What is a curator? What do they do? I interviewed The Biscuit Factory’s curators to find out!

Curators are defined by The Oxford Dictionary as “the keepers or custodians of a museum or other collection”…. But what does that actually mean? Who are they, what do they do, why are they important to important to museums, galleries, heritage centres and the creative and cultural sector…..? I honestly believe the majority of folks out there have no idea what curators do and as a profession, as it’s not front facing to the public and a lot of what they do is behind closed doors – even in the cultural sector, their role can be perceived quite mysterious, there is a lot of misunderstanding and (in my opinion) there is often a bit of a disconnect between artists and curators.

Over recent years, the words “curate”, “curation” and “curator” have all be absorbed into popular culture and are so overused to the point of diluting their meaning. Folks now “curate” displays, a sandwich, a playlist…. The overuse of the word is a weeee bit of a trigger for me to go on a rant (understatement of the century – but we all have our burdens to bear)……you did not “curate” a sandwich, you simply made.a.decision.

So as part of my mission to shine a light on curators in general and what they do, I thought I’d reach out to The Biscuit Factory curators and see if they would be up for a Culture Vulture interview. The Biscuit Factory is the UK’s largest independent commercial art, craft & design gallery set in the heart of Newcastle’s cultural quarter of Ouseburn and one of my favourite galleries – I love the variety of work displayed – it’s full of colour and very different types of art and interiors. If you haven’t visited yet or haven’t for a while, it’s a must visit – it’s obviously closed right now due to COVID-19 but will be open once more in the future. You can check out The Biscuit Factor online gallery here to see the artists and art works they have on their books.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

I was delighted that the curators accepted, it can be quite scary Mary to have a stranger come in and question your work and processes – so I was prepared for the “no”.  But I got a big fat yes and I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with them (they were so lovely and lush!) asking all my questions…..and believe me, I had a lot thanks to my question call out on my social channels from my fellow Culture Vultures. Consequently, it was less of an interview and more of a creatively curious interrogation (my Line Of Duty obsession, has made me an EXCELLENT interrogator….”Mother of God..!”). But we did have a lush chat and strayed away from curator talk into debating creative careers and opportunities…..

So here we go, an interview The Biscuit Factory curators; Sam Waters, the 3D curator, Sam Knowles – 2D curator and Mika Browning – jewellery curator; this is a long LUSH interview, so buckle up and it’s perfect for your lock down reading.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – Right, let’s start with some intros for my readers and followers…  

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: My name is Sam Waters; I’m the 3D curator at The Biscuit Factory and I have responsibility for sourcing, managing and displaying the items which fall within the 3D product group here. Things like sculpture, ceramic, glass and furniture; basically stuff which is not wall based, although occasionally wall based too. I also look after the cards for the gallery and a few other sort of ancillary things. I’ve been here since 2010 so coming up to ten years.

Before this I was very briefly at another local gallery which doesn’t exist anymore called the Artworks Galleries where I did a mixture of things and event space things predominantly. Before that I was a self-employed copywriter and photographer. And that’s about it.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: My name’s Sam Knowles, I’m the 2D curator which means I’m in charge of paintings, prints and photography; the bigger part of that by far is the paintings and prints. I spend my time sourcing and inviting people to the gallery, managing their artwork, suggesting what comes here and what might sell the best, cataloguing it when it arrives, displaying it, looking after work in the store rooms that’s not currently on show, making sure all the stock is as it needs to be, putting on displays, making sure the gallery is constantly sort of replenished, should anything sell or be moved or sent back to artists and being the person to get that work ready should anyone want to collect stuff either having been sold or being returned to them for other exhibitions elsewhere.

I’ve been here since 2007; I originally started as a gallery assistant, then took on photography which used to be a bigger part here with a lot of graduate exhibitions. Now I spend most of my time in charge of paintings and prints and beyond that I’ve got some responsibility for how the gallery physically looks in terms of wall colouring and floor layout.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I’m Mika Browning, the jewellery curator and I’m quite new; I’ve been here for a year now. I look after all the jewellery that comes in and the display; it’s quite interesting for me because before this I’d been self employed as a jeweller myself for quite a long time, so I’ve kind of stepped to the other side.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: With you looking after three different departments within one gallery space, how do you all work together and collaborate as curators?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: It can be ad hoc coming together and collaborating. Often we won’t be totally aware of what each other’s booked in but when we’re putting a show together, we’ll make sure that things complement each other.

When we have an open call out like the recent Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020; we will go through the submissions together to pick out submissions to be a part of the exhibition – we had about 1200 submissions from all over the world and we worked together to display the work and shared the load.

But a lot of the time, we’re just in our own departments, getting in our own work; but once the work is here, we realise there’s common ground and if it will work together. There can be any number of reasons why one piece of art can go with another; its subject or colour or style or just the sort of person we think it might appeal to, even if the work itself is nothing like each other. That process tends to be something that happens once we are all actually out on the gallery floor, putting work together, working with what we have and often feeling our way through things.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: You mentioned the Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020 open call out, how do you decide which pieces of art are included in an exhibition shortlist or “make the cut”?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: Well, ultimately it comes down do our knowledge, experience and what we like, which I appreciate is very hard to unpick and very subjective. We display work because we think it is interesting and to attract people to visit the gallery.

But a key decider is if we think it’s got artistic merit in how it was made and as we are a commercial gallery, we have to think whether or not it might appeal to someone to purchase or be of interest to someone commercially.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We use the same principles in choosing successful submissions from this Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020 open call out, as we do for the main exhibitions. But we probably have a little bit more leeway with this, to take a few more chances and to add a few things which are on the margins of what the main, day-to-day gallery exhibitions are. That’s kind the idea of doing this type of exhibition; we try to stretch the Biscuit Factory’s comfort zone a little bit and bring in newer and more progressive work.

We get submissions to the gallery from people wanting to exhibit on a daily basis. The basic cornerstones of the criteria we use to select pieces for all exhibitions, includes 1. the quality of the craft, regardless of what the subject is or what the medium is, 2. the standard of professionalism AND 3. the quality of presentation and the artistic vision. The Biscuit Factory is a very diverse space in terms of artwork displayed but everything that we have here, regardless of its aesthetic or its taste or its style, is of a high quality. The pursuit of quality helps us make choices when selecting work that might not be our own personal taste but we able to appreciate the quality and recognise that someone else might love it.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: As a commercial gallery, how do you tread the fine line, between selecting exciting, new, experimental and groundbreaking pieces and knowing your audience and knowing what they actually want to buy?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We are aware of what sells and we have a sales system, allowing us to see various different product groups and how they are performing – e.g. How many pieces of sculpture have sold in any given period or how many paintings have sold by a particular artist.

So we’re aware of that and we have to be guided by that to some extent. But there’s always a balancing act between being sales driven and the ethos of trying to show a range of works, some of which you accept may not be so commercially viable and we can’t just keep selling and displaying the same things; our visitors wouldn’t want that.  In a way, progression and sales have to go hand in hand because we can’t just keep selling the same type of work or the same artist’s work because eventually the sales would dry up.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I think the scale of The Biscuit Factory is so big, that actually there’s room for a very wide range of work here and we can afford to take some chances and have some really different things. I think a lot of people who haven’t visited us before would be surprised how big the range of work is here – there’s some very contemporary things, some very quirky things and some very traditional things; they all sit side by side quite well, quite comfortably because they are of a certain standard.

We sometimes think we know what is going to appeal to a particular type of Biscuit Factory visitor, but we are often wrong; you know someone who you’d assume would buy a traditional landscape actually goes for the really quirky portrait, or really minimalist etching.  Or they might be interested in all three!

We take pride in the fact that there’s something here for potentially everyone; behind our doors is a whole range of work waiting to be discovered all tucked in here.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think in terms of the jewellery, it’s a different sort of position because most of the jewellers that I work with are more commercial and used to that side of galleries. The jewellery is made to wear and own, rather than being looked at in a gallery, so that makes it a little bit easier for me when choosing between more ‘out there’ stuff.

Jewellers can send in more of their work as it doesn’t take up as much space; they might send a piece that’s kind of really high price and out there in design but then it can be paired with quite a lot of other pieces from a range which are really wearable, so that’s quite a fortunate position to be in as a curator that I can kind of manage to get in both.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: How would you describe the role of a contemporary curator and how do you feel about the overuse of the word “curate?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: Personally, I’m not precious about the word curator and I’ve always been aware that it’s a word that has many different applications or nuances and, people think of it in different ways.

I think it depends where you are as well because there are different kinds of curator and curation so it’s hard to be precious over; if you’re in a municipal gallery or the BALTIC or whatever it might be, even within one city there’s varying different sorts of curators, that aren’t really very comparable.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I guess “curate” is a word that a few years ago was quite niche and not used in the mainstream with connotations as quite highbrow. Now it’s become quite an everyday word and quite trendy, which is perhaps a bit odd.

I’ve been here a long time and what I understand of the word “curate”… or how I understand my job is not necessarily through the prism of being a curator; my job is what it is and when I read about other curators, they’re not necessarily particularly relatable positions to this one.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: For me, I think it’s more… I speak to early stage career artists and creatives in the industry that would like to get into curation and I feel that misuse of the word is removing the respect of the profession and understanding of it as a legitimate career path….  

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It’s diluted it a little bit but you can see that happening anyway through the democratisation of things through the internet and DIY elements across all creative activities. You don’t have to go to a web developer anymore to set up a website for example, you can do it yourself. I guess, the old gatekeepers who defined what a curator is and controlled the role, are dispersed a little.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Everyone’s artistic taste is subjective…. How do you feel if someone doesn’t like an exhibition you’ve curated or a piece of work you’ve put pride of place in the exhibition? Do you take it to heart?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: We’re slightly sheltered from people’s comments about an exhibition on a day to day basis because we’re tucked away in our office getting on with the next exhibition. We do feel it more when you’ve spent 18 months talking to an artist and they’ve then made the work and it doesn’t sell as well as hoped when it gets here.

You can look back and think “maybe I didn’t quite get it right” or “maybe it was a bit too far out for here” but the fact is that sometimes, you can get someone in who you think is perfect for the people who, largely come here and it still won’t sell; that can be very frustrating and disappointing for you and for the artist.

There may be a reason you can identify but sometimes there’s no reasoning for it, it can just be a matter of bad luck or bad timing; you’ve got to get a lot of things right to sell a piece of artwork –  the right person has got to walk through the door, it’s got to be at the right time for them in their lives and head and it might be that there were hundreds of people that loved the work  but they just didn’t or couldn’t buy it. Sometimes when you send work back that hasn’t sold, days later someone will come in saying “have you still got it because I’d like to buy it?”….. A lot’s got to come together all at the right time, and sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think you can still take heart in that, even if you get something in that you love and then it doesn’t sell, it still kind of feels good that you put it out there; people might not be buying it but at least they’ve seen it. Maybe they love it but they can’t buy it for whatever reason, but it still feels nice to be able to be putting stuff like that out there.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: And you never know what it might do for an artist’s career longer term, the fact they’ve been seen. It’s another exhibition on the artist’s CV, another opportunity to display their work and that feels rewarding.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Sometimes there’s a bit of tension between artists/creatives and curators in regards to how work is displayed and some curatorial decisions of exhibitions…..

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I don’t feel I’ve had that very often; I guess you can’t please everyone 100% all the time. I think largely the artists, certainly in my department, are very happy to be here and we all work hard to make sure their work looks good, is well presented, nicely lit, hung straight and hung in an interesting way; I think more often than not the experience is pretty positive.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I’ve occasionally had artists sort of grumble about where their work is, that it’s not their first choice location in the gallery or how it’s displayed; but in most cases that is because they have not quite appreciated the scale of the place, how things are laid out and that it’s necessary to display work alongside other artists’ work – you can’t always get the degree of separation that some artists would like because we have so much work to display.  Our role is to make the best decisions overall and to bring together cohesive exhibitions on a bigger scale. Occasionally that might mean that a particular artist’s work is not 100% how they’d want it to be displayed or they might personally not like another artist’s work that is visible somewhere beyond their work in the sight line.

But, most people are appreciative that you’ve made such an effort to display their work in a sympathetic and considerate way, and are aware there’s a lot of work to juggle and that you’ve made decisions for the best presentation of the gallery as a whole.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: As a curator do you go to other exhibitions and reflect on the curation?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I recently went to the new gallery at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, it was really inspiring!  Also, their shop space was really inspiring to me because that was where their jewellery and some ceramics were; I thought that it was beautifully curated and displayed.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I get out far, far less than I should; I go to the degree shows, just out of curiosity but I feel further and further away from that now with age. I’ve got young children which means my free time is at soft play and not galleries. But I do love going to art fairs, I quite like going to places where there’s a big mix of stuff rather than just going to see one person’s exhibition, but yes I’d like to go out more.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I don’t get out as much as I’d like for all sorts of reasons. I’m always very aware of retail art things and maybe that’s what I’m kind of more influenced by, more aware of and absorb. I’m interested in the psychology of retail and people’s subconscious decision making, so in art retail situations I am aware of trying to read how things are set up, colour temperature, sightlines, positioning of things and the way they arrange the spaces.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: When you work here it is hard to kind of turn off working here and to just enjoy an exhibition or art fair; you’re always thinking, that person could be good in the Biscuit Factory, taking a card or photographing the work or name of artist – so it’s hard to full immerse.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What is the process of seeking out artists to exhibit at The Biscuit Factory and how far in advance do you go planning?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We do get submissions, some aren’t appropriate or quite right for us. The process is mostly us finding things, going out into the world and seeing it in person or online. Using Instagram as a platform is becoming increasingly prominent as a way of finding things for us.

For the big shows, we often book over a year in advance. Sometimes, if we have space available, we might find things and come across things that if the artist has stuff available, we might get work from them in very quickly. As our space is so big and we have such a variety of different ways of displaying things with a flexible display space, we can often shuffle things round and create some space.

The exhibition timeline can be anything from working with someone that we’ve worked with for ten years and booking them in two years in advance for a big show or coming across someone new and having their work here two weeks after you first saw it and everything in between. We have a big quarterly changeover but within that we have an ongoing evolution of displays and bring in new work in quite often; it always keeps the job fresh for us and hopefully fresh for our regular visitors.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What would your advice be to artists and folks who want to get their work into The Biscuit Factory? How should they approach the gallery?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: A lot of people want to show you the complete range of what they’re doing, so you might get a charcoal drawing of an animal, followed by a portrait, followed by a landscape and unfortunately that’s not much help to us. What we really need to see is a coherent collection from somebody, whether or not that’s the animals or landscapes. We’d prefer them to limit themselves to presenting one collection at a time. Some artists try and show you everything they’ve ever done and can do which is too much, instead of honing with focus. And we only take submissions by email.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: It just has to be really good; what I’m looking for are pieces that are really impeccably made and that is something that takes a long time to learn and produce.  The submissions that come through, that are a goer, you know straight away; they come in with confidence, they know what they’re doing, even if they haven’t worked with galleries yet and they’re new graduates, they still have total confidence and a passion about their work. They send in good images because they know that it is worth taking a good image because it’s a good piece.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Often with paintings we’ll get terrible images of the piece – it will be pixelated or they’ll be photographed next to a heavily patterned carpet in someone’s living room….

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It seems an old-fashioned thing to say but when there are typos and spelling mistakes, it sets you on the back foot. When you’re approaching someone for the first time in a gallery, I think it’s very important to be very precise, deliberate and hit the mark in the quality of your photographs and presentation of the work. We don’t have the time when receiving hundreds of submissions to de-pixelate photos or read through paragraphs of art speak. For the best chance, it’s about focusing on editing your work down to the best stuff, investing into quality images, reflecting on the way you’re presenting yourself and your tone of voice.  Top tip: you’re much better sending 3 really strong images than those three being hidden in amongst 15 things – edit, edit, edit, be tight, be professional and get good photographs.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: If someone comes in or sends a good email and is really nice to work with straight away, we think, “yeah I can see us working with you for 6 months and that’ll be pleasurable, easy and we know that we can rely on you”.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: When you depend on people to fill a gallery, you’ve got to be able to communicate with artists and them communicate effectively with you, build a rapport, have confidence in them that they can deliver, be reliable and you can get along with them. That’s what we are trying to gauge from their submission.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Some pieces and collections seem to stay displayed for a while at The Biscuit Factory – how do you decide which pieces stay and form part of the next exhibition and which ones come down?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It’s intuition. Curator’s intuition. As much as we have stats and are led by those things, a lot of it is also instinct. We also talk to artists and get a feel for how their work has been received elsewhere and how they feel it’s performing here. For some pieces and types of work like sculpture and furniture, it really responds to having longer in the gallery and it can take customers quite a while, to finally commit to buying.

This contrasts quite vividly with paintings which generally sell best at the start and then gradually the sales will reduce. For sculptures and bigger 3D things, it’s quite a long lead-in time and there can be a period where you don’t make any sales at all. So, you just commit to it and have faith that more exposure will ultimately lead to the sale.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: There’s different reasons why paintings or prints might stay up; sometimes it’s because they’ve done well and you think there’s no point taking it down because hopefully it will continue to do well. Other times, like Sam says, sales might not have happened but you think “I just know there’s sales to be had from these” and it’s just a matter of time or the right person coming through the door so they deserve to be up.

It can also depend on where the work has come from, especially if they’ve delivered them from a long way away or the deal with the particular artist. Also, I feel if a particular artists work is on display too long, people become a bit blind to it so we might take down so when it goes back up again it’s fresh and people are pleased to see it back up.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What’s the weirdest or the most unusual submission to the gallery you’ve had?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: A sculpted portrait in a jam-jar full of their collected toenail clippings; certainly a curious way of doing self-portrait with their own DNA.

The Culture Vulture: With the state of play of the world, have you seen a move towards protesty or political artist submissions?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Not so much, our submissions tend to be very much about self and people.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Yeah, subjects like identity, gender, feminism; I see more work addressing those issues. There’s always been a lot of that with younger people, but I think there is a little more of that now.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – Thinking about another contemporary issue – the environment! Have you changed any of your practices in terms of wrapping up work and things to do with environmental concerns; has that changed how you work?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: We’ve all been a bit more aware of it recently, in fact we tried just recently getting some cardboard bubble wrap, like a sort of textured, cardboard wrapping.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: Not in terms of the way the gallery works but I’m really focusing hard on trying to get ethical jewellers in, because the jewellery industry is a total nightmare; precious metals aren’t always produced ethically. We’ve had an ethical showcase, shining a light on jewellers working with recycled or Fairtrade metal and it’s my big target to get as many jewellers as possible working with that. I’ve been contacting jewellers who don’t currently work with ethical metals and telling them about suppliers, trying to get that moving here as a wider movement.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: When you’re working on an exhibition install – what’s it like? What tasks are involved?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Well a lot happens on email before the work is here, it can be quite involved, suggesting and selecting what work, covering a range of price points and sizes. Then the work arrives; we have to check it off and catalogue it.

Using experience and intuition, I decide which prints and paintings work well next to each other without competing too much with each other – I spread out colours. styles and sizes so that there’s some balance to what is displayed. You want to be able to see the work as opposed to some heavily laboured curating; an exhibition is about the work, so you don’t want an arrangement that looks very heavily arranged. But you do want people to see particular pieces first, especially if there’s a large piece which you think is going to be a show grabber….The exhibition install is the really fun part of our jobs, we come out of our offices and get hands on.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: The install is a surprisingly small portion of the job though; from the outside, people might imagine that it is predominantly the job. Probably about 20% of our time is spent on actual installation of work, doing displays, thinking about the layout of the gallery, the lighting and the juxtaposition of various things. That’s the fun stuff, that’s what people see and that’s what people might imagine constitutes the job of a curator –  but the job is a lot broader than that and it’s about building relationships, a lot of administration, paperwork, analysis, managing stock, working out VAT codes…..

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think that’s why we work hard to get good gallery submissions because you do so much work in the background and then it’s such a pleasure when you get really beautiful work in and you can take loads of pleasure in putting it on display.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: It can sometimes feel exciting when something’s arrived, you can forget for a while that it’s not just for you personally. For a short while, it’s like Christmas, unwrapping the “presents” and that is a nice feeling.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: And when putting the work up, you start to get a sense of the possibilities and the gallery that you’re putting the work into is kind of ever changing. A lot of the displays aren’t really planned per se in advance so it’s about thinking on your feet; that’s quite energising sort of thrilling.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – I imagine it being like…..remember the 90s programme Itsa Bitsa, where they had loads of art materials and then they’d go as a collective, pick all the stuff out and then it would all be like chaotic and then they’d create something collectively mint out of the chaos…

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: We have two weeks of full-time install for each quarterly show and we’re just on the gallery floor. There can be trollies of paintings going up and down, things propped against walls, boxes of jewellery, boxes of ceramic, whatever it might be and we try to keep it all clean because we don’t close; we’re open to the public. There is a moment where everything is in some state of flux and change and then somehow, normally with five minutes to go before everyone turns up for the preview, it suddenly all looks rather nice and it’s weird.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It is weird how often really interesting displays come out of thin air and I would love to say that it was all very planned; may be at some level it is!  But also, twenty new painting deliveries might arrive at once, I might get twenty to thirty ceramic and sculptures and that’s all got to be arranged into the gallery in a coherent way that does the best for all those artists, you don’t necessarily have the fine details of that worked out but you’ve got a few days to curate it and out of that “something” happens! It just comes together in a way which is beautifully surprising and quite satisfying,

We are always too exhausted to really appreciate the exhibition at the end of the install.  The hour before the quarterly preview, we’re always generally still running around, polishing things and doing labels but there is always suddenly a moment of calm when I go “oh that’s come together and it looks pretty… pretty good and I really like how that sits with that.”

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Pre-lock down – were there any current art trends or futures trends that are impacting and influencing how you select work?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I guess, social media is changing how you select work because you don’t necessarily need to go… I can get a jeweller in from the other side of the country but I don’t need to go see it. Some people are getting really good at promoting their work online I think that’s something that’ll happen more.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Trends can be very subtle; like the colours of frames people choose or the fact that people change from making rectangular work to square work and all those things are subtly moving around all the time.

The Culture Vulture: I’m all about championing that there are so many routes into creative industries. Can you tell me what you studied and any advice you have for future creatives who would like to embark on a creative career path?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I studied jewellery and silversmithing in Edinburgh, so I do have a relevant degree. Then I was self-employed as a jeweller for a long time and then I had a small gallery space on the west coast of Scotland, where I got into the curating side of things!

I did really love doing my degree but if you’re interested in jewellery making, I would totally recommend going and doing an apprenticeship. Art college is great for concept and community but going to work with a traditional jeweller and getting that basis of skills will just set you up.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I have a degree in contemporary photographic practice from Northumbria and then I have an MA in Fine Arts Practice from Northumbria.

Advice for breaking into professional creative industries…… go out and make as many connections as possible, be open to things, attend things and broaden your horizons in any way possible. Advice from an art practice side, I’d say the same really and I think, just get good, in terms of making art!  I think a lot of people aren’t resolute or rigorous enough in getting good and people want… I guess people want to be famous, they want to be in galleries, they want to make money and obviously there’s pressures to be all of those things socially and economically but that can get in the way of building your own voice, which ultimately could be the foundation to your success. Some people want to shortcut that.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: I did a degree at Kent Institute in Canterbury for a year and then I did by BA at Newcastle University. Then I was a bit clueless really, I kind of floundered around for a very long time, reading the Evening Chronicle once a week hoping to find a very high paid arts job with my name on it and not knowing where else to look!

I don’t think my degree particularly did anything much to train me up to know where to find opportunities or to successfully apply for them when I found them; I did apply for various sculpture commissions and things without really knowing how on earth to put together a professional application. I spent some time working various retail jobs and then worked for about 18 months as an art technician in a sixth form college. I moved back here and became a postman, then I got a job here as a gallery assistant. I worked hard and tried to prove myself and when other opportunities came up, I applied and progressed.

In terms of advice, I suppose advice for artists would be slightly different to advice for future curators.  As much as I like my job I didn’t really set out to be a curator so it’s very hard to give advice to set yourself up to be one; I’m sure there are more tailored qualifications that would give you more chance of becoming a curator now.

Advice in terms of being a fine artist; that it’s important to hone in on one aspect of your work, even if you do lots of other kind of work for your own enjoyment. You’ve got to have something which is identifiably you, your signature, something that can be repeated to some degree to apply to galleries and connect to a specific customer base.

I guess, as Mika says, go and get some actual, specific experience, especially if you’ve done a fine art degree as it’s just so broad ranging, wide and potentially a bit wooly. I advise you to go down one route where you can start learning the skills that make you really good at something, rather than just having some ideas and tinkering. It took me a long time to do it; I was doing various part time jobs to free up studio time to make – I’d paint a portrait one week, then get frustrated and think that the new future of me was going to be landscapes and then decide it was printing and then something else… I spent years floundering around like that with nothing much to show for it. It’s only in the last four or five years, especially through working here, that I’ve narrowed everything to one or two things and tried becoming more professional on those. My advice would be to get to that stage, quicker than I did!

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I’d tell them to expect to have to flounder around for a bit. Perhaps now in the age of the internet. 15 years ago, when we graduated, it was a different world or it looked like a different world; it looked less easy to penetrate. Whereas now, I think people have social media and they have their own websites much more quickly;  I think that can lead to people wanting to shortcut it; but the floundering bit is character making, humbling, exposing you to failure and doubt, working out how to fit yourself into the world rather than just steadfastly standing there saying “I’ve graduated, I’ve got a website, world come at me/world fit around me”.

You’ve got to find your way into the world a little and I think it’s that, that is the source of a lot of discontent as some graduates are unprepared for the reality and competitiveness of the world.  You’ve got to expect it and understand that the world is indifferent to you at first, even if you’ve got a website and a first-class degree in Fine Art. The reality is you’re still going to have to work at it really hard; if you’re not prepared and hungry for it, it’s going to be even harder. I’m sure that we’ve all experienced difficulties in trying to find a route into the arts, with our own personal practice or professionally; but I think more than ever people are unprepared for the difficulty and it’s more competitive than ever! So you’ve got to go into an artist career with your eyes open or it can be quite damaging – the world can be quite hostile.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – I do a lot of work with young people and I’m starting to see less young people choosing to go into creative industries because they are viewed as a whole mass together and that there aren’t the opportunities….if you’re looking to go into a visual arts career, then yes it’s very competitive. But if you want to go into graphic design, app development, animation, outdoor event producing, tech  – well there are LOADS of opportunities….

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I feel like it’s irresponsible to send so many kids off to vague creative degrees and fine art degrees; many are left at the end high and dry when they finish. I had this experience in my final year of my BA, literally a couple of weeks before the end of it, we had a seminar about the outside world and how to write a letter to a gallery and it was like a one hour thing…..

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: After a four year degree, I did not know how to apply for a commission or how to write an Arts Council grant. It’s unforgivable that you can get through that amount of degree and not know those things.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Some artists have no awareness of the landscape in which they’re meant to be a professional in or they are meant to be qualified and don’t know materials, don’t know the processes, don’t know what opportunities there might be or how you apply for them. It happens all the time.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: It’s the same with outdoor light installation work – many aspiring outdoor sculptors/light installation makers out of University have brilliant conceptual ideas but no knowledge of the technical aspects of what it takes to make a sculpture durable outdoors and the technical aspects to deliver on a light installation….

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  It happens. Soon after graduating, I had this bronze commission for a school in Jarrow, a big bronze snail, I had no idea how to secure it to the ground and in about half an hour, having welded a couple of bowls, I just filled it with as much cement as I could and tried to wedge some holes into the ground. If that hadn’t worked and it actually needed to be on a stone base or welded, then I’d have been stuck. I had just had no idea at all!

The Culture Vulture: And just a final thing, I am really interesting in this “positivity” ethos at the moment on social, manifesting success and an extreme push towards “only do what makes you happy” across our whole lives – on one hand that’s brilliant but I think we’re gradually conditioning some people to forget that life is hard, that to get to where you want to be it is tough and sometimes you have to wade through a whole lot of difficult and challenging stuff…..and that’s normal and ok.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: It’s really unrealistic.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Yeah, and also you might not even get there, no matter how hard you work; there’s this idea, this myth, that if you work really hard, you’ll get what you deserve.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  Well we’ve all said this but our generation feels like we were told by our parents’ generation that you can naturally – unlike them, who just got a job and had to work hard at it for fifty years, that you can be anything you want to be as long as you set your mind to it but actually to become a very successful commercial artist is not attainable for most people and even if you’re trying, you’re not necessarily geared up for how much work there is involved. I’m sure there’s a lot of people of our generation, that are very frustrated that the false promise didn’t come off.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I think people take it on as a personal failing; whereas it is really a structural failing in a broader societal sense and also there aren’t enough opportunities for all the graduates coming out of Art School. And you know, like Sam said about his experience, you don’t really know what path it is that you’re taking and then you look back and you’ve arrived somewhere.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  You just find yourself in unusual places in your life, take what comes your way and carve out your own opportunity.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: In retrospect, it looks like there was a plan because it led you somewhere that turns out to be decent but actually it’s just a series of coincidences, circumstances, situations and chances; you find your way through it and I think people are perhaps less aware that is the reality of how it is, now more than ever. More people have bigger expectations and are fed this idea of the clear route to something; it’s pretty dubious to set people up like that.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

Wow – what interesting curator chat! You can check out The Biscuit Factor online gallery here to see the artists and art works they have on their books. The Biscuit Factory underpins the livelihood of over 50 staff, supports the careers of thousands of artists and attracts over 100k visitors a year into the local economy. They do not receive public funding, arts council financial support or rely on any grants to carry out work, so for the first time in their 17 year history, they are asking for support and donations. You make a donation or purchase something like a card, or lunch from their café HERE.

That’s all for now Culture Vultures. xx

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

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

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Neon at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

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

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

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

Mandy’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

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

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

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

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Penelope’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

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

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Sophie’s Work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

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

Helen’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

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

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

 

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

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

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

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

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

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So tell me about your journey into the Arts?

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

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

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

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

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

What made you turn your house into a gallery space?

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

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

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Padma – Tracing The Evanescent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

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

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

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

Why do you think this exhibition and project is important?

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

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

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

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

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

The Storytellers

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

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

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

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

Tracing The Evanescent

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Other

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

Sum the exhibition up in 3 words?

Both: Immersive, poetic, bold

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me about another project you’ve worked on?

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

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

What’s next for you in 2020?

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

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

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

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Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

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

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

Events and Happenings to look forward to across the North East for 2019

So I’ve been plotting and planning this blog post for some time – but you know what it’s like over the festive period…..always more cheese to eat, more gin to drink, another cat to stroke…..

Lots of you send me messages via my various social media channels asking for my recommendations of things to do, happenings, events etc – so I thought I’d write a blog on the things that I’m excited and looking forward to in 2019. There are so many amazing events, exhibitions, performances, happenings, things to see, do, visit, coming up, that it’s impossible to include them all but these are the ones that give me excited butterflies……

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New Year New Artists – Thursday 17 January – Sunday 20 January

If like me New Year and January is all about trying and seeking out new things and you’re feeling musically experimental after BBC3 Radios New Music week across the first week of January, then THIS is for you. I get SO stuck in a music rut through-out the year – but I love gigs, discovering new bands, singers and types of music that day to day, I’d probably not be open to.

New Year New Artists at Sage Gateshead, in association with my pals at NARC Magazine, brings together stars of the future; a weekend full of new music, different genres and artists of tomorrow. You can say you saw them here first!

The programme this year is amazing but if I had to pick a Culture Vulture recommendation it would be to go to Saturday 19 January – BBC Introducing in the North East Presents. This evening will be filled with exciting emerging artists, unsigned, undiscovered and under the radar music across the UK. The line-up includes the AMAZING Beth Macari, who if you are a lover of the regional gig and live music scene, you’ll have seen and fallen in love with her, like I have. She is certainly one to watch!

Ticket/Entrance Cost: Various prices per gig/festival pass (and some are free!)

How to Book: Sage Gateshead Website

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Gateshead Silent Film Festival – Friday 25 January, 8pm & 26 Saturday January, 8pm

This is now in its third year at St Mary’s Heritage Centre and is run by the incredibly talented creative Side By Side Arts.  If you haven’t been to St Mary’s Heritage Centre – then please you MUST go and this is your perfect excuse! It’s one of my favourite venues for an event; think converted Church, atmosphere, bit gothic and PERFECT for a silent film fest!

Side By Side Arts present two nights of silent films accompanied by live piano music, taking you back to 1920s where film making was pure gold, without special effects. Night one is ‘Horror night’ with a screening of The Phantom of the Opera, a 1925 silent horror classic, about an enigmatic masked presence. Night two is ‘Comedy night’ with a screening of Girl Shy, a silent comedy classic about ‘Poor Boy’ heading to the city to sell his romantic anthology and stumbles into a romance of his own! Night two is also being brought to life with compare and Rusty’s legend Miss Dixie Swallows bringing some class and sass to the proceedings. New for this year, is the addition of Scream for Pizza serving up their lush pizza and of course, there is a pay bar and each night ends up with dancing (or in my case twirling) to 1920s-40s music.

Ticket/Entrance Cost: £10 per night (each booked separately)

How to book: Gateshead Council Box Office Website – Horror Night / Comedy Night

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Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing – Friday 1 February – Monday 6 May

In February 2019, to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, 144 of the Renaissance master’s greatest drawings in the Royal Collection will go on display in 12 simultaneous exhibitions across the UK including Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens! Sunderland has got it going on at the moment and we are SO lucky to have this on our door step – it’s a MUST visit!

1st Feb marks the opening weekend of Leonardo da Vinci, A Life in Drawing – and if like me, you’re all about being there first, then it’s all about the opening weekend! The exhibition is your rare opportunity to see the extraordinary drawings of Leonardo da Vinci from the Queen’s Collection. The drawings on selected for display reflect the full range of Leonardo’s interests and his innovation – painting, sculpture, architecture, music, anatomy, engineering, cartography, geology and botany.

Keep an eye on Sunderland Culture social media and website over the coming weeks for a wide ranging programme of supporting events and activities for families and adults through-out the exhibition period.

 

Even though the exhibition doesn’t open until 1st Feb – tickets are on sale now and I do recommend pre-booking yours to avoid disappointment.

Ticket/Entrance Cost: £2.50 per person & Under 16s free (but ticket still needed)

How to Book: Visit the Sunderland Culture Leonardo website page.

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Sunderland Comedy Project- Thursday 7 February, 7.30pm

With Jesterval Comedy Festival, South Tyneside Comedy Festival, Arts Centre Washington comedy programme and of course, The Stand Comedy Club, I think we do pretty well for comedy. I love attending comedy shows and seeing touring comedians. However, I’ve just found out about The Sunderland Comedy Project and their monthly shows with regional comedians at the lush Sunderland venue, The Peacock. This is a MUST for this Culture Vulture in 2019….

The Sunderland Comedy Project has just announced their February show and line-up; I’m buzzing that Jesterval fave (and organiser) Dave Haddingham is comparing for the evening. Now, I’ve seen Dave many times before and I’ve go to this, just for him alone – he’s hilarious! Other acts announced so far are Karen Bayley and Vince Atta with more to come. This sounds like a great night to discover some new comedy; I will be cackling in the back!

Ticket/Entrance Cost: £10 per-booking or £12.50 on the door.

How to Book: Visit the Jokepit online box office.

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Screenage Kicks: True Romance- Thursday 14 February, 7pm

After a year-long absence, which left a hole in my social life heart, Screenage Kicks is back with a vengeance in 2019! Now, if you haven’t heard of Screenage Kicks – well they are a MUST for you in 2019. Screenage Kicks creates bespoke immersive pop up cinema events celebrating absolute cult cinema classics in truly unique locations. They have to be experienced to be believed – but think live music, character performance, beautifully themed venue decorations and special touches inspired by the films themselves.

So, here they are back for 2019, returning with their first ever (Anti) Valentines special, screening one of their (and mine!) favourite cult classics, Tony Scott’s beloved ‘True Romance’. Presented in full Screenage action packed glory, within the unique and romantic surrounds of a space never yet used by Screenage Kicks; The Assembly Rooms is set to be transformed into The Beverley Ambassador.

Ticket/Entrance Cost: £22 or £39.60 for a couples ticket (Please note – this is NOT a couples event – everyone and anyone is welcome!)

How to Book: Visit the Seetickets Screenage box office.

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The Art of Taxidermy: Artist Talk- Saturday 2 March, 11am

With Taxidermy and Entomology having a big revival and growing in popularity – are you feeling a bit curious? Have you thought about having a go but a bit unsure? I certainly have! Moreover, I have so many questions! Moth Studios are the leading Taxidermy and Entomology studio in the region, hosting a wide range of workshops in their own studio and all their items are responsibly and reputably sourced – for one special morning, Moth Studio is hosting a talk at St Mary’s Heritage Centre Gateshead (what a PERFECT venue for it!?).

In this artist talk and demonstration with Moth Studios, they will share their visionary way of re-introducing Taxidermy, Natural History and Entomology into contemporary lifestyle, exploring techniques they use, hints and tips for your own pieces and how you can get involved in the practice.

The talk is such a unique opportunity to find out more and will close with a Q&A so you can truly satisfy your curiosity.

I really love an Artist talk!

Ticket/Entrance Cost: £6 per person

How to Book: Visit the Gateshead Council box office

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Where There’s Muck There’s Bras- Wednesday 13 March, 7.45pm

This beautiful show at The Northern Stage celebrates the ‘real’ Northern Powerhouse – the sung and unsung women of the North of England. Its politicians, entertainers, musicians, sportswomen, activists, writers, innovators and mould breakers – women who are often missing in the ‘standard’ Northern Powerhouse who (in my opinion) consist mostly of white men in suits. I mean how tragic was the line-up for the Business Conference during Great Exhibition of the North!?!?! I’ve felt more inspired by a smack in the face….

In this hilarious and thought provoking show, stand up poet and Radio 4 regular Kate Fox and actor Joey Holden champion #lasses such as Britain’s first astronaut Helen Sharman, the first female speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd and music hall star the inimitable Hylda Baker alongside some #lasses you may not have heard of, Liverpool’s Hilda James who introduced the front crawl to the UK, Lilian Bader, one of the first black women in the RAF and “Red Ellen” Wilkinson the MP who led the Jarrow March!

I heard AMAZING things about this show during its mini tour last year so I’m mega excited to see it myself! In addition to Northern Stage – it’s playing all over the North including Darlington, York, Halifax, Middlesbrough and many other venues – visit Kate Fox Facebook for full tour details.

Ticket/Entrance Cost: From £10 per person

How to book: Northern Stage Website – Where There’s Muck There’s Bras

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Curious Arts Fundraiser – Friday 16 March, 8pm

Curious Arts champions and develops LGBTQ arts, artists and audiences across the North East. Their work, events and yearly festival in July celebrates and explores Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Culture through the arts. Every event, I’ve attended has blown my mind – interesting, high energy, such a memorable experience and guaranteed that you leave curious for more. In short, I love everything they do. They haven’t announced their festival programme for July 2019 – but I can promise you, it will be amazing!

However, they have just announced their fundraiser evening at Alphabetti Theatre; this evening directly supports the Curious Festival 2019 programme. Last year was a BLAST, so you can expect a line-up packed full of talented performers, dance and drag artists with the proceedings most likely led by Mutha Tucka. I promise, you will laugh until your sides hurt, see performers from the region doing amazing things showcasing the unreal talent we have in the region and you’ll end the night dancing away in Alphabetti’s theatre bar.

And if like me, you’re curious for more or if you can’t make the fundraiser – they also have Northern  Stage is Curious: 2019 on 1 June, for a preview of what to expect from award-winning Curious Festival 2019;  an evening of comedy, theatre and performance from established and emerging Queer Northern talent.

Ticket/Entrance Cost for Fundraiser: £10

How to book: Via the Curious ticket website.

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The Bon Bons Cabaret: God Save the Queens – Thursday 28 March, 9pm

Bonnie and The Bonnettes and The House of Love are back with another one of their fun, feisty, entertaining and infamous Bon Bons Cabarets; God Save The Queens. Tonight they explore and celebrate what it takes, to be a Queen! Whether it’s Mariah Carey, or Mary Queen of Scots, these Queens have always got the job done. From a culturally shifting Christmas number one to running the entire country of Scotland, they inspire generations, they make their mark, their voices heard; they are true Queens. During the night, Bonnie and The Bonnettes explore what exactly makes a “Queen”? Are you born one? Do you transform into one? Do other people’s love and adoration make you become one?

Get ready for a night like no other at Alphabetti Theatre and remember to wear your crowns and tiaras!

Ticket/Entrance Cost: £7 (£5 concessions)

How to book: Via the Alphabetti Theatre website

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The Guilty Feminist- Saturday 4 May, 6.30pm

The Guilty Feminist podcast has become a comedy phenomenon with over 50 million downloads since it launched in late 2016 – it is pretty much my life Bible and small bit of sanity during periods of absolute insanity. I actually didn’t know this was even coming to Newcastle’s City Hall until I was tagged into a social media post and the lush ladies from Third Space Events sorted me a ticket to join their gang! I am so excited – I will be fangirling and whooping like a cracker!

Lush megababe – Comedian Deborah Frances-White and her guests discuss things which all twenty-first century feminists agree on – while confessing the insecurities, hypocrisies and fears which undermine those noble goals. For this special touring version of the show, Deborah will be joined by some of your favourite comedians, guests and musicians from the podcast for a celebration of how far we’ve come, and a conversation about what remains to be done.

Now in a world where “feminism” has become a bit of a (sadly) negative term…. I promise you this evening will have you giggling, thinking “oh my god – ME TOO” and walking away empowered. #LASSES

Ticket/Entrance Cost: £26.50 – £32

How to Book: Visit the Theatre Royal Website

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Elmer’s Great North Parade – Early August – November 2019

In 2016, did you (like me) fall in love with Snowdogs? I was a one woman advocate and superfan! LOVED IT! So I’m so excited that another mass Art participation event is planned for 2019, an even bigger set of feet will be parading through our region’s streets, parks and coastline – Elmer the Elephant’s ‘Great North Parade’, in support of St Oswald’s Children Hospice, is coming to town!

This beautiful art trail made up of individually designed sculptures based on the much loved Elmer character will stomp its way across the region for 10 weeks from August to October 2019.

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It will be similar to in concept to last time – expect Elmer’s across Gateshead, Sunderland, Newcastle, Northumberland & South Tyneside designed by local, regional and International Artists with one or two celebrities thrown in for good measure. You will be able to follow a paper trail map or an app on your phone in order to follow the trail alongside lots Elmer themed events across the whole region.

I am sure Elmer will absolute capture the hearts and minds of the region again – getting you all to be tourists in your own town. I am SO bliddy excited for this and it’s just fantastic that it benefits St Oswald’s Hospice; I was humbled recently, when I was invited for a tour of the hospice and hear about all the great work they do.

Keep an eye on the Facebook page for announcements or sign up to the mailing list.

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World Transplant Games 2019- Saturday 17 – Saturday 24 August 2019

If like me, you get borderline obsessed during the Olympics, then you’ll be super excited about a week long of live sporting events right here to the region. Held over seven days, the Summer World Transplant Games are held every two years in host cities around the world. I’m over the moon NewcastleGateshead have been chosen to host.

Summer 19 will see around 3000 visitors from 70 countries come to NewcastleGateshead to compete; competitors are aged from 4 to over 80 and will all have had lifesaving organ or tissue transplants. There will be events for living donors and donor families, as well as a number of social and cultural events for the public – alongside the obvious opportunity to attend the Games to watch at venues like Gateshead International Stadium. Sports will include archery, athletics, badminton, basketball, cycling, darts, football, golf, volleyball, petanque, squash, swimming, table tennis, ten-pin bowling and tennis.

Details about pricing and how to book are yet to reveal – follow the Facebook event page to keep in the loop!

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Well that was just a flavour of a few of the things I’m excited for across 2019….. quick shout outs also go to:

No28 – their themed quiz nights are amazing – I had a blast at last year’s Peep Show one!

MAPS Festival by Chalk – a creative and immersive weekend of art, music and play aimed at children under 8 and their grown-ups.

Lundgren Tours – they are yet to announce their tours for 2019 – but I’ve heard rumbling of Lake District and as I’m trying to get back to my outdoorsy best, I’m excited!

Tyneside Cinema – I’ve fallen back in love with the cinema again and one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to go to the cinema at least once every two weeks…. Tyneside always feature amazing films and host unique film events.

Low Fell Food Market – Everyone loves a food market and I especially love Spring/Summer ones in Saltwell Park and Gateshead (easier for me to roll home full). They are yet to announce dates – but they are coming!

Great Northumberland – After the MASSIVE success of last year’s Summer event season, it’s no surprise that I’ve heard rumours of this happening again! I really love Northumberland and the programme of events they put on so I’m eagerly awaiting more news and I will update you as I find out!

That’s all for now Culture Vultures!

 

 

Gateshead Open Studios 2018 – 27th October; a day to celebrate creativity in Gateshead.

I had the absolute pleasure about 8 months ago of being invited to Brighton Road Studios in Bensham, Gateshead. I was excited because it’s an artist studios inside a converted Church and somewhere I’ve been wanting to visit for ages– behind the front door I found an independent creative studio space, lush facilities and full of local artists, creatives and SME creative businesses all doing great things – certainly somewhere I could see The Culture Vulture thriving and setting up camp. My meeting was with several of the artists to hear about what they are doing, their plans as a creative collective and fabulously, their plan to do Gateshead Open Studios.

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Gateshead Open Studios is a proudly Gateshead centric project and has been something that many artists, creatives and venues based in Gateshead have discussed and flirted with (including myself) so it was great to hear Brighton Road Studios wanting to lead on it. Fast forward to the present day and Gateshead Open Studios is an exciting impending reality – it’s happening in Gateshead!

On Saturday 27th October, the lush people of Gateshead will be able to discover what’s hidden away in 5 different but all very brilliant creative and historic hubs….

I caught up with James Oliver (artist name: William Fawkes) who is arguably the lead on this year’s Gateshead Open Studios organisation (however – there is a whole host of brilliant artists and creatives also making this happen). I wanted to catch up with James so my fellow Culture Vultures could hear what is in store for them on 27th October across Gateshead.

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Hi James Oliver/William Fawkes – I am over the moon to see how far you’ve taken Gateshead Open Studios – enabling it to be a reality in spite of many challenges. So let’s start with you and your work – tell me a bit about you and your practice?

I’ve always been an artist from a young age inspired & encouraged by my mum, and have painted my whole life. But it’s only been in the last couple of years, that I took the plunge to rent a studio, and start practicing more seriously. I previously worked professionally as a graphic designer, designing record sleeve artwork for clients including Blur, Sigur Rós, Trojan Records, EMI, and Universal music. I’ve also been a web designer and user experience researcher in recent times. All these skills have helped prep me for the world of marketing, events and experience design.

As a professional artist I chose to adopt the alter-ego William Fawkes, an ancestor from my family tree. My recent artwork is based on surreal storytelling, with a collection of dying British institutions with skeleton characters being an emerging body of work. I tend to create a master painting or drawing, and then have high quality framed prints available for sale.

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What is the inspiration behind Gateshead Open Studios? Why now?

Since I moved up north 3-4 years ago, I was immediately drawn to what was happening over in Ouseburn with their Open Studios’ events. As soon as I’d found a studio in my local neighbourhood Gateshead, I looked around and thought “why isn’t Gateshead doing Open Studios?”. My mother passed away in January this year, and because of this, I decided ‘Gateshead Open Studios needs to happen this year!’ I’ve been driven ever since to make it happen, and had some great encouragement & support from fellow peers, friends and family.

So when is it?

Saturday 27th October 2018, from 10am to 5pm across multiple Gateshead venues.

Which Gateshead venues are involved?

There are 5 venues across Gateshead opening their doors:

  1. NewBridge Project: Gateshead High Street.
  2. Saint Cuthbert’s Church, Bensham
  3. Bensham Grove Community Centre
  4. Brighton Road Studios, Bensham
  5. Saint Chad’s Church, Bensham.

We also have partner cafes nearby who have been really supportive and can provide refreshments including The Staiths Café (who have an exhibition available to view) and The Nest Café in Low Fell. There will also be friendly volunteers on the day to help direct people, give you tours and generally make you feel welcome.

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So what is in store for visitors – what can they expect to be able to see/do?

You will be able to explore unique creative environments and historic venues, some of which have never had a public open day like this. You will be able to meet practicing creative people, see their studio spaces and be inspired, and even take part in creative workshops and try making new things to take home. There will be art, music, conversation, refreshments and a friendly excitable community buzz on the day.

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Will people be able to buy things on the day?

Yes, the artists and makers will have unique items you can purchase, or you can even discuss a private commission. There will also be creative workshops & demos happening for free, and other courses in the near future people could book on to learn a new process.

There is something so brilliant about being invited into an artist studio – a behind the creative scenes if you will! Are you excited to have people come into your studio?

Yes I think it’s great, and I can’t wait for people to come have a rummage, ask me questions and hopefully be inspired! I’ll try to make sure it’s tidy before they arrive!

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Here is the mini sales pitch – tell my fellow Culture Vultures why is this an unmissable weekend for Gateshead?

It’s a chance to explore hidden historic venues right on your doorstep, meet the quirky creative inhabitants and see their personalities spilling out through their work!

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Why are events like this so important for artists and creatives?

Creative people are not always the best at promoting themselves, but this is a unique chance to get a glimpse into their world and see something you never imagined you’d see! I can promise you’ll come away inspired and with a greater respect for Gateshead local talent.

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Tell me about your studios in Gateshead and who is in there with you?

I’m based at Brighton Road Studios. We are housed inside a beautiful 3-storey converted church, which was designed by Christoph of Kiosk Architecture & Design, who is also still a tenant. Other tenants include Skunkwork Props who specialise in replicating Star Wars helmets such as Darth Vader. Kourosh Edalat is another painter & illustrator who is always busy with commissions. We have Serious Stamp Company run by Clare who makes personalised rubber ink stamps and seals for your personalised stationary needs. Little Silver Ring Co. is run by another Claire who practices as a silversmith but also dabbles in other things. Chris is another talented silversmith, who is also a teacher at Bensham Grove. Raw Leather Company is run by Phillippa and she makes beautiful leather bags, purses and other bespoke items. IG Media won’t be present on the day but operate as an animation & web design company. Bobzilla is a busy guy – he dabbles in painting, outdoor street art mural designs, concrete pot-making, and also a resident DJ. Finally Gaelle of Tamiah Designs imports Ivorian African textiles to make cloth-bound books, bags and many other unique items.

There’s 14 studios spaces all together, and currently a couple vacancies as I understand.

What will be going on in your studios specifically?

In my studio I’ll be showing people my work, talking though different pieces and explaining how I get inspiration. I’ll also have a large blank canvas set up on an easel and I’ll be encouraging anyone who wanders in to have a go painting a little of whatever they wish, and over the day hope to have a unique piece of work created which will be a great memento of the event! I’ll share the final outcome on social media.

I’ve also produced a limited set of framed art prints of my most popular work which will be on sale for those wishing to take home a unique piece of signed art / it could be the perfect time to grab an early Christmas gift for someone special.

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Other creatives in Brighton Road will be talking though their work, giving demos or running fun activites and also some will have a unique items to sell.

We also have special guests The Nest Cafe offering a pop-up Refreshments stall, and gentle background music provided by DJ friends of ours.

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I will be culture vulturing and doing some live social media on the day – do you have a suggested route for me?

There’s no particular order you have to do things, but if you’re travelling into Gateshead Metro station on the day, a logical route is to start with venue no.1 – NewBridge Project which is right outside. From there it’s 15mins walk or short bus ride into Bensham to reach venue no.2 – Saint Cuthbert’s Church. After that you’ve got venue no.3 minutes away – Bensham Grove Community Centre. From there venue no.4 – Brighton Road Studios is again only several minutes walk away, and finally venue no.5 – Saint Chad’s Church is just across on a parallel street.

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What is next for Gateshead Open Studios in 2019?

This year is a 1-day experiment to see what the appetite is like in Gateshead for discovering what’s inside a few quirky creative venues! If all goes well, we plan to seek funding next year to expand the event to potentially include further venues and cover a whole weekend. It may even split into a twice-yearly event if the appetite is there.

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I can’t wait for 27th October – it’s going to be a great day for Gateshead.  Really looking forward to some true Culture Vulturing at some Gateshead venues. You can follow my journey across Gateshead via The Culture Vulture and of course, keep an eye on the main event page for updates before the main event!

Until next time Culture Vultures and see you on the 27th October!

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

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

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

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One of the many creative delights in Ouseburn Valley

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

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

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

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

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Handy map of venues

So, for 2018, the spring programme includes:

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

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

  1. You can go inside artist studios.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Kiln – Ouseburn

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

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

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

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

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The Biscuit Factory

  1. Ouseburn Open Studios is super accessible.

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

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

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  1. It feels like home.

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

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

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Jim Edwards featuring CraigDavid Pubcat

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

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

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

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

Facebook: @TheCultureVultureNE

Insta: @horts27

Twitter: @reettinker

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

Until next time Culture Vultures!