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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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……

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Well that’s all a little bit amazing isn’t it – so make sure you check out GemArts Masala Festival next week…..you’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…..

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The Culture Vulture xx

Mobile; a class theatre show about class.

I don’t come from an artsy back ground; I come from one in which new experiences and trying different things was encouraged. My first and only experience of the theatre, as a child was either through primary school trips or my yearly panto trip. It wasn’t until I was older, as a shy introverted child, that I decided getting involved in drama was a good idea and one, which pushed me out of my comfort zone. I acted in plays, wrote stories and took countless different drama exams – theatre and performance were important as they not only let me challenge myself but they also let me be myself. I found the confidence to have a voice as opposed to a teen that had a million and one thoughts and things going on in my head, but just never had the courage to say them. This will sound hilarious now as someone who often never stops talking or putting forward her opinion…..

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Now as an adult, I engage and enjoy theatre from the other side – as an audience member. I love theatre and performance for many reasons; firstly – it’s pure escapism and storytelling at its very best. You can lose yourself in another world, whilst having a really lush experience or evening out. Secondly, it’s a shared experience and moment – an absolute one off that you share with the audience around you, the people you’ve come to see the show with and of course, the cast and crew. And finally, and yet mostly importantly, it offers a different perspective of a theme, a story, a thing and triggers reflection and a growing sense of a new understanding.

I love things that make me think – things that challenge my perception of life and theatre can and does, open you up to a whole new world. In some instances, it might be a show of make believe and in others, many of my favourite shows, the story resonates and sits very close to home, exploring societal themes and stories.

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Couple that with my love of something unique; what I like to call a “sneaky hidden cultural adventures” – an arts experience in an unexpected place; well I was thrilled to go and see Mobile, a performance piece by an all-girl collective called The Paper Birds (gan on lasses!). Mobile was brought to Sunderland Winter Gardens on 28th and 29th May by the lush Sunderland Stages. Sunderland Stages take theatre and performance to unexpected places across Sunderland and let’s be honest, there is nothing more unexpected that a theatre show next to Mowbray Park in a caravan……

You can watch the Mobile trailer here!

The dynamic company The Paper Birds comprises Artistic Director Jemma McDonnell, Kylie Walsh and Bonnie Mitchell. After their first show, A Smile Fell in the Grass, featured in the National Student Drama Festival, the company formed in 2003. 14 years on The Paper Birds strive to create and share devised work that is culturally, socially and politically important in day to day life and often tells and prioritisies the stories and voices of women.

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Mobile is the second of a trilogy series about class; the first in the series was a show called ‘Broke’. Many of you may have seen the piece already when it appeared in 2016 at Live Theatre and received smash hit rave reviews. The Guardian has even reviewed it: “Mobile neatly turns the caravan into a magic box where every cupboard and drawer springs a surprise”.

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But for those who haven’t seen it; Mobile is a piece entirely set in a caravan, the audience is invited inside the caravan after playing name games with each other outside. The set-up is one that reminded me of a festival / camping feel so automatically I felt at ease and was enjoying chatting to other audience members.

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Once inside the caravan, the story is told with one narrator and explores the themes of class, home, society and identity through a whole host of appliances, which are used in a really innovative digital means to give voices to other “characters” sharing their story and experience of class boundaries, barriers and labels.

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The show was interactive, thought provoking and exceptionally emotional in parts. For 40mins, so many class-related questions were posed, stories shared and it was a beautiful production. It was interesting to explore how much of our sense of self, is defined by birth right, labels given to us and societies construction of who and what we are, what we could be and who we should be.

I caught up with Jemma McDonnell, the artistic director of Paper Birds to find out more about Mobile and to dig a little deeper about the show…..

Tell me about Paper Birds and the inspiration behind the name and the collective?

The idea was based on taking a piece of paper and creating something new from it and to be honest I think at the time I had meant origami but was not sure of the spelling so wrote ‘paper bird’.  Because we are a devising theatre company and we try to make work that is very current this felt like it would symbolically work for the company and our aims.

Now tell me about Mobile; a play that is set inside a caravan – what’s it all about?

We were utilising the research of a sociologist at the London School of Economics (Dr Sam Friedman) about social mobility and it inspired us. Enshrined within this is the notion of class and social structure in Britain both past and present. We wanted to tap into how we all feel resonance with different classes, and the universality of the issues they include; family, home, ambition.

What was the inspiration behind setting the piece in a caravan?

The caravan symbolised for us, holidays and nostalgic memories of family; we wanted to use the intimacy of such a small space to be able to explore things theatrically that could never work on a stage. It was the proximity of the audience to the performer and the immersive aspect that enticed us.

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We were also really attracted to the idea that the caravan itself has experienced social mobility; 100 years ago the caravan was an affluent symbol, and since then it has both risen and declined in popularity. In particular it now represents a ‘working class’ holiday – and the complexity of this shift seemed to fit perfectly with the subject we were exploring.

It must have been a real challenge creating and playing in such a small location as a caravan, with just eight people sat so close to you?

The challenges certainly include how you can use the space; there’s not a lot of room, especially when the caravan is at capacity! We had to be really inventive with the way we transformed the space with technology and AV design. It also limits the capacity for cast members/actors; we found creative ways of including as many voices and stories as possible despite only using one actor.

But the best thing is that we don’t need to rig and focus all the lights at each new venue we tour to- as they are all in position already!

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Considering the volatile nature of modern politics, are there any timely messages that Mobile has to offer?

The main political strand that evolves throughout the piece relates to the notion of fairness; in how our culture lays out the promise of a fair and just society for all where we are free to prosper and rise. But as is experienced by our character Cindy, those who do not start with financial advantage are very rarely rewarded with the same level of upward mobility as it would seem.

You’re currently touring the show up and down the country, what has the audience response been like so far?

The show is always received with positive reactions – being so close to the audience and sharing the enclosed space means that audience experience is always clearly obvious; most people experience a reflective and emotional engagement with the issues and themes and often this is characterised by shedding a few tears! But it’s not all doom and gloom – there are plenty of laughs along the way!

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What can the audience expect getting into the caravan and what will they take away?

We hope that people come away with a new found appreciation for all that their family and upbringing involved, that they leave the caravan thinking about class and how social structure relates to them. We hope that they identify with if not one, but several of the characters they meet along the way, and above all else – that they are wowed by the technical wizardry installed into the humble interior of a family caravan!

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Well thank you Jemma – what a pleasure and good luck with the rest of the tour. Can’t wait to see what The Paper Birds do next!

Still curious about Mobile? Well you can watch audience feedback here and The Paper Birds are currently touring the show across the Summer, so make sure on your Summer adventures to plan in time to see this amazing show.

Big love to Sunderland Stages for bringing this lush and thought provoking show to the North East….they are shortly announcing their Autumn programme so keep an eye out – but Mobile certainly gives you a flavour of the different type of theatre shows to expect.

Even bigger love to fellow Culture Vultures – see you soon!

Creative Start-up Shepherd Illustration…

The heart and soul of Culture Vulture is my passion for culture and arts in the North East……I’m on a cultural adventure to seek out and discover as many things and creative people as possible. I’ve built a business based around seeking the unfound and going out and about in the region…..literally my dream.

My starting point with artists and creatives is them as individuals; teasing out their story and perspective. I don’t just want to see an arts piece or performance; I want to experience it, understand it, question it and learn from in. I am fantastically lucky that in my day job and as The Culture Vulture, I get to meet an array of creatives and artists. I really get to know them and they become a part of the Culture Vulture network and family. I look out for them and champion everything they do……..what is so brilliant about meeting so many people and hearing their stories, is the different journey people have often taken to become an artist, a creative, a creative business, practitioner, a performer, designer….however, an individual sees themselves. And this is why I do blog interviews….to learn more , explore but also for you lovely lot………

So pleased to meet you Lauren Shepherd, lush creative business and recent start up – you will be able to meet her at the after-party at Newcastle Start-up Week……….

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Hi L, Tell me about Shepherd Illustration?

Shepherd illustration was born out of my accidental habit of drawing. Each art course, I have ever taken, be it fine art, spatial design or animation, I have always found myself focusing on drawing. Many art forms need so much equipment, where as to draw you just need a scrap of paper and a pen.

I like being quiet (this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows me as I talk…. Too much) but when I am on my own, I just love to be quiet; drawing offers me that sanctuary. I ended up with a bunch of drawings and wanted to do something with them; at first I found it really hard to focus on creating a product and still now, I realise I have gaps in my product range and I don’t focus on creating a card for every occasion. I like to give the customer chance to think for themselves and to become a part of the creative process. I’m still learning and I enjoy meeting people on this journey of turning my passion into a business.

Tell me about your journey setting up a creative business?

At first it was very exciting and still is; but it’s hard receiving knockbacks especially when I still work full time and come home after a long week to receive emails saying “no”.

It’s long hours and hard; sometimes you can’t see friends or fit in going to the gym. It’s really hard when you feel like no one sees your work and you spend more on products than you make. But then all of a sudden someone says “yes” and I get to do something extraordinary. For example I love to ski and approached Chalet Rosiere as I had heard they offer places to artists; they emailed back and were actually interested in commissioning me to do some work for them! I was totally overwhelmed but I grabbed the chance and spent the next 2 weeks creating 8 new pieces of work for the chalet which I honestly think are my best to date. 1 month later I was skiing in the Alps hosted by the wonderful owners of Chalet Rosiere.

Also if you’re creative you just can’t help it, you have to make!

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I really love your branding – what was the inspiration behind that?

My branding comes directly from my illustration. I wanted to create a brand rather than just a collection of drawings; I try and keep everything as stylized as I can. When I first started drawing everything was very macabre. But at that point, I was a young singleton drinking too much gin; I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the happier and more secure I have become in my life, the more romantic and positive my illustrations have become.

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Do you have an inspiration behind your style of work?

I am hugely inspired by botanical illustrations and Thomas Bewicks’ engraving. I feel my drawings are a modern interpretation of his engravings and share the same love of the countryside. This could be why I unintentionally draw solely in black ink. But I also feel again that it is the simplicity of only needing one sheet of paper and a pen to be able to start work. I often look at painters and feel a pang of jealousy when they are sat amidst huge boxes of paints and turps, paintbrushes, easels and canvases but then I remember that’s not where I currently am artistically.

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What about your love of dogs?

I love dogs! I am a dog person. My miniature dachshund isn’t my baby; but O truly think she’s a part of me. I got her when she was 10 weeks old and I was only 19. She has travelled the length of the country with me and looked after me much more than I have her. This year we have been together for 10 years and I can’t thank her enough for getting me through some very hard times. I’m very lucky to have a great team at YourFilm and my boss’s even let me sneak her into work so she can snooze beneath my desk.

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What was your journey into animation? You work for Your Film?

I came to study animation at Northumbria University and completed my degree in Motion graphics & animation BA. I was not necessarily the best person on my course and often felt I wouldn’t be able to find a job in the field, especially in Newcastle; a city I fell in love with and didn’t want to leave.  Through hard work I found some really great projects to work on even before graduating; this gave me enough experience and confidence to apply for my job at Yourfilm.

A few people applied from my course and I honestly didn’t know how the interview had gone, but only a few hours later Matthew rang me to ask me when I could start. I couldn’t believe it and screamed down the phone…. In hindsight I wish I had played this cooler. Fast forward nearly 4 years and I am still with the company. It is a fantastic place to work and being part of a small team means I have full control over the projects I work on and am constantly learning.

What’s next for you? Next project?

I currently only sell through a few independent retailers but would love to move into more shops and get my products noticed by a larger audience. Fingers crossed I will have some exciting news on the horizon soon. I have also been asked to be part of a new exhibition in York and am working hard on a new product range for the Thought Foundation.

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Creative, artist, animator, all round absolutely lush megababe gin lover Lauren Shepherd………..you can see more of her at Newcastle Start-Up Week………

Invest into and start learning from NE culture & arts, oh and start paying them too!

No one actually makes a living as an artist, right? The cultural sector pays pennies? Go get a “proper” job? Actually the reverse is true, the creative sector and industries in the region are BOOMING…… people want bespoke, creative, individual…..there is the biggest movement to shop and support local and to reject the everyday for something more unknown, exciting, opportunistic and emergingly edgy.

I champion the entrepreneurial agenda, it’s in my blood (literally) and I love it but I really struggle with two issues…………. Firstly that creatives are often not viewed as legitimate business people and yet to see so many creatives launching themselves as a business and behaving more and more like a start-up is fantastic to see. Some of these businesses, it’s been that blend between day job and passion project testing, until opportunity……..without realising and a business is launched and they are trading; they’ve been through years and years of testing without realising. For artists, they have often been drawing or making for YEARS, putting their stuff on Instagram or selling at craft fairs, developing their product and skill set, until they launch…..often accidentally. Someone commissions something, asks to buy or like me, offers you a lump sum of money for a freelance project that gives you traction and a real starting point to launch and oh hello, I think there might be some kind of business here……….

Secondly, this intrinsic opportunity ethos for creatives to work for free; don’t pay them – just let them perform, suggest future opportunities that might lead onto paid work, as if engaging with them is a favour. From a business perspective; outlay of materials, time and then freebies offering, is crippling and removes the legitimacy. Should they be grateful for the opportunity…..as if you offering them a space or time is enough!?As a business think about the implications on the cash flow…….moreover, many creative start-ups are already under-pricing themselves, not factoring in their time, don’t value their service or practice in a similar way to a “product” or factor in materials so before you even think about “may be possibly” paying them what they are owed……they are already doing it for you for a brilliant deal.

This is so short sighted as I find the creative and cultural sector in the North East, as exciting as the Digital Sector at the moment, something to invest into and be a part of……however, there are key differences. There isn’t the investment available, there isn’t the capital and people don’t necessarily take creatives as seriously, as a business they can really understand. So what you have instead is individuals, independents and artists launching on a shoe string; they are resilient, constantly willing to learn, eager for feedback, out there networking, seeking opportunities, developing business models that are lean, mean and sustainable – they are the blueprint learning wise for a start-up business and entrepreneurs……instead of operating with big sales forecasts and massively unrealistic ambitions, they instead operate seeking collaboration, they show patience, evidence a longer term strategy to grow, can afford to keep going without sales or bookings, experiment and take mitigated risks……it’s not all or nothing, or go hard or go home; instead it’s about building something they love, care about and growing at their own pace incrementally on their own terms, making their own rules.

And you may say, well these creative businesses are not going to be the next “big” thing, they aren’t going to feature in Forbes and world isn’t going to change………I’d argue the other way….instead there is no entrepreneurial ego, they are real; a massive big business that had mega investment that people view as “proper” may never get off the ground and no one might ever hear of it, whereas a creative business located in the North East hundreds and often thousands know their name, the people behind it, buy from them, champion and support them….there is less “talking” about doing business and more of the making, creating and trying to get out there from day one……..  they have priced their product, sold it, met their customers, marketed it, submitted accounts and got their hands entrepreneurially dirty……… however, we could help them grow….just by paying them fairly for what they do and the service they offer.

To reflect that into my business; is the Culture Vulture going to make me millions?….probably not. Do I want it to? NO – there I’ve said it. I don’t want a massive business, I don’t want investment – I want my own entrepreneurial and creative sphere……….and I want to do what I love. That is my driver in entrepreneurship and I want to enable others to do the same.

So please don’t apologise or shy away from having a creative business, be massively proud – it isn’t any less “proper”…..Creative businesses usually have real values and passion at the heart………people, talented and excited brilliant people behind it. You have more real life business experience than most, so own that!

Creative businesses and people are the next big thing; there is a movement on going in the North East; I’m so excited to be a part of it………..will Creative businesses, artists and creatives change the world? YES they will…….because they re-imagine it, they challenge it, redesign it, express it, embracing all those aspirational entrepreneurial attributes – ability to handle uncertainty, resilience (anyone who has sold all day at a craft fair and sold nothing), ability to absorb learning and feedback and to build something that is not income dependent……. Their projects and activity happens irrespective of funding because they make it happen………….for most creatives, lack of funding is not a barrier to launch a business…….they assume there is no funding and they launch anyway, because their passion makes it almost like a compulsion………..

Moreover, their creative products bring smiles to people’s faces and they mean something to both the person who purchased it and (if appropriate) the intended recipient. That’s an emotional buyer connection that many businesses can only dream about.

More traditional entrepreneurs and start-ups have a lot to learn from creatives and artists………..so creative businesses and artists, respect them, learn from them, seek them and of course, pay them……

GIFT 2017: The low down- what it is, why you need to go and get tickets immediately…..

I’m a big fan of theatre and performance – as someone who spent their childhood and teens doing drama related activity and in plays – I fell in love with it and it’s fair to say I have a leaning towards the dramatics in my everyday life; I’m certainly an animated personality and my face is the most expressive you’ve seen.

I absolutely love going to the theatre whether smaller productions or things at Northern Stage or Theatre Royal – it’s always a dream. Theatre is all about total immersion, escapism and storytelling. I love disconnecting from my life and my reality and being absorbed into watching someone else’s. Getting lost in a visual story…….

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And it’s not just about the acting and make believe – it’s one of those art forms into which everyone can engage and get involved. Whether it’s the writing, the costume designing, the lighting, the sound, the set design – a feast of visual, performance and digital arts.

Those who read this blog and follow The Culture Vulture, will know by now that I LOVE the undiscovered and the unfound – stepping outside of my comfort zone, seeing different things and new things. Something which embraces my love for performance and need for the new and unfound, is matched perfectly within GIFT Festival which is returning again (yahoo) for 2017 across Friday 28th – Sunday 30th April….. how exciting!?

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GIFT is an annual festival of theatre celebrating the new, unfound and experimental performance and theatre right here in Gateshead……last year, I attended and got to experience a performance as part of a wild hen party; disco, dancing, shots and crisps. And also, a version of Stand By Me with a soundtrack by the Eurythmics.

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This year the programme is jam packed with lots to see performance wise (for adults and children alike), workshops and discussion across Baltic , Caedmon Hall at Gateshead Libraries, St Mary’s Heritage Centre, The Central Bar and Prohibition Bar. And I’m even more excited that FINALLY this year, after a couple of years of no funding, GIFT was awarded their Arts Council funding, on top of running a successful crowd funding campaign….

I caught up with GIFT’s Programme Director and Queen of all things GIFT; Kate Craddock to find out about this year’s programme and what to expect. Kate is someone who I’ve known for many years now and who champions the up and comers in performance and empowers her students, at Northumbria University to reach their full potential……so by my standard, not just a mega talent and asset to the region but also an all-round cultural megababe.

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Hi Kate – last time we caught up was in Prohibition Bar over a G&T – this time, I want to hear all about GIFT 2017….so for those who haven’t been to GIFT before – what’s the low down?

GIFT is back for 3 days at the end of April – Friday 28th – Sunday 30th Aptil. GIFT is an international theatre festival based in Gateshead that aims to present new performances and the kind of that nowhere else in the region is able to put on. We are able to take a chance and do something new.

You are unlikely to see a traditional ‘play’ at GIFT; instead the work is more contemporary, visual, physical, conceptual, devised… .GIFT festival allows for a more experimental programme with less risk for the venue programming the same artists/work alone.

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GIFT offers a platform to showcase opportunity for NE based artists and theatre makers to show their own work in a lively festival context. It also brings International work to Gateshead and the region that we otherwise wouldn’t see. And of course, it brings performances and artists from across the UK who have never performed been here before to introduce North East audiences to new artists and ways of working.

Essentially GIFT is 3 days of artists and audiences coming together, forming a festival community whilst seeing lots of shows together; talking about the work they are seeing, networking and partying. A big feature of GIFT that makes it distinctive from some other festivals is that it is really personal, small scale and grass roots. It really tries to open up possibilities and opportunity for everyone participating.

What inspired you to start GIFT?

There were a number of factors that all came together at once.

I was one of the artists who was in the original SHED Artist studios on Gateshead High St, and I was living in Bensham-spending a lot of time in Gateshead at a time when there was lots of focus on regeneration and redevelopment…

I really wanted to do something that was about connecting the culturally regenerated quayside with Gateshead town centre and beyond – and knew that a festival had the potential to do this – acting as a catalyst. I realised that there wasn’t a theatre venue in Gateshead as such, but instead there were loads of really unique spaces and lots of very wiling supportive people who were happy to let me do things -like put performances in empty shops, or in church halls, or in the interchange.

I was also making some quite experimental performance work myself, but was finding that there was quite a limited number of platforms to show this  kind of work – and I realised I wasn’t alone in that.  – However, there was a community of artists really wanting to make something happen. I was also in a really lucky position where I was travelling and working at other European International festivals; these were hugely inspirational for me -and made me realise that we needed GIFT.

Why Gateshead? What venues have you selected this year?

When I founded GIFT in 2011, I was living and working in Gateshead and I got frustrated with the fact that for lots of people (in Newcastle) Gateshead meant a trip over the bridge to the Sage or Baltic and that was as far as they would venture. I wanted to do something that opened up other areas (some neglected, some beautiful) and connect performance to these areas.

Gateshead Council and Culture Team (formally the Arts team) have always been so supportive of the arts (Angel, Sage, Baltic, all the arts team work etc) and they were so supportive when I first approached them about it. For the first 3 years GIFT took place mainly in Gateshead old town hall, the Central, St Mary’s as well as other venues dotted around. In 2014 we relocated our main hub to Caedmon Hall, which is where we will be again this year for lots of our events. We will also be presenting performances at Baltic  this year for the first time – as well as Prohibition Bar, Central, St Mary’s , Caedmon Hall and our closing part will be at The Old Police House.

Tell me about the programme this year?

This year we have teamed up with 2 other UK festivals to present a programme of work from across Europe. On Friday night we will present the UK premiere of Possibilities that disappear before a landscape’ by El Conde de Torrefiel from Barcelona. This is being presented in collaboration with Transform Festival in Leeds where they are performing the partner piece Guerrilla a week before GIFT. Possibilities is stunning piece that works like a visual essay -so you are both reading and listening to spoken text while seeing multiple images played out on stage in front of you.

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The company are one of the most exciting to emerge from Spain in recent years and are in huge demand. I first saw this company in 2012 and have been trying to get them to GIFT since then – so I am totally thrilled they will be here! I also think they will really appeal to people who love visual art but might not be so sure normally about going to the theatre. We have also teamed up with BE Festival Birmingham to host Best of BE Festival – 3 amazing shows from across Europe. I have seen the work and can’t recommend it enough. Best of BE (or BE @ GIFT) is always a great fun night, and the work always rich and varied.

Also we have Julia Taduevin from Glasgow with ‘Blow Off’ described as one of the most memorable shows of the year by the Scotsman – and it is, completely unforgettable and completely stunning. All female punk band – music, spoken word, feminism – very loud! Would definitely appeal to people interested in live music but don’t think theatre is for them!

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One of the shows coming from Leeds is ‘Something Terrible Might Happen on Saturday’ by Uncanny Theatre at The Central – it will be hilarious and it looks at how obsessed we are with things going wrong. Enjoy the show while having a pint!

Other fab things are we have teamed up with Chalk to host Noise Lab -lots of young children working with a sound artist to turn their tantrums and crying into art, at Baltic.

Who are you most excited about seeing? I know it’s difficult to choose……

Literally all of it; one of the best things for me too is seeing the artists actually meeting each other, talking to each other and their audiences about their work – that is always so brilliant and rewarding; when this happens and works well, I know I am doing a good job.

Is there anything for families?

Yes –Noise Lab by Chalk on Friday morning – this is the strand of GIFT called Little GIFT and is for early years and their parents. On Sunday there is also a rolling programme of live performance and dance work at Baltic that is all free to attend.

Zoe Murtagh will also be at St Mary’s on Friday all day peeling potatoes and inviting audience members to help her discover her Irish heritage -there will be some dancing and laughs involved. Altgif7hough these events are not strictly for families as such, they will definitely appeal to a curious adventurous audience member of any age!

What should someone who has never been to GIFT before expect?

Expect to be surprised by each performance you encounter – and to take risks with what you go see. Expect to be welcomed by the GIFT crowd, to get involved and to throw yourself into opportunities – to chat and to meet new people.

You’ve had challenges this year with funding (again!) and you’ve set up a crowdfunding page – can you tell me a bit more about this and why people NEED to donate? 

Yes, we have really struggled to secure enough funding to make the festival happen this year – but Arts Council Funding has come through at the last minute after a lot of hard work resubmitting applications We also have a crowdfunding page on the go at the moment to help raise money towards supporting a lot of the infrastructure around the festival enabling the festival to happen – like paying technicians at the venues, to support the artists and also to be able to offer artists some support with their shows – towards their production budgets and costs involved in performing at GIFT like travel -and feeding them while they are here!

What would advice would you give to an aspiring performer, or script writer, set designer etc?

See as many performances and different types of performances as you can – and take every opportunity that is offered to you to network and meet people. But of course, the best advice I can give you at the moment is to get yourself along to GIFT between 28 – 30 April!

Thank you Kate…..

And that’s what I love about the Cultural sector at the moment- it’s all about feeling empowered and being the change you want to see; she wanted an experimental theatre and performance festival in the region and made it happen!

Well you can expect to see The Culture Vulture at every single event and performance for GIFT – I’m obviously most excited for ‘Blow Off’, Pug Party anddddd GIFTed: Late Night Lip Sync CabaretBonnie and the Bonnettes and GIFTed guests

Check out the full GIFT 2017 programme in all its glory.

If you see me, feel free to say hello

 

Easter Easter Easter holidayzzzzzz

It’s nearly Easter 2017 – can you actually believe it? I surely can’t…..

Well as always, I’ve rounded up some of the lushest activity for your minis for holiday season – so here it is Easter holidays in a nutshell………jam packed with activity in Gateshead for kids, families and young people; Gateshead has it covered with a diverse and interesting programme of fun cultural activity……

So get yer skates on and get planning for some fun things to do over the holidays for your mini Culture Vultures before these seasons are booked up….

Digital Makings: Family Music Workshop

Leam Lane Library, Saturday 8 April, 10am – 12pm

Start off your Easter holiday making some noise with us and spend a morning as a music producer; you’ll be using your favourite songs to help inspire you to create your own compositions using apps on iPads. Work with We engAGE on a variety of instruments and learn the art of designing a piece of music from scratch.

Suitable for ages 8+

Free – Book in advance

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Design Your Own Easter Egg

The Gallery, Gateshead Central Library, Monday 10 April, 10am – 12.30pm

Drop in across the morning and join The Culture Vulture to design your own Easter Eggs and enter the competition. Go 3D and use a hard-boiled egg and create a sculpture, a character, or something eggcellently Easter related.

Or go 2D and design your egg from scratch like a pro. We’ll have LOTS of different materials for you to get your hands on.

Your finished designs can be entered into a competition which will be judged by three professional artists!

Suitable for all ages.

Free – just drop in.

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Digital Makings: Wearable Tech

Gateshead Central Library, Tuesday 11 April, 2pm-3pm

Art and Science come together with our electronics maker activities – make your own piece of wearable tech. Become a digital fashionista!

Suitable for ages 8+

£5

To Book

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Culture Camp: Soundscapes

Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library

Wednesday 12 April, 9.30am – 4.30pm

A full day workshop with artist Ben Freeth exploring and creating soundscapes using digital techniques and coding. Unsure of what a soundscape is….well artists used them this year at Enchanted Parks and they are a regular thing on immersive theme park rides…..

Sounds pretty cool right? You’ll be learning how to use open source software to explore the Sound Library and Archives in Gateshead Library and take existing digital media and manipulate it to create your own unique locational compositions.

Suitable for ages 10-18yrs.

£20

To book

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Accidentally Minecrafted

Blaydon Library, Wednesday 12 April, 10am

Addicted to Minecraft? Well Blaydon Library have it covered with a whole host of Minecraft activities so drop in and get Minecrafted…..

Suitable for ages 8+

Free – just drop in (small charge may apply to come activities on the day)

More information

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Culture Camp: Make a Play in a Day

Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library, Thursday 13 April, 9.30am – 4.30pm

Back after last Summers’ smash hit success of a day…..join drama teacher David Raynor and The Culture Vulture to create an entire play in a day! You will experiment and explore a variety of acting and movement techniques, take part in confidence building workshops and character development, script writing, costume and staging activities.

This is a must for all budding Ryan Gosling and Maddie Ziegler ….

At the end of the day, you will perform the finished play to an audience of parents and Gateshead Culture Team.

Suitable for ages 8-14yrs.

£20

To book

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Design your own T-shirt

Birtley Library, Thursday 13 April, 11am

Well this session is for mini fashion designers in the making…..you’ll be making your own designs using stencils, paints, fabric pens or if you’re feeling super creative and brave, try free hand!

Suitable for ages 6+

£3

To book

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St Mary’s Storytime

St Mary’s Heritage Centre, Friday 14 April, 10.30am

Pop down to the beautiful St Mary’s for a lively storytime for under 5s in a beautiful venue! Your baby or toddler will experience lovely immersive storytelling and a mini rhymetime. After the session refreshments are available too!

£1 – Pay on the door.

For more information and dates of other sessions

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Culture Camp: Film Director Workshop

Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library , Wednesday 19 April, 9.30am – 4.30pm

Join artist Karen Underhill to experience what it’s like being a Film Director; you’ll have the opportunity to create your own movie exciting and magic film trailer during this fun collaborative day. Learn how to work together to storyboard, act, record and edit a short fiction movie trailer.

Suitable for ages 8-14yrs.

£20

To book

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Culture Camp: Animation on location

Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library, Thursday 20 April, 9.30am – 4.30pm

Join animator Sheryl Jenkins to learn about the animation process and work with a mobile animation studio using animation apps, alongside digital photography, drawings and natural materials to create an animated film inspired by what we find in the library. You will then create an animation on a green screen to bring the library to life with using your favourite book characters. Mint!

Suitable for ages 8-14 yrs.

£20

To book

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LEGO Drag Race

Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library, Saturday 22 April, 11.30am & 1pm

Working with Richard Carter “Bricks Mcgee” build the fastest, meanest drag cars from our selection of LEGO elements, and race your creation against others as part of Maker Month – Maker Faire UK . Take your vehicle back to the pits and change the design to make your car faster, then compete in the grand final! Who will be victorious!?!?

There are 2 sessions to choose from please select your ticket for 11.30am -12.30pm or 1pm – 2.00pm

Suitable for families with children ages 6yrs+

Free – spaces limited so pre-booking is essential.

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Get planning Culture Vultures…….

The Culture Vulture xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charlton Walk – Gateshead; Public Art hidden gem!

The urban jungle is full of hidden gems….I’ve told you before, I’m a big fan of street art and I was lucky enough, to be shown to a gem a couple of weeks ago.

Park Life is a lush art work funded by Big Local Gateshead, created by local children from Gateshead Schools – Corpus Christi, Kelvin Grove and St Aidan’s who worked with artist and Culture Vulture favourite Tommy Anderson and writer Paul Summers.

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The large scale art work sited at Charlton Walk Park in Teams, Gateshead. The pieces explore the people, places, stories, history of the area (Teams and Bensham) alongside exploring the regional identity and aspirations of the school children themselves. The pieces pull together a rich tapestry into the rich heritage of Gateshead and insights into the new generation.

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The project is infused with Tommy Anderson’s style and practice which really brings it to life. Tommy is an experienced arts facilitator and graphic designer who manages small and large scale community arts projects (like this one) and progressive participatory and educational arts programmes inspired by his practice.

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He is passionate about creative opportunities for all and that really came forward, when he recently spoke at my Culture Vulture networking evening in February. Art and engagement with it, is a means of creating dialogue, a forum for self-expression, community sense making, identity ownership, exploratory learning, understanding enhancement and so much more.

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Projects like Charlton Walk, give communities a voice and sense of ownership of their space. Tommy, as a professional artist, plays a critical role in enabling these opportunities and voices to be heard and them empowering such groups to actively make something.

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Community collectivism alongside individualist artistic effort can be a really beautiful thing and it’s absolutely wonderful that artists like Tommy can put their time, resources, skill set and talent into facilitation of the production of these pieces. It takes the old, we are stronger together than alone, to another level.

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“Having lived and worked in Bensham for several years, the Park Life project has been a wonderful opportunity to create a major artwork for the area that has brought people together to celebrate their community.

The duration of the project allowed me to explore a range of art forms with the children, resulting in a rich and detailed interpretation of the area and its people.

Hopefully the project will spark a continued interest in the arts for the children, and a sense of pride in their community.”Tommy Anderson

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In terms of the impact of the project and having the opportunity, to engage with Tommy Anderson and Paul Summers, you only have to read a few quotes from some of the children to realise how important not only projects like this area, but creative learning opportunities for children.

“I am so proud of my art – I didn’t think I could be creative.”

“This is the best thing I’ve done in my entire life – I just love it!”

“It’s so exciting – I want to be an artist”

“Art club is amazing – I look forward to is every week”

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So – now the weather is getting brighter and Spring is coming, you must pencil in somewhere to go and view the Charlton Walk and see the pieces. I absolutely loved it – I love the word choices, the colours, the imagery….. it’s a great piece of community Public Art in Gateshead and deserves wayyyyy more recognition. But I guess if everyone knew about it, it wouldn’t be a hidden gem……

So here are a couple of my favourite pieces from the walk…..

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That’s all for now Culture Vultures.