Mobile; a class theatre show about class.

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

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

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

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

You can watch the Mobile trailer here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you in the Crafthood?

We all know I love small businesses….that’s a given right? Well what I love even more than that, is a small business that are absolutely owning and disrupting an established sector……And of course, what else could top trumps this? – well of course; an all-female run creative business….

Well hello there; The Crafthood….

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The Crafthood are a business that I heard about through other people (always a good sign) so I can’t claim they are my discovery, but I certainly am one of their biggest champions…. First of all what’s in a name? Well The Crafthood have a really good one, just by going to something I feel a part of their ‘hood! I love their name and branding…..Secondly, they are making crafting amazing, exciting, essential for the modern day lass and socially responsible….

Right up my street!

If you don’t know who the Crafthood are…. Well you’re going to over the next 12 months! They are one of the most exciting creative businesses; growing and thriving in the North East currently. Their offering is three fold; they run their own workshops within North East’s up and coming independents – as fantastically talented craftswomen, you’ll get a lush crafting experience like no other. Secondly, they sell a fantastic bespoke range of products; from cards, to notebooks to clothing, to bespoke lettering and signage – all with their lush Crafthood edge! Thirdly, they organise their own events or add value to a pre-established event (keep an eye out for their pop-ups).

The Crafthood invited me along to one of their Brush Lettering workshops as a punter in May 2017 and I absolutely loved it……so where to begin…..

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First and foremost, I’d like to say that The Crafthood workshops are for both artsy and crafty folk and others (like me!) – so for those that love crafting and trying new things in a new environment and taking time out just for you, to create; well their workshops are for you. However, if you’re like me and are massively creative but not at all “crafty”, well I can promise these workshops are for you too and you’ll love them.

 

I rocked up to their Brush Lettering workshop, I sat down with the other fellow participants and The Crafthood talked through our beautiful Brush Lettering pack, equipment, exercises and information. The first thing that hit me was the care to detail; everything I had was take away, beautifully presented and made me feel super excited to get started.

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We had 20mins of expert tuition and information (and lush cake and refreshments from Flat Cap Joes) and then we were ready to get started. What was stand out through-out the session was how inclusive the session felt, whilst being able to experiment, chill and get creative. In all honesty, I felt like I was taking time out for me, creating and absolutely loving it! I also was able to chat to other participants through-out the session – was lovely to hear more about them and their creative interests.

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Sharon and Kay (The master creatives behind Crafthood) chatted about their workshop portfolio, which currently consists of Brush Lettering, Soy Wax Candle-making and Modern Calligraphy. They also run their Crafty socials and attend events with add on mini taster workshops. For every workshop or organisation workshop booked, they book another workshop for a community group or charity– buy one gift one. It was lush to hear the “Wearside Women in Need” were benefitting from our brush lettering workshop…..

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When we got hands on with the brush lettering, we worked through lots of different exercises and Kay and Sharon (The Crafthood) were always on hand to guide and offer feedback.

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A lot of exercises were repetitive practicing of shapes and letters; the process of experimenting with technique and shape was really cathartic. As someone who struggles with detail and perfection, I actually found the process really freeing – being able to let go, make marks and just have a go without worrying about what things looked like…..However, I could not and still can’t master a “d”…… I will one day *shakes fist at the sky*…….

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We were working towards a sentence or word – of course, because I’m the Culture Vulture, I wanted to write my name and also CV in brush lettering; luckily no “d”s involved. I was massively surprised how easy it was to become engrossed with the letter shape and completely forget how to spell things…..so there were a few moments when I would look proudly at my work and see letters missing….. boo!

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As I got to the end of the workshop, I thought several things – firstly, I’d really enjoyed myself; I felt like I’d taken time out of the busy to do something lush just for me; this is something I so rarely do. Secondly, I’d learnt something new; I’m all about personal development and challenging myself – I felt walking away from this session that I’d actually developed a brand new skill and that was mint.

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Thirdly, that I’d defs continue this; the lushness of brush lettering is that you can do it anywhere and The Crafthood workshop sets you up nicely with everything you need so you can practice and do it often. I am now a brush lettering aholic (minus the letter “d”)!

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The Crafthood have a whole host of lush workshops, events and activities coming up – they are adding a new workshop to their workshop portfolio every season, so watch out for a developing programming……as always I will be championing them and attending – so check them out Culture Vultures and make sure you become a part of the C ‘Hood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What inspired you to start GIFT?

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

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

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

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

Why Gateshead? What venues have you selected this year?

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

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

Tell me about the programme this year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anything for families?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Kate…..

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

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

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

If you see me, feel free to say hello

 

Charlton Walk – Gateshead; Public Art hidden gem!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s all for now Culture Vultures.

Sheryl Jenkins: Digital Makings’ Artist of the Month for March 17

It’s March, practically Spring and the month of International Women’s Day. Due to how many events and parties on going through-out March, it feels the whole month is now full of possibilities, empowerment and championing lush ladies and all who fist pump equality and female success.

Seems apt I am able to use this blog to pretty much channel and showcase all the wonderful people that I admire – and as it’s March and all about #lasses – this month I’m championing Digital artist Sheryl Jenkins as Digital Makings Artist of the Month for March.

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I’ve had the pleasure of working with Sheryl during her delivery of participatory arts workshop for kids with animation. She’s dreamy to work with; fast paced, full of energy, great at facilitating creative experimentation, brilliant with young people and fun to work alongside. You can watch the result of her recent ‘Crafty Animations’ session at Gateshead Central Library HERE.

Sheryl describes herself as a freelance animator, an anarchic creative and filmmaker who often works on collaborative projects with artists, schools, community groups, and education and arts organisations. She is also involved in independent film productions and residencies, producing film content for online education resources and random bits of animation.

What comes across from Sheryl’s showreel (give it a watch – it’s brilliant) – is that she really loves her work and has great fun producing it. That vibe is infectious to be around…… I’m all about positivity and people loving their work.

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I caught up with Sheryl recently and wanted to find out more about her practice, her love of things Digital, her involvement in Thinking Digital and her favourite films……

Hi Sheryl, tell me about your journey into digital arts?

At the moment I’m interested in using tablets as animation and filmmaking tools. The apps available make it possible to include a variety of styles including drawn, model, photographic sequences, rotoscoping, green screen and cut out.  It’s kind of the perfect point for me to reach because I’ve always been interested in being able to create animated work where ever I like.  The iPad is like an animation sketchbook and means I can create animated work in response to anything on location.  So that’s where I’m at now.

Going back in time, I was always interested in drawing and making things, I used to pretend I was presenting Blue Peter, when I was younger we had a BBC computer and I used to write games for it. Most members of my family had a camera of one sort or another whether it was 35mm, Super8 film or a video camera.  I enjoyed taking photographs – I’d’ve been obsessed with Instagram if it’d been around when I was growing up.  My brother and I used to make animated films with my Dad’s video camera.  We used our toys and made models – I still have some of those films.

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I studied Graphic Design before studying Animation at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design. It was great to meet and work alongside so many other people interested in animation who had such a broad range of styles.  At that time we were using a combination of rostrum camera and reel to reel mixed with newer audio technology and editing software.  I always like the idea of mixing old and new.  I like to feel a creative connection (for want of a less naff description) to what I’m making.  I don’t want tech to come between me and the process of making.  I like that creative closeness.  It probably sounds like I’m contradicting my practice that I talked about at the start but it’s all about a balance and taking advantage of what a piece of technology can offer.

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I’ve been freelance for about 17 years. During that time, through working with different groups and other artists my practice changed and I went back to university to explore my more abstract style that had emerged.  I think that change in style had come about through working with schools, community groups and so on.  It was the influence from those groups and the need to create animated work quickly that had changed how I worked with animation.  During projects I had to take a process that you would normally think of as slow and steady and speed it up and make it accessible.  Those groups have had an impact; I like it when someone questions the process or suggests a different approach.

At the moment I drift between traditional narrative, abstract ideas and anarchic creativity – Anything could be a possible beginning of something and if something catches my eye I start thinking about the possibilities.

Why animation and film making?

The process of animation is fascinating. After all this time I’m still amazed when I finish at bit of work, whether it’s an independent piece or part of a collaboration, and it appears to move itself – just magic. I often use optical toys in workshops and things like the zoetrope are amazing – everyone loves those.  I don’t know if it’s because you’re watching live animation, there’s no camera and you’re not watching a TV; it’s happening in front of your eyes.  It’s just mad.  When I was a kid I had an annual about an egg-shaped, gem stone called Ludwig and on the bottom corner of several pages was a series of drawings that you could flick and they’d move – it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen.

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I had ideas about being an archaeologist or an astronomer – maybe I was working my way through the alphabet but didn’t get very far – but it dawned on me that if I did animation then I can become all of the other jobs I’d like to do, in a Mr. Benn fashion. So through animation I get to explore, learn about, work with other professionals from other areas and make films in response to my experience.

Favourite animator/animation?

In his animator guise I love Terry Gilliam.  I used to watch a lot of Monty Pythons Flying Circus and I loved the cut out animation sequences.  I liked the style – it didn’t use drawings like Scooby Doo and it wasn’t smooth like a Disney film.  I liked the use of images from photographs and paintings.  It was charming, quirky and just bizarre.

Another favourite animator is Norman McLaren – I like how he experimented with technology and the animation process.  I often show his films in my workshops.

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Norman McLaren

Another favourite is Barry Purves.  He has made some amazing model animations.  I’ve heard him speak at festivals a few times and I love to hear how passionate he is about animation.

I like to know about other people’s filmmaking process – that’s what interesting to me – I think that the process ultimately adds an energy and presence to the work. I heard Caroline Leaf, who has used sand in her animations, talking about her work and someone asked her what happened if she made a mistake and she said that there were no mistakes because they all become part of the film.  I like that – it’s like growing a piece of animation.

Favourite film maker/film?

I like filmmakers who get immersed in the process or are determined to make their idea and take creative risks. I’ve got to say Terry Gilliam again.  One of my favourite films is Time Bandits.

There are a lot of artists from other backgrounds that I like – It’s often people working with shapes, the idea or suggestion of movement, and shadows.

Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on so far?

Sometimes projects are memorable because of the people you work with – everyone enjoys themselves and works well together.

One of my favourite film outcomes from a project was an animation – Invasion of the Chocolate Monster – made with Year 3 children in Carlisle over three days.  I really like the narration, voices and sound effects in that one.

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As part of my degree I worked alongside English Heritage who were recording prehistoric markings in Northumberland and County Durham. That was interesting.  I was working outdoors with my cameras and pastels, inks and paint – tricky in the wind and rain.  I could’ve done with the iPad then.  The film I made was a mix of all sorts – drawn sequences, Super8, 35mm photographs, mixed media, digital clips.

I worked on a project a while ago with Darlington Arts and people on Firthmoor Estate. During the project we made life-sized, MDF cut-out versions of people and animated them around the estate.  I don’t think I’d worked on that scale before.

I like to collaborate with other artists and professionals. I like to observe how they work and consider how their process could be adapted or applied to my animation practice.  I’m always looking for new ways of working that keep things fresh and challenging.

Tell me about a current/recent project?

I recently completed a residency with Newbiggin Hall Estate and Newcastle Arts Team. I worked with community groups on the estate over about a year and a half.  I felt very welcome and people were interested in being involved.  We made animated film, live action, there was a bit of photography, some painting and crafts, and a bit of textiles.  It depended on what the groups’ interests were.  We had a great celebratory event at the end where everyone came together for a creative fun day and we premiered one of the films.

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When a project comes to an end I hope that people continue to use what they’ve learnt because I always think that there’s so much more potential and scope for animated work and I would like to see where they go next with their ideas.

At the moment I’m working with The Cultural Spring and St. Clare’s Hospice in Jarrow.  I’m working with Day Care visitors.  The sessions are relaxing and fun.  We have a laugh and come up with some absolutely bizarre ideas – they often become a random stream of ideas – “then this happens, then there’s a dog appears, then a shark eats a duck …” and so on.  It’s all very Monty Python.

Do you have a favourite age group to work with?

I don’t have a favourite age group that I like working with. I like working with anyone if they’re interested and want to be involved.  I like to see what ideas and skills people can bring to a project.  Some people, often older groups, worry about the technology, but the technology is only a small part of things.  I’m interested in the creative side of the process.  And there’s always a role to suit everyone whether they’re interested in making things, designing, filming or animating, or telling everyone else what to do.

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Do you do commissions/independent stuff? Tell me a bit more!

I make my own films. It’s tricky, partly because if I have start a project then that takes priority, and also because if I’m working by myself there’s no-one to chat to about how it’s going or keep me motivated or focused, so that’s all down to myself.  I have several independent projects that sit on a shelf and every so often I revisit whichever one I’m in the mood for.  Taking a break from them probably helps me to come back with a fresh view.

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I collect a lot of archive material. I have a stash of old photograph albums and loads of slides.  I’ve used them in projects but there’s potential for other projects with those.  For a while, I’ve been working on a series of images that are made from animation sequences.  I take each frame and build them up on top of one another into a single, still image.  I look at it as a record of each stage in one picture.  It came out of some work mixing animated, morphing sequences which had been inspired by Spirograph patterns.  I sometimes set myself creative tasks, some might take a day to complete and some last a whole year.  They challenge me to think and solve technical and creative problems.

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I’ve been commissioned to create artwork and animation for theatre, television, galleries and festivals. I like seeing my work projected, shown or displayed.  I see it on a screen while I’m making it and it’s good to see how it looks somewhere else.

I see you’re involved in Thinking Digital this year – how did that come about and what are you doing? And most importantly, can you get me a ticket for mates rates?

I was asked if I had any workshop ideas that would be good for Thinking Digital.  I thought it would be a great opportunity to deliver a mobile workshop along the Quayside with participants using their own tablets and apps.  There are plenty of interesting landmarks and some lovely architecture to take inspiration from.

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My plan is for the group to use tablets to collect and create visuals, add sound and edit. There’ll also be scope to create artwork using art materials and then add that work to graphics, sketching and animation apps as part of the post-production process.  The workshop is an opportunity for participants to develop creative use of their tablets at their own pace, share knowledge, and gain inspiration and ideas for future animation work of their own.

I haven’t had any word about mates rates!

Can you tell me any sneaky peakies about any future projects?

I am working with The Hepworth in Wakefield, the Rheged Centre, and young people from Whizz-Kidz over the next few months.  I have my fingers crossed for a successful funding application result in the near future!  And I’m always interested in collaborations.  Plus I have my shelf of on-going personal projects and I quite fancy doing something about chaos theory and motor racing circuits (but not at the same time).

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Well how insightful and exciting – like Sheryl, I love hearing about how other creatives work and I adore the concept of mobile animation – so accessible. Watching her show reel is a testament to that – both old and young, engaged and enjoying animation.

I have the pleasure of working with Sheryl over the coming months as part of Arts Council funded Digital Makings project…….and if you know any budding young animators looking for something lush and exciting to do over the Easter holidays, well we’ve got it covered. Sheryl is running an all-day Culture Camp on Thursday 20th April at Gateshead Central Library – so get booked up!

That’s all for now Culture Vultures.

 

 

 

Adventures, Ampersand and Accessories: an interview with artist Melanie Kyles.

I go through phases of loving people, things, events, art, experiences, foods – when I love it, I really love it! An artist I met recently Melanie Kyles is one of those people currently on my girl crush radar – I’m in love with her work at Ampersand Inventions, in love with her studio, in love with her accessory business, in love with her embroidery, in love with her stories of visiting New York, in love with her co-creation Fashion Lab and the last time we met, I was also in love with her shows.

With it coming up to International Women’s Day, it seems only right to give some shout outs and love to some creative women that I am really admiring at the moment.

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A week or so ago, I spent the afternoon with Mel talking shop, creative stuff and getting to know her practice, big ambitions and how being made redundant recently, has really triggered a new chapter of entrepreneurial creativity.

Hi Melanie, so let’s start at the beginning; tell me about your practice?

I specialise in hand embellished and embroidered fashion and artwork. I’m very passionate about what I do; I’ve been interested in both fashion and fine art for as long as I can remember, and I’ve practiced hand embroidery and embellishment for almost a decade.

For my self-titled accessories business, I design, make and sell bespoke and limited edition fashion accessories designed with timelessness in mind, mostly occasion pieces with elements of luxury such as a silk lining, an ostrich feathered trim or Swarovski embellishment. There’s a lot of attention to detail, from the accessories to the matte black luxury packaging, and I always picture a sensual bold woman who is confident in her own style and enjoys a little indulgence.

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Depending on the piece, a lot of hours can go into it from start to finish, from the initial inspiration through to design ideas, sampling, creating a surface pattern template and creating the final piece. I create everything by hand, and have gone to great lengths to get things perfect, whether it includes tracking down pure silk ribbon in the correct width from a place in California for a bow I want, or sat till 5am with a hairdryer on the lowest heat setting between my knees (a bit extreme, I know!) carefully fluffing a feather trim I’ve dyed to match a lingerie set for Newcastle Fashion Week.

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I apply a similar aesthetic to my art work, I previously used existing vintage objects as my canvas and used my skills to turn them into pieces of art. This started a couple of years ago with art books (Botticelli and Da Vinci) from the 20’s that had been abandoned at a school, and I embroidered traditional and often religious imagery using white and silver metallic threads with Swarovski, silver leaf and pearl enamel. I built up a collection and had my debut show, titled ‘Holier Than Thou’, to launch Praxis gallery, which is in my studios Ampersand Inventions. From there I went on to embellish vintage tools, taking away their functional value and replacing it with an aesthetic one, and a wire mold of a ‘Venus De Milo’ figure.

Tell me about some recent projects?

Over the past six months, my main projects have been exhibiting in Manchester and New York, an incredible experience and my first international show, and also being asked to create a fashion accessory to honor La Di Da magazine’s 3rd anniversary issue.

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My trip to Manchester was to take part in Manchester Contemporary, where I had my gold embellished sculptures on display; the vintage tools I mentioned earlier. They were titled ‘Division of Labour’ as my Dad who is a welder fused some pieces of the sculpture together, and it’s the idea of more than one skillset being used for a singular final outcome, though it’s more than that as it also has heritage. We both create things with our hands, manual work if you will, and his Dad, my Grandfather was also a welder, so it was quite a personal project.

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At the same time as this was happening, I was also commissioned to make a bespoke neckpiece for a shoot for La Di Da magazine. I’ve been friends with the editor for over a year now, and I was honored she asked me, and a few of my friends in the fashion industry, if we would create a shoot for their third year anniversary issue. Of course we jumped at the chance. I made a hand-cut embellished neckpiece made from metallic pewter leather, leather being the third year anniversary gift tradition, and we had a four-page spread in the last Autumn issue.

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Last but certainly not least, and the highlight of my career so far, was having my work exhibited in Art Helix in Brooklyn, New York, as part of the ‘Exchange Rates’ exhibition with Ampersand Inventions and Vane gallery. I collaborated with my friend who I share a studio with, and who is also co-owner of The Fashion Lab, Helen McClafferty, on a set of twin metal sculptures.

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Our brief as a collective was titled ‘Off The Map’, so given we are both from a fashion background, we applied the theory of borders and territory to female figures, Helen’s focusing on a borderless landscape with exaggerated terrain and myself using bejeweled barbed wire and chicken wire to define continent borders and territory. It was incredible not just to exhibit, but to meet all of the artists there, visit the open studios that weren’t too dissimilar to our own, and generally absorbing all of that influence and inspiration, both in the galleries and on the streets…it’s definitely changed my outlook and has forced me out of a box I didn’t realise I was in!

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What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently going through a transitional period, as I only went full time with my business a month ago and I’m adjusting to suddenly having an extra 20+ hours in my week. Really I’m just finding my feet and making sure I have a solid foundation, I’m working freelance on a bridal commission and delivering workshops, but I’m also giving my website a facelift and working on a new range of accessories, so definitely still keeping myself busy!

You’re getting involved in participatory work….. how is that going?

It’s very early stages at the moment but from what I’ve experienced so far it’s going really well. I’ve always loved working with people, and it feels rewarding to be at the stage where I can give something back and inspire and help others.

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Often under ‘normal’ circumstances, being self-employed can be isolating, but thankfully the environment I’m in buzzes with social and creative energy, and I’m lucky that those I’ve worked with in the local fashion industry are supportive too. Being able to help others in a way I haven’t been able to previously feels like a natural progression, and is something I’d like to do a lot more of this year.

Tell me about Ampersand Inventions? What goes on there? Who is there? Can people visit?

It’s an amazing place! It’s where my studio and The Fashion Lab are based, and it’s a creative melting pot of studios, lectures, events and its process gallery ‘Praxis’. It’s not open to the public, other than events, classes and exhibitions, it’s invitation only if you already know someone in here, but if anyone is interested in visiting the space I would highly recommend contacting the directors Jonpaul and Peter; both are brilliantly supportive.

Tell me about The Fashion Lab?

The Fashion Lab is a workspace that leads on from mine and Helen’s studio, and it used to be an old workshop room. With the help of Jonpaul and Peter, we’ve transformed it from an old banger into a Ferrari, where was once dark carpets, brick wallpaper and a wooden bench is now a bright clean space with slick blinds and space for us to spread our work, and the biggest mood board known to man!

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Up until very recently, things have been put on hold for reasons beyond our control, but we have had a couple of meetings this last week and I’m very excited for what we have planned…I wish I could share but I’ve promised to keep things under wraps!

Do you know what you’re doing for the Late Shows this year yet?

Yes but that would be telling!

What’s on your creative bucket list this year?

Ooh that’s a tough one, but given everything that happened last year I have high hopes! I have a lot of plans workwise, some of which include mastering gold-work and launching The Fashion Lab, but truthfully the most important thing for me is keeping a good balance. I want to take my business and my art career to the next level, and I want a sense of adventure, one that involves both travelling to make connections and showcase my work but also, something very important to me, is travelling to see some of my closest friends that have recently moved away to Glasgow and London. I’m also going on my first holiday in years (it’s only three days in Blackpool, but that still counts right?), and a couple of my good friends are getting married at the end of the year, so there’s a lot to look forward to all around!

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Well Melanie Kyles – my new favourite person and artist of the moment; what an inspiration! I get the sense of someone on the ‘edge of glory’ if you will – full of the exciting unknown, uncertainty and a brand new creative adventure awaiting.

Here at Culture Vulture HQ, I am super excited to see Melanie’s next moves and the launch of The Fashion Lab. I’m also buzzlight years excited to see her next pieces of work and to support her on this journey in a variety of forms. I will be championing you pet!

And that office – proper office envy!

That’s all for now Culture Vultures – but I will be writing a separate post on my tour of Ampersand Inventions so watch out for that over the coming weeks.