit of supporting my local girl gang – that’s why I’m posting this.

So my unruly hair and my Mama are sat waiting for the show to start. And the lights go down and I just know I’m going to love it. And then we are on a Ferris wheel. And we are with ‘Stupid’ – but she’s not stupid at all – she’s merely figuring things out’ like many of us still are.

Dumped, single, back home, working out the who, where, what and why of her life whilst pretending to be a functioning adult felt a little (actually VERY) close to home. And I felt every high and low with the character. I literally laughed, I cried and also felt like getting on stage, to tell ‘Stupid’ that she’s absolutely fine, not to worry and she will figure it out.

This one woman show is the best piece of theatre I’ve seen this season. It’s fresh, it’s real, it’s funny, it’s well written and it’s worth seeing. The live drawing excerpts work well as a reflective take to encourage the audience to consider what’s just happened whilst feeding into the undertone that this temporarily lost creative soul, just absolutely needs to be creative and draw.

The set is fantastically minimalistic, full of touches that further Stupid’s characterisation. Each scene from the Ferris wheel, to the pub, to the supermarket, to the classroom, to run, to the school cupboard is so rich with the storytelling that you become immersed in Stupid’s world – a world that at this moment is not quite what she expected, full of societal expectations and the moments when we all question who we are and what exactly we are supposed to be in life; questions that seem terrifying and daunting as nobody has that answer. And then, that absolutely terrifying realisation that we can all be anything we want to be…….

My favourite element of the show was watching it with my mum a.k.a. the infamous Mama Horts. Stupid’s Mum is full of questions and statements about how she should life her life – “why can’t you just get a proper job?”. I sat smiling the whole way through the show because Stupid’s mum is my mum and I’m sure she represents many other well-meaning mums out there. Any straying from conformity, deciding to make my own way in the world and not ticking the societal boxes is just crazy and questioned at every turn. Seeing this dynamic brought to life made me smile.

However, Mama Horts very much did not see herself in the mum character and actually, she perceived the Mum as talking a lot of sense really…… and actually, the whole show reminded her, that she’d always thought I’d be good a teacher and that it would be a stable job but if I ever was going to be a teacher, I’d need to sort my hair out and learn how to dress like a grown up…… uh huh.

Stupid ends on possibilities….. a feeling like many things are possible and I love that. A million and one things are possible irrespective of age and circumstance – I walked away from the show feeling empowered to continue pursuing my own creativity. I feel like I went on a wild emotional ride with Stupid, we hit rock bottom and the story took us both to the end point to champion that life is not about what and who you “should” be and is entirely about figuring out and embracing what you “could” be.

Well done Sian Armstrong and Anna Ryder – it’s a brilliant, well written show that mirrors the hilarity and painful realness of figuring life shit out. I thoroughly recommend and it’s coming to Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle on 28th November….. it’s a must see and tickets are available.


Stupid by Sian Armstong: “there is no right way – there’s only your way and you have to trust it.”

So hi, I’m the Culture Vulture – if you know me professionally, then you know me as on it, organised, ambitious and together. You might even wonder how I manage to do so much in so little time, how do I keep so many projects on the go, do I sleep!?

Well I’m going to let you into a little secret….. I do sleep. A lot. I prioritise work over my life. My personal life is a bit of a mess. I adult well professionally…. In my social life, my friends know me as scatty, all over the place, disorganised, hot mess etc etc.

I often read those Buzzfeed “if you’re late and/or messy then you’re clever” – makes me feel better but I know that’s I’m just struggling to be a proper adult. I’m super messy, my bedroom often looks like the room of someone having a breakdown and there are main adult mile stones that I thought I would have achieved – but I haven’t got round to it yet or life, well I just play it proudly by own rules, in my own time.

So I’m 31…. I’m trying to figure out my life and the difference between what I should and could. And at 31, professionally and socially – I’ve realised whilst I don’t have it figured out, I’m ok with being a whirlwind. And that’s what I am – a beautiful whirlwind.

So I was super excited when I found out about an upcoming show called Stupid as part of Sunderland Stages on Thursday 2nd November at Arts Centre Washington – it’s all about figuring things out, it’s about realising that no one knows how to adult, not really and life is one hell of an interesting journey.

Final front leaflet

I’ve been working as The Culture Vulture with writer Sian Armstrong and Director Anna Ryder recently whilst the show is in development. It’s been such an interesting process to be a part of – the show has absolutely transformed in terms of storyline and concept. A theatre show is so much more than just the end thing the audience gets to see and it’s been a privilege to gain some insight into how a show goes from conception, to scratch, to stage. And the fact, it pretty much seems to be modelled thematically on my life and the character ‘Stupid’ is my honorary soul sister – is just, well brilliant.

Final back leaflet

So I’m really looking forward to seeing Stupid this Thursday at Arts Centre Washington and in the interest of championing my local creative #girlgang –  I thought I’d catch up with Sian Armstrong and Anna Ryder ahead of the show’s debut, find out what it’s all about and why other Culture Vultures NEED to go and see this show!

What is Stupid about?

Sian: Stupid is about one woman’s journey to figure out who she is, where she’s going, questioning whether she really is what she feels she is; stupid. It’s about honesty, and sharing stories that often go left unsaid. It’s about owning up to not having a plan, even when we feel like we should have one. It’s about challenging what we deem intelligent to be in our society. It’s about no longer pretending to have the answer. |

Anna: Stupid is about feeling inadequate; that feeling you are one step behind the world and that those ahead of you are imbued with some kind of super-powered resilience and smarts. It explores how ‘stupid’ is such an isolating and individual-defining feeling, when in fact (as with most negative thoughts we harbour about ourselves) it’s existence is only possible when framed alongside other people and its longevity as a feeling is perpetuated by systems and attitudes that are, by design, riddled with classism and sexism. It is a product of our hyper-competitive and one-size-fits all education system.

What can audiences on Thursday expect?

Sian: Audiences should expect honesty, laughter, and a story that hopefully brings people together in the room, talking about the times we’d maybe rather forget – and seeing the power in those stories and the flaws and vulnerabilities we may associate with them.

Anna: Audiences can expect a funny, relatable and inspiring story. It looks at what seems like small experiences and re-frames them as a collective society experience. ‘Not just me then’ can sound twee, but it is amazing how cathartic the feeling can be!


One line to sum up the show?

Sian and Anna: Brave, magic, relatable theatre that allows you to shake off the desire to always get it right.

Can you tell me about Stupid’s development process?

Sian: I’ve been developing Stupid for about three years now – in 2014 I was asked if I was to make a piece of theatre what would it be about and my immediate answer was ‘feeling stupid’.

I guess this show really began at my kitchen table, back in 2003, with my Dad by my shoulder trying for the umpteenth time, to teach me maths. The equations looked as jumbled as my head felt. I had always felt bottom of the pile when it came to academia and as I have grown, this feeling of ‘not quite sure’ has grown with me – which left me questioning am I seen as stupid? I feel it quite a lot. I think a lot of us do. But what does it really mean?


The show has taken so many twists and turns since 2014. In the early stages of development, my idea was more focused on Dyslexia – after my best friend got diagnosed with Severe Learning Difficulty in her third year of university; I was fascinated by how late she was diagnosed with this. It was devastating to see how much this affected my best friend’s self-confidence, she felt lost, and couldn’t quite come to terms with it – leading her to quit her degree.

The show has also been influenced by my experience working as a Teaching Assistant and Supply Teacher for a short period of time, this gave me an insight into the pressures teachers and students are under to meet their own individual aims but more depressingly the struggles they sometimes face to tick the right boxes and fit the system they are all part of; especially those who are older, who have recently left or are about to leave higher education, and facing decisions on what’s next.

Throughout the development of Stupid I have done various audience engagement projects, running workshops with potential audiences, from youth and theatre groups, students in schools and online surveys – throughout this experience I have met people who have helped the shows development in various ways, in terms of content but also understanding our audiences and the stories that relate to them.

What was your inspiration for the show?

Sian: My inspiration was the feeling of stupidity itself, and how it exists in us all. We all feel it but what does it really mean?

All the people I have met throughout my development have inspired me in some way – if its answers they gave online or stories they told me about an embarrassing moment; they have all inspired the story I want to tell through Stupid.

I’m also constantly inspired by things I watch on telly or online, I’m obsessed with TED talks and people such as vulnerability expert; Brene Brown and Ken Robinson. I’m also inspired by sitcoms, and films, most recent examples are Fleabag, Girls and The Incredible Jessica James. I’ve found when you’re creating something you get inspired by all your experiences and the conversations you have.

What’s your writing process?

Sian: Pffft. I don’t think I have a process really.

I’m currently working with Caroline Horton who has been amazing to work with. That’s one thing I would recommend for anyone who’s starting to write – find a writer/theatre-maker/performer you admire and ask them to be your mentor. I don’t think I could have done this without the support and advice Caroline has given me so far. I told Caroline recently that I’ve been slightly pressured by trying to find a process that works for me and she said in one of our recent sessions together “The things you read about how to do it right, sometimes you just have to say screw them!…” I found this extremely reassuring and empowering! I’m constantly trying to do things ‘right’ and it’s so nice to have someone tell you – sometimes there is no right way – there’s only your way and you have to trust it.

I do know one thing about my process though – I need to talk to people about it – I do not do well on my own writing at a desk, I’m definitely an extrovert!..Writing can be so lonely – I’ve found talking to people about my writing has helped shut those negative ‘this is shit’ voices out of my head and has opened up exciting conversations that inspired me to go away and write stuff … But I’m definitely still finding my way through it, my process seems to change all the time, especially within a devising process. I like to imagine devising as this big, scary, creative beast and writing as it’s treat!

You got funding for the show’s development – can you tell me a bit about that?

Sian: I have received Arts Council England funding for my development process for Stupid and have been supported by local theatre venues and companies across the region such as Sunderland Stages, Arts Centre Washington, Mortal Fools, Northern Stage and Sunday for Sammy.

All I have to say about funding is there are people that can help you, you just have to ask for it. The ACE application isn’t an easy process, I asked a lot of my friends who had applied before to read my applications, and asked for any top tips they had.

But the best thing to do is meet ACE and get their advice and support. I was terrified when I first had a meeting with Arts Council England, because ‘NEED TO PROVE MYSELF’ was all I could think of – but I found talking to someone at such an early stage isn’t about proving yourself, it’s just about being sensible – and helps you understand the best way to approach your application. I didn’t feel judged in any way, if anything I felt more empowered to actually go for it! … Also when looking for funding try and find ways that YOU might help the people who have money – it works both ways.


Anna: It sometimes feels hard to vocalise that ‘yes, I am a professional artist’ without feeling silly or wanting to qualify the statement with a self-deprecating remark. Fear of being proved otherwise or fear of the gauche way that this declaration can sound, is fuelled by a lack of tangible ways in which to distinguish the difference in output from a creative ‘hobby’ to that of professional work. Despite all my best intentions and my politics, funding definitely helped towards feeling that my work was legitimate. It was like receiving a felt stamped elephant on your worksheet with the words ‘GOOD JOB’ heralded above. However not long after this initial validation, I began to realise what a ridiculous concept this vindication was built on. The show and intention remained exactly as it had been before a big green arts council tick. The only difference was that it could be realised in a shorter space of time with fewer concerns about paying my rent. While this freedom is not to be played down- the work I wanted to make and my creative ability to do so remained as was before the theatre gods took pity on me and granted me a small sum of money.

Funding is vital, scarce and a life source for those of us trying to get by on zero-hour contracts and the rewards of self-employed artistic projects. However, it is of great importance that we learn to see our creative work as valid, whether we are recipients of a grant or not. We must continue to fight for the legitimacy of what we do and that small voice of doubt in the back of my head was the first barrier I needed to demolish

One thing you want audiences to take away on Thursday after watching Stupid at Arts Centre Washington?

Sian: To be empowered by their own uncertainties, vulnerabilities and potential discoveries.

But what’s next?

Sian: We plan on touring Stupid Nationally in Autumn 2018. So watch this space!


Well thanks Sian and Anna!

So come join me on Thursday to see Stupid and see the finale moment of this development process. I will be front row – cheering Sian and Anna on – like a proud parent. Excited to feel empowered! Oh and it’s my birthday this week – I’ll be 32 – and will be accepting gin and tonics as gifts (just in case you were wondering) so I’m excited to celebrate my unconventional and chaotic life whilst watching Stupid.

If Stupid was real, we’d defs be mates and she’d be in my girl gang.

Ticket for Stupid are available from here!


Amy Lord; live art, brain-feeding & 90s at Our Time.

Amazingly talented people walk among us often hidden and unheard….I’ve really learnt that a lot recently. Not all creatively talented people call themselves artists – they are ordinary people, in everyday jobs and yet, they have talents so unbelievably amazing at their fingertips.

And often no matter, how engaged you are in the cultural sector and how “aware” you think you are – I’m always surprised when there is someone, doing something so amazing and fantastic and I didn’t know about it!? Sounds ridiculous – but I prize myself in being in the know and the now – so when I stumble across someone new and exciting, I’m both blown away but a little bit cross at myself – how did I miss this!?


I first heard of Amy Lord, when a friend of a friend told me about this “project” in Newcastle taking over a townhouse and how they were exploring happiness and we had a mega long conversation about what exactly happiness is and how society has this version of happiness and zen……and I’m just over here, being ridiculous, not getting up at 5am and doing yoga and even when I’m happy, my world is chaotic.

So, this townhouse take over culmination was over Late Shows weekend – which is my busiest weekend – I never get to experience the Late Shows as an attendee – I work it and usually on the Gateshead side. So obviously, I missed Amy’s ‘Experiments in Happiness’ take over.


Fast forward a few months and I’m sat listening all about the progression of this year’s Juice Festival and Our Time – Helen who is programme director said the ultimate which immediately secured my project buy in…..

“Rachel – so there is Amy Lord, she’s this mint visual live artist….she’s doing this Art House piece and you’re going to love it, it’s all about the 90s”.



So being the creep, I am – ultimate stalker mode started and what I discovered was an artist that is creating and doing very interesting work in collaboration with some of my favourite people at the moment in the North East Cultural Sector.

I really like visual live art – it combines some of the elements I love most about sculpture but encourages an evolving engagement. Amy describes it as a “multi-textured and layered encounters and experiences” and I think it sums it perfectly. So many elements and things brought together – with a strong focus on visual……

As someone with a passion for events – I really like Amy’s work from an space curation and the facilitation and provocation of audience experience…… that really excites me and I’d love to work with her in the future.

So now over to Amy…….


Who are you?

Hello! My name’s Amy, I’m 31 and I’m from Northumberland! (In the style of Blind Date).

I’m an artist but I also run an events company on the side called Lemonade and Laughing Gas. I’m currently living in between London and Newcastle. I spend a lot of time on the Virgin Trains East Coast train route at the moment…


Tell me about your arts practice?

I make live art. For me, this means creating anything from an interactive installation, a game, a video, a crafting activity and a performance. I always want my work to be personal, political and to not shy away from difficult or challenging subjects. Sometimes my work can be more about the process than the end result. I love working with different groups of different ages to capture the full spectrum of human experience.


Tell me about a recent project?

My latest big project in the North East before my Our Time commission was Experiments in Happiness. I took over an empty townhouse on Grey street and filled it with installations and experiences exploring ideas around happiness and mood. 600 people turned up over 2 days – the interest in the project totally blew me away and has just made me want to do more stuff here.


Everyone has a super interesting story about becoming an artist – tell me about your journey into Arts?

I’ve always got a buzz out of making things from a young age, but I think my first step into the arts was Uni. I was lucky to get into LIPA (Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts) and studied Theatre and Performance Design. Although I loved the course, I knew I didn’t want to be a theatre designer at the end of it. A tutor there introduced me to live art and more experimental theatre in my final year, and I was hooked. My first solo project was a work in a derelict restaurant about the media and pressure on body image for women (2007).


Piece of advice for someone thinking about a career in the arts?

Try and build in time for ‘brain feeding’. It may feel indulgent but if you don’t keep seeing stuff, reading things and learning new skills, sometimes the inspiration well can start to dwindle!


Why did you apply to be a part of Our Time?

I liked the structure of the ‘mini commission’ – creating something quickly for one night only appealed to me, as well as the positive feelings about the area and the past Team Juice were wanting to emphasise.

Tell me about your commission?

Research is often at the core of the work I make, this commission is no exception! I spent 3 days rummaging around news archives and microfilm to find good news stories from the 90’s – specifically in Newcastle and the North East.


Then, we had a workshop with Team Juice to whittle these down and find out what was most interesting. We did some creative thinking and finally, shot some video on smartphones to make into a film that will be projected on a loop throughout the evening.

We’ve chosen to show the film in this bonkers tunnel in the museum, which we’ll be filling with 90’s music to help transport people back to that time!

What was the inspiration?

DIY culture/the contrast between technology in the 90’s and now.

The idea could have happened for any decade really, but I chose the 90’s because not only is it having another moment in the sun but it’s also the first decade I’ve felt properly nostalgic about, as I was 15 when the millennium arrived!

I used to think people obsessing about the 70’s and 80’s were just living in the past, but now I totally get it! Nostalgia and remembering those super important formative years can be totally delicious! As long as you balance it with living in the present too…I also can’t pretend I wasn’t influenced by watching Sing Street.

What do you want attendees to take away from your installation?

Fun. And maybe realising how many amazing things happened in the 90’s for our region.

Top 5 90s songs?

Wow, there are so many. Here’s some of the top of my head (that may have found their way onto the soundtrack!)

Dreams – Gabrielle

What’s Up – 4 Non Blondes

Another Night – Real McCoy

Sunshine After the Rain – Berri

The Whole of The Moon – The Waterboys


Favourite 90s moment?

When everyone thought the world was going to end once we got past midnight on New Year’s Eve 1999.

Have you seen the rest of the Our Time line up? What bits are you most excited for?

I’ve worked with Zoe Murtagh on my last project so obviously I’m a fan of her, and am looking forward to seeing what she’s created with ‘It Was Once A Dream Interactive Trail’. I also create a lot of multi-sensory work so I’m looking forward to getting in the Von Tuur Salon.

Also generally, we’ll be in a museum, at night, with a bar…absolutely winning!

Well, I’m just such a fan of so many things Amy said….. I’m all about trying to make time for “brain feeding” and the 90s is absolutely my jam……


Thank you Amy….. I’m super excited to see and experience your piece.

I will be at Our Time at Great North Museum on 21st October – you’ll probably find me lurking and obsessing over Amy’s 90s piece and involuntarily breaking out into song and dance when ‘SunShine After The Rain’ comes on…..

Culture Vultures – this is the ultimate Culture Vulture event….. don’t miss it or Amy’s lush installation.



MiddleChild love by an only child

Well Culture Vultures, it’s that time of year when I sit with all my cultural programs, The Crack Mags and decide what, who and where I’m going to go this season – usually over a Gin and tonic. The process reminds me of when I used to sit with a highlighter when I was little and circle all the TV I was going to watch and things Mark Owen from Take That was appearing in….

So here I am highlighter in hand and now over Take That and I’m eagerly looking for exciting and different things to do. Autumn/Winter is my FAVE cultural season – and because it’s getting colder and darker, I love venue specific good times. I want to be in one place, be a part of something cool for a few hours before heading home. None of this bar hopping or outdoorsy things for me…….unless it’s Enchanted Parks or I’ve got my Gin jacket on – then all good and happy to face the elements.

So things that I’m looking forward to so far that I’m going to – Pink Sari Revolution at Northern Stage – based on a fantastic book about empowered and revolutionary women in Indian, Our Time at Great North Museum – party and culture crawl in a museum after hours, Get Lucky at Wylam Brewery –   a fully synthesized electronic soul orchestra performing Daft Punk live and I Hate Alone at The Peacock in Sunderland on 26th October at  7.30pm (tickets avail – a full blown theatre gig, think Thelma and Louise turned up to 11.


I Hate Alone is what I’m most excited about and it’s from MiddleChild – a theatre company that have absolutely thrived in Hull’s City of Culture this year….and it’s exciting to see a the theatre company thrive so much and is a testament to what the award of City of Culture can do not just to the region, but to the cultural organizations within.


So who are MiddleChild!?…well they feel like hot property at the moment and are certainly doing amazing things…and the most important thing, culture vultures – they provide a bliddy good night out!

So Culture Vultures, I caught up with Paul Smith from MiddleChild and director of I Hate Alone to find out more and get in the know and the now….


Hi Paul, Tell me about your show I Hate Alone?

I Hate Alone follows two women – Danielle and Chloe – who believe the world has wronged them. They decide to create a list of the people who have contributed to their dissatisfaction and get their own back one-by-one. It’s a story of injustice, revenge and above all, friendship. Danielle and Chloe are modern day anti-heroes.


We re-watched Thelma and Louise just for the show – love the vibe of taking revenge against the world – who was your favourite Thelma or Louise?

An impossible question! You can’t have Thelma without Louise or Louise without Thelma. It’s like having Ant or Dec on their own – it’s just not the same. The great thing about that film is the relationship between the pair, the fact that they can simultaneously be good and bad for each other. It’s exactly that feeling that our writer Ellen Brammar has managed to capture with I Hate Alone. It’s impossible to say if the friendship is a good or a bad thing because there are elements of both, and it’s impossible to say who you prefer – be it Thelma/Louise or Danielle/Chloe, because they are yin and yang. One can’t exist in the same way without their partner in crime.

What is a theatre gig?

We like to use the term ‘a gig with a story’. It’s essentially a night out with big ideas in it. The feeling of coming to one of our shows is no different to going to see a stand-up comedian or your favourite band live but with one key difference – there’s a complex, compelling story at the heart of it.


What can audiences expect?

A dark and funny tale of two women who sing, shout and kick ass.

What music can people expect?

Danielle and Chloe have chosen to tell their story as part of a gig where they showcase music from their band Disabled Barbie. Throughout the night they play their own brand of gothic-electronica influenced by a broad range of artists such as Let’s Eat Grandma, Kate Bush and Daughter. Expect dirty beats, hard-hitting drums and even a recorder solo!


You guys really wanted your show in the Peacock – why was that? (they do amazing Sunday Lunch roast potatoes – just saying!)

We believe that theatre needs to break out of existing purely in traditional theatre spaces and want to set fire to expectations of what a night watching theatre can be. Taking I Hate Alone to social spaces like The Peacock allows us to do just that. Oh, and the amazing roast potatoes of course.

You guys have released a new EP and video – tell me a bit more about that?

We’re keen to find ways that the music in our shows can be enjoyed beyond the live experience. We think theatre can learn a lot from the idea of fandom in art forms like music and comedy and want to enable people to continue their engagement with gig theatre on their own terms. Being on Spotify, Band camp and places like that are key to ensuring our work reaches beyond the usual theatre crowd.


Where did Middlechild start? Who/What is MiddleChild?

Middle Child started in Hull 6 years ago, almost to the day! We all met at Hull University and, after going off to various drama schools / jobs, decided that we wanted to make our own work in a city we loved. Since then Hull was awarded the honour of becoming the UK City of Culture, allowing us to grow in both ambition and capacity. The name actually comes from Fight Club, as the characters talk about being the ‘middle children of history’. That term really resonated with us at a time when the Coalition government was just coming into power. We had no great war, no obvious battle, but knew things weren’t right, needed changing and to do so we had to be loud and outspoken. That feeling remains today and runs right through the work we make.


Favourite Fringe moment/experience?

This entire year up in Edinburgh was incredible. We were at our favourite venue – Paines Plough’s amazing Roundabout – and were selling out shows and receiving great reviews. The Fringe can either feel like the best or the worst place to be and this year we were extremely fortunate. The one moment that stands out is when one of our actors, Marc Graham, was surprised after the show with a Stage Award for Acting Excellence. It was the first time I’d seen him speechless, which was very enjoyable.


Explain your involvement in City of Culture in Hull?

We were one of 2017’s major theatre commissions with our show All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Luke Barnes. We also benefited hugely from organisational and creative development from the team who have supported what we do from the day they arrived. We’ve been massively fortunate and our impending NPO status is massively due to the permission for thinking big given to us by the Culture Company. The transformative power of culture has been so apparent all year, and Hull is absolutely buzzing. It’s been an amazing time for the city and our job now is to work with the other local organisations to ensure it is the start of something special, rather than the end of it.


Advice to other cultural organisations in Sunderland and how they could benefit if Sunderland secures the bid?

Keep doing what you’re doing, believe in yourselves, work hard and – when the time comes – the right people will notice that and do what they can to help you achieve as much as you can. Don’t expect the City of Culture label to wave a magic wand – it’s commitment to what you’re making and doing that will make the real difference, City of Culture would simply reinforce and build upon that.


Holy moly – I’m bliddy excited to meet MiddleChild and BEYOND excited to see them at The Peacock on 26th October at 7.30pm….  see you there!

Moth Studios: a studio putting taxidermy and entomology at the heart of the creative community in the North East!

It’s been a while since I blogged….I’ve missed it. I’ve missed seeking out new things, people and places to tell you about. It’s not that I didn’t seek them out – of course I did, it’s what I do and my notebook is as always, full of scribbles, names, ideas and things I’m looking forward to exploring in the coming months. It was more, I just didn’t have the time or the energy to do anything……

Those who really know me, know I’ve worked my socks off for the past 6months – I’m a prolific workaholic and an addicted culture vulture……but this year has just been something else – life in the fast lane, times a million. I don’t even know how it’s September or how I got through that workload, but it is and I did and I’ve worked on some fantastic projects so far and many more to come…..

I’m desperately trying to stand still and look back and reflect – but my head is just buzzing with all the ideas I’ve put on the backburner, collaborative opportunities I’m just itching to explore and new beautiful projects, that are at this point all mine to run free with…..

So even though I’ve had my head down to the ground, I’ve been watching, taking things in and for some, as creepy as it sounds (and I’m pretty good at being creepy), I’ve been admiring from a far. And if during this period of living amongst tornados of colliding priorities and projects, you have made me sit up and take notice of what you’re doing…….well you’re obviously doing something right.


Have you ever had love at first sight moment? You get butterflies, you’re consumed, confused, overwhelmed and the world really does stop and skip a beat….. I had a moment like that when I stumbled upon Moth Studios in Ampersand Inventions earlier this year. Their studio wasn’t even open but I was peaking through the glass (told you I was good at creeping!) and it looked like the most interesting, weird, bizarre and absolutely captivating studio to work in. From the work space, it screamed that something really exciting and different was going on – a very different creative offering………

It was a bright space, full of animal and insect touches – think Tim Burton-esque meets very talented taxidermy. Of course, I’ve always been fascinated by taxidermy and entomology– the practice, the art of it and how it has gradually moved from quite a niche thing to infusing other types of art forms – especially stop-motion animation but I’ve not really had that much exposure to it. However, their studio managed, whilst being full of dead things, to feel absolutely full of life and energy…..


My Ampersand tour guide at the time was all round megababe Melanie Kyles, who told me, that Moth Studios offer workshops and taxidermy sessions…… This peaked my interest absolutely and the more I thought about, the more it made absolute sense that this studio enabling people to experience taxidermy and entomology should sit right at the heart of this creative community.

As you know, the Culture Vulture is allllll about new things, different things and even bizarre things and Moth Studios is providing an offering that is so different and an experience like no other – so this is right up my street. And it’s not just me who thinks so – through-out this busy period my social media has been full of people from the North East championing their work and attending their workshops – from tiny skull sessions, to butterfly pining, to taxidermy…. I’m certainly not the only one fascinated and intrigued by this artist studio and exactly what goes on inside its doors……..


But for this Culture Vulture – it’s the processes behind the finished items that really interests me and the symbolic nature of the pieces, their silhouettes and the slightly gothic nature of the materials being worked with…….and so my love at first sight with Moth Studios started – at first of course, from a distance and now, well I’m head over heels and I just had to find out more so I caught up with Founder, Sherene Scott who started this adventure in 2014…..


So hello Sherene! Tell me about Moth Studios? Who are you? What is it all about?

I’m Sherene Scott, director and owner of Moth Studios. We are a contemporary ethical taxidermy studio located inside Newcastle city centre.

What was the inspiration behind starting it all?

I am an artist and taxidermist; I’ve had formal training, from Newcastle University and around the UK. The inspiration for Moth began in 2010 whilst I was still a student; I began training in taxidermy and I had an amazing interest for death and preservation; as strange as that may seem. My passion came to light when I realised it was a dying art form, the skill involved and particularly that it is a male dominated field of work.


How did you end up residing in Ampersand Inventions? I’ve peaked through the doors of your studio when I visited and holy moly, it’s a beautiful space!

I joined the Ampersand ‘team’ before the space was even erected, as I had friends that were resident artists and directors of the spaces. So you could say I was there from birth and build!

“Birth and build” – I really like that! Here in Ampersand you’re surrounded by other creatives and artists and the building as a whole, all with different backgrounds and practices etc; how does that influence you?

It’s a warm yet very professional feeling working so closely with other artists, designers and small businesses. We all have each other’s backs and we’re never short of giving and receiving ideas, advice and networking whilst we are “living together”.

Do you think taxidermy is making a real come back – it seems quite fashionable at the moment and gathering interest?

I think in the last few years, there has been a complete revival and resurgence in taxidermy. It’s an amazing feeling to see people interacting, enjoying and educating themselves with the idea of AND physically getting involved with life, death and anatomy.


There also feels like there has been a big shift from people seeing it as a technical process but something not often openly talked about or featured in a “cabinet of curiosities” to now being much more mainstream, with greater interest in both the process but also in it as an art form? Do you feel that too?

There has indeed been a shift in the way people see taxidermy… I.e. no longer only in museum displays, curiosity cabinets and dusty old traditional taxidermy with complicated dioramas.

Now because we have so many taxidermy laws and there are no longer illegal ‘trophy rooms’ for silly status value; I would like to think we no longer see taxidermy as a bad practice, but seen as beautiful, artistic and ethical pieces of natural beauty, with the dioramas now being your own home, space or a unique 21st century touch.


Tell me about some of your upcoming workshops – they are really unique and interesting? And how can people book onto them?

Moth Studios hosts many workshops and classes alongside their own work and online shop. We have beginner’s taxidermy and entomology (insect pinning) classes throughout the whole year!

Autumn/winter season is very popular for Moth… We have classes ranging from bugs to mice to squirrel, skull decorating, birds and even our specialised workshops themed around Halloween and Christmas, where we will be having bauble and wreath gift making evenings!

All of our up and coming classes are posted on our Facebook events page and I can be contacted directly via email to get booked onto a session.


Where do you source your materials from?

All of Moth Studios specimens and skulls come from responsibly sourced donations and finds from various different people, rangers, aviaries, farms and so on.

Do you take commissions?

Moth Studios does take commissions and projects; mainly specimens that have been found or that Moth already has. However, I do not commission pets…….

Do you have any new projects on the horizon and what’s next for Moth?

We have many exciting projects on the horizon and 2018 will see a whole new class list, new works and entire new collection in our shop. We will also be touring Moth Studios classes to exciting external locations in the North East and down south!


Well that sounds massively exciting, thank you Sherene and if like me, you want to check out one of their classes – well why not come along with me and be my date…..I really fancy something Halloweeny or a Christmas wreath….get in touch and let’s do it.

Keep in touch with Moth via; Instagram: moth_studios , Facebook: Moth-Studios , Email: , Website: or No: 07958658009.

Until next time Culture Vultures…..



GemArts Masala Festival 2017; a South Asian cultural infusion of a festival……

Working in Culture within the North East is possibly the best sector in the entire world to work in; it’s just mint! The ideas, the events, the projects, the people and beyond. As a none people loving people person, I really finding my little space in the world, with such brilliant people.

The Cultural sector in our region is just so diverse – I’ve never experienced anything like it. The cross fertilisation of ideas, partnerships and collaborations and the ever emerging willingness to work together culminates to ensure an exciting bubbling richness of lush things and people.


GemArts and Sunderland Stages present Gods & Mortals at Sunderland Minster

The sector is also very close knit – you can attend any event really and see a smattering of friendly creative faces smiling, championing you and your projects and attending the things you do. It’s a like a secret club of lushness…… the people you work alongside or attend their things and champion, very easily move from project partner or such and such from that organisation….and become friends. Real friends and people who you celebrate every cultural moment with.

Sinead from Gem Arts is one of those people (and in fact really the whole Gem Arts team….but Sinead really likes cats and is quite ridiculous like me, so she’s my favourite). I’ve known of Gem Arts for some time and championed them for as long as I have worked in the cultural sector….. their Mini Mela was my induction into working with a large scale cultural children’s event.


GemArts is a dynamic arts development organisation presenting South Asian arts. They produce and programme new and exciting culturally diverse arts, by creating and developing high quality concerts, events, festivals, workshops and commissions with regional, national and international artists. Every event I’ve attended has been a cultural hot pot and celebration of South Asian diversity and learning about respective cultures.


Last year they launched Masala Festival and I had the pleasure of championing it as part of Gateshead Arts Team and of course, as Sinead’s mate Horts. So as we are literally about to jump into the second Malasa Festival (deep breaths Sinead and team – it’s going to be mint!), I thought I’d take the opportunity to catch up with her and find out what this year has in store for the region alongside digitally championing to my fellow Culture Vultures what a cracking week this is going to be…..

Well hello Sinead, so first up; what is Masala Festival?

Masala Festival is the North East’s very own, award winning, South Asian Arts Festival, bringing a mix and blend of the finest art and artists to the region for 7 days in July starting on 17th July.


How many years has it been running and what kicked it all off?

GemArts launched Masala Festival in July 2016, offering a truly eclectic programme, spanning traditional and contemporary arts. After 16+ years presenting diverse arts in the North East, we decided it was time to put our expertise to good use, and create a brand new Summer Festival, showcasing artists from the UK, South Asia and beyond.


This year the Masala Festival programme explores partition, migration, globalisation, identity, heritage, tradition and modernity, and marks the 70th anniversary of Independence for both India and Pakistan, something we were already starting to think about in 2016.

You won a Culture award for last year- tell me what that was like?

Recognition is the icing on the cake, alongside the incredible support we continue to receive from participants, audiences, trustees, volunteers, sponsors, partners and local communities, to whom we are hugely grateful and celebrates the creative talents of artists from the region, across the UK, South Asia and beyond.


It was a joy to collaborate, connect and celebrate with thousands of people from across the region at our first Masala Festival, and we can’t wait to do it all again.

Receiving an award for something your team is truly passionate about is a dream come true, and has given everyone an even stronger drive to continue championing creativity and diversity at every level, supporting young and emerging artists, and offering people from all backgrounds and ages, community groups and schools, engaging opportunities to take part in our culturally rich and diverse arts offer.

So… now 2017; what’s coming up for Masala?

This year’s Festival (17th-23rd July) will ramp things up, building on our award success we’ve been even more ambitious, and added exciting collaborations and takeovers to last years list.

GemArts has commissioned work from celebrated companies and artists  and the programme is packed; award winning poetry readings (Daljit Nagra: Heritage and Identity), specially curated short film programmes (Changes), celebrations of Sikh soldier’s music tradition and contributions to the First World War (Sacred Sounds), leading choirs from India (Gandharva Choir), two nights of powerful theatre (No Dogs, No Indians), Masala Festival takeovers and collaborations (Q Festival, Trinity Square and Dabbawal), Mini Mela family fun days, Indian storytelling shows (Henna),  talented musicians fusing jazz, electronic and Indian classical music (Sarathy Korwar), folk music and dance (Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band),  film screenings (The Jungle Book, Ghandi), exhibitions (AURORA by Jayamini de Silva), food events (Biryani Club), fantastic workshops (Bollywood dance, Meditation and Yoga), talks and demos (including GBBO contestant Chetna Makan) and lots more……


What should I not miss out on?

We think you should attend everything, but there probably aren’t enough hours in one person’s day. Three events we know the Culture Vulture will really enjoy would be;

SACRED SOUNDS – A national project called Sacred Sounds, which tells some of the largely forgotten stories of British India’s role in the First World War. Using archive footage, letters, photos, music and poetry, SACRED SOUNDS is a multi-art form performance which explores Sikh musical heritage and traditions, which soldiers took with them to the battlefield.

HENNA INDIAN STORYTELLING SHOW – As part of our Q Festival takeover we’ve invited international storytellers Peter and Gorg Chand to tell a very special story. On the eve of a wedding a young bride-to-be is having henna applied to her hands. As the patterns emerge, the stories begin to unfold… love, loss, betrayal and Bollywood! Plus GemArts Henna artists will be on hand to create beautiful designs for any of our audience who want them.


NO DOGS NO INDIANS – A powerful new play from Siddhartha Bose. Three intertwining stories, spanning decades, explore the effects and legacy of the British in India in a powerful new play to mark the 70th anniversary of independence.

I’m always up for trying something new and out my comfort zone- do you have any recommendations?

CHANGES: stories on the edge will certainly make audiences ask some serious questions, and think long and hard about the world they live in and the resilience of people. Following last year’s successful ALIVE film programme, we’ve teamed up with creative producer Bobby Tiwana again, who has curated a stunning line up of short films for CHANGES; a programme of lives on the edge – personal and political conflicts test human resolve.

My little mini Culture Vulture Beck (one of my best pals little boys) – he’s really into trains, stamping his feet, stairs and exploring- anything for him and his lush fam?

There is plenty for mini Culture Vultures and their adults to get involved in during Masala Festival. We’re starting our Q Festival takeover with Bollywood dance classes for ages 2+ from 9am, and then from 11am we’ve Stories from the Punjab and Beyond for ages 5+ , a fun, interactive, and lively session of Indian tales.


Part of our Movies at Masala programme with the Jam Jar Cinema, shows The Jungle Book at 11am on Saturday morning.

Sunday sees the return of our popular Masala Festival Mini Mela, which last year welcomed more than 500 people throughout the day. Like all GemArts Mini Melas the day includes a range of drop in arts workshops, from Rangoli, Kite making and Silk painting to Bollywood Dance and Dhol drumming, plus we’ve invited an amazing group of musicians to really bring the space to life, as the Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band will perform throughout the day.


Heard about the curry night at Arch 16 which obvs I’m all over that…..I like my curry to be an experience…..

BIRIYANI CLUB AT ARCH 16 – We love working with our friends and neighbours, and when we read about Arch 16’s curry clubs with Ashiyana Café we knew we had to chat Masala Festival with them. A tasty curry for less than £10, and GemArts DJs spinning the best bhangra hits, what’s not to like?!

CHETNA MAKAN CHAI, CHAAT AND CHUTNEY – As big fans of food shows, food cooking and food in general, we were over the moon when former Great British Bake Off contestant Chetna Makan was available to deliver a cooking demonstration during Masala Festival. Chetna will share stories from her travels around India for new cookbook, Chai Chaat and Chutney, and attendees will get to taste a selection of delicious street food recipes created before their very eyes!


Well that’s all a little bit amazing isn’t it – so make sure you check out GemArts Masala Festival next week…’ll see instantly why  it won a Culture Award and how fantastic it is – every night a brand new experience of diverse lushness – so much to see, do and of course Culture Vultures, EAT!

So bye for now Culture Vultures and Sinead, well I’ll see you on the other side of Masala Festival…..


The Culture Vulture xx