Interview with sound designer & artist Matthew Tuckey; unexplored possibilities & bringing stories to life through sound.

“You can’t be, what you can’t see”

This was my starting point for a creative discussion the other day – we were talking about creative industries and lack of diversity, lack of representation in some areas, empowered freelancers and I broadened the conversation on to creative skill set and roles. There are SO many roles and extremely talented folks that go relatively unnoticed and unseen. It’s not to do with their lack of importance or skill set – it’s because what they do happens behind closed doors or “backstage”. Ironically, some of these roles (especially the digital and tech ones) in the current climate – have never been more important. These are the folks that will drive and help shape the innovation and reinvention of creative projects because they have the skill and ability to do so! Therefore, we should be shouting about them and celebrating them!

As The Culture Vulture, my mission has always been to empower artists and showcase the creative and cultural sector in its entirety. So, in my blog over the next few months, I’m going to be featuring talented creative people who have interesting roles in creative projects but often, don’t get mentioned or celebrated in the way they should do! I want to remove the “mysterious” element of what they do and hopefully, make them feel seen with the hope that others may follow in their footsteps. I want to illuminate the creative industries in their entirety.

There are so many roles that could sit within the “unseen” and “mysterious” category – but the one I’m going to explore today is a sound designer! If you don’t know what one is – well don’t flap – I didn’t know until a couple of years ago! I’ve personally worked with them on films, animations, theatre productions and public art commissions exhibited as part of an event. They do weird and wonderful things to sound usually as part of a wider whole (e.g. a theatre production). Their skills lay in making people feel, think, experience things via sounds. In an immersive performance context, if we think about humans having 5 senses – the perfect blending of the performance including sight and sound, can trigger the audience to feel, smell, and even taste things. What you hear can be equally as important as what you see!

A sound designer that I’ve had the total pleasure of meeting and working with recently, as part of Mortal Fools – is Matthew Tuckey, he’s very talented but also really canny human (I’ve enjoyed surrounding myself with canny folks of late). So I thought, I’d jump at the chance to interview him to showcase what a sound design is, what they do and to celebrate Matthew’s work, to make it more “seen”. So here we go and over to Matthew!

Hiyer Matthew – right, let’s start at the beginning – please introduce yourself to my fellow Culture Vultures?

Matthew – I am a Sound Designer and Sound Artist. I work mainly in theatre but have more recently been taking private and public art commissions. I’m based in North East England but take my work further afield when I get the opportunity. I am currently craving a long escape to the Highlands (when it is safe to do so) and I really like cooking. So, if you want to talk at length about interesting sounds or how to make an excellent stir-fry – hit me up!

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Matthew Tuckey

As a forever hungry human, yes please! Can you tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

Matthew – It’s a convoluted one… I started off with a very committed drama teacher who encouraged me to pursue directing. I was involved in music, art and drama at school but unfortunately we were limited to only one option at GCSE level, so I ended up going for Drama and took this all the way to A Level. I tried studying a four year MA in Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow but after the first two months decided this was a waste of time and somehow landed an internship in a recording studio back in Newcastle. I was still writing and directing theatre here and there, but the studio offered me an exciting new creative outlet. Without planning it, these two worlds merged quite naturally in sound design.

Fast forward to now and I’m exploring the exciting and diverse world of sound design for theatre, and more lately, sound art. This was quite a natural progression from my creative work in recording studios and theatre sound technician work, alongside participation in directing and writing workshops. The surprising thing I found was when I was doing the more technical work, some people were asking me questions like “have you given up on creating theatre then?” which really fuelled my desire to demonstrate how technical and creative meet harmoniously in the designer’s role.

The Culture Vulture – As a non-planner – I find the magic happens in the freedom and I’m delighted to hear you talk about the connection between technical and creative, as absolutely and actually, I think where they meet is exactly where the innovation is, that will  take us into the next sector creative phase for reinvent post (or during) pandemic!

So tell me, what do you do as a sound designer? What is a sound designer?

Matthew – I get asked this a lot, and often at the start of a project with a new collaborator funnily enough! Also, a lot of people keep asking me how I differentiate between my sound design and sound art practice, and to be fair most aren’t aware that a “sound artist” is a thing. So to clarify, briefly, I am a sound designer when I am serving a client or collaborators creative vision – they present a problem and I plan and execute a design solution. Sound Art is what I do when I am realising my own creative vision – but the line can be quite blurry.

So, a sound designer means a lot of things across film, music, theatre, UI, AR, etc. Even in the theatre industry, where I do most of my work, it can mean many things to many people depending on the show, the genre, the theatre, etc. Broadly speaking though, the sound designer for a theatre production is responsible for all audible aspects of a performance.

It’s a broad role that can involve any combination of the following: sound effects recording, sound effects design, Foley (live or pre-recorded), sound system design, live sound reinforcement, recording and playback of music, programming the show control software, and room acoustics. So if you get the right one, they can be very good value for money!

I describe this approach as a wholistic sound design and this is what I aim to achieve in my work. Depending on the show and the company, this can either be all on me or with a team of maybe one other sound designer or composer and the technicians in the sound department.

The Culture Vulture – I think it’s an important question for folks to keep asking as, the more they ask and get comfortable with what a sound designer can do – the more ambitious they will get with their use of sound during a performance or project. Lack of technical knowledge and understanding of specialist roles like yours, can be so self-limiting! Through increased awareness, the seemingly impossible transforms into possible.

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Matthew Tuckey – photo credit Von Fox

What types of folks require your services?

Matthew – Anyone wanting to tell a story with sound! Whether that’s theatre companies, film makers, podcasters, visual artists, museum curators, or marketing teams. For example, I’ve never worked with an organisation on creating a sonic brand (think Windows or Mac start up. Or Netflix “da-dum”!) but would love to hear from anyone interested in developing that side of their marketing strategy. My clientele is only limited by imagination – it’s fairly niche at the moment but more and more organisations are offering immersive audio experiences (see Land Rover marketing or Formula 1 teams or Bastille album launches).

The Culture Vulture – holy moly, the Bastille album launch was truly amazing (google it folks)! So innovative. And as someone, who had kind of forgotten about them and their music, it worked in getting me to notice them and reconnect.  

Matthew – There’s a range of technical proficiency out there already when it comes to things like recording a podcast or sound for video, not forgetting musicians with home studios. But my skills really lie in marrying specialist technical knowledge and creative expression. When I was working in recording studios, one of the most important lessons I learnt was how to create a workflow that allowed natural movement between ‘left brain’ activities (setting levels, patching signal chains, organising your space) and ‘right brain’ activities (creative ideation, abstraction thinking, meditative listening) – I think that’s one of the biggest offerings on a project.

I also offer consultancy and training for organisations looking to improve their sound infrastructure and skills. Whether that’s theatre and cinema workshops exploring sonic creativity or venues looking to improve their sound system. I’m yet to work with a restaurant that want to improve the sonic side of the dining experience (I’ve been lucky enough to go to some nice restaurants and notice how uncomfortable they are sonically!) – maybe one day!

The Culture Vulture – I really love what you’re talking about there. 1. The brand sound – as someone who works in marcomms, this would interest me greatly. We often talk about how colours and visuals feed into branding- but sound isn’t something explored in the mainstream and I think, it has such potential. 2. Enhancing audience experience through sound – I would love to visit a restaurant or bar that has invested into this area.

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Matthew Tuckey

Tell me about some recent project highlights?

Matthew – Just before lockdown I was nearing the end of an exciting new show with Mortal Fools called ‘Relentless’. This was the first time they had worked with a sound designer and we had/have a really ambitious vision for using sound in this production (Relentless was cancelled just before touring and is set to tour in 2021). I couldn’t help feel a touch of nostalgia with this project as it reminded me of similar devising processes I was part of as a teenager. We’re all determined that this show WILL have a life beyond lockdown!

Another recent highlight is ‘Wolf’ a winter story by Kitchen Zoo in association with Northern Stage which was performed in Stage 3 over Christmas 2019. Kitchen Zoo are a fantastic team making brilliant shows for little people and their grown-ups. It was my first time collaborating with the talented Katie Doherty who was the composer, we both found this collaborative effort very rewarding.

WOLF by Kitchen Zoo – photo credit Von Fox

What makes a “good” sound designer? What skills do they need?

Matthew – I think the main thing that is relevant for all types of sound designers, and sounds a bit obvious but I really do mean it, is you need to LOVE sound and really experience the world through a strong awareness of sound. Whether it’s noticing an interesting acoustic effect, experiencing new music (live and recorded), or being drawn into a film through the sound design and score. I’m pretty evangelical about people watching/listening to collaborations between Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan (current personal favourites – Dunkirk and The Dark Knight Trilogy – both making awesome use of Shepard tones which is one to ‘Google’!) And also, Joe Wright’s Atonement and Darkest Hour are great examples of sonic repetition and punctuation. But I’ll stop short of some of the more obscure ones…

The Culture Vulture – As a real film fan, I love sound in film and really appreciate its usage; 1917 had a fantastic use of sound and Ryan Murphy productions use sound (and populist music) fantastically; American Horror Story, Pose, Versace!

Matthew – Another important skill is developing a language alongside your awareness of sound. Being able to describe sound in a way that communicates clearly with a range of clients/collaborators – whether that’s a producer, a director, a performer, or videographer or painter. Having a common language is really important and is the first challenge in every new collaboration.

There are other skills that are really more specific to individual practice. Such as live sound reinforcement, microphone techniques for live and recorded sound, field recording, effects design, music composition, QLab programming etc. The depth that you go into these more practical skills really depends on what type of work you are designing.

The Culture Vulture – It’s interesting that you brought up commonality of language. I think it’s a real barrier to lots of collaboration where technology and more technical roles could come together. It’s the same with technological solutions and innovation that could make creative businesses function better – we (I class myself in that) often don’t have the words to describe effectively what we want or to do the research to understand what we need and the ones with the technological solution aren’t able to communicate to people who don’t understand tech speak! It can be overwhelming and disempowering!

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Matthew Tuckey

What kit do you use? What kit would you recommend to folks wanting to invest in sound for their work?

Matthew – So I use a combination of field recording, studio equipment, and electronic instruments.

For field recording I have a multitrack recorder with a vast range of microphones, from ambisonics (useful for VR and surround work) to contact microphones (useful for acousmatic compositions). I also have a handy mini field recorder with built-in and external mic’s which I use to grab interesting sounds that I come across day-to-day (this pretty much goes everywhere with me, and it’s not uncommon to spend the first 30mins in a new Airbnb recording another extractor fan or boiler!).

I have yet more microphones for studio recording (such as voiceovers and acoustic instruments) as well as a few acoustic instruments and Foley props that make great source material for designing effects. I recently got hold of a mini Roland synthesiser based on the classic Juno 60 and 106 which is very fun and versatile – I like being able to get hands on with this, as a lot of my work happens in audio editing software, and if all else fails you can just entertain yourself trying to make things sound a bit more Stranger Things!

It’s important to say though that you can buy the best equipment in the world but use it terribly! So the best resource straight away is either investing time and money into learning the skills to optimise what equipment you can lay your hands on, or bringing in a collaborator like me who already has not just those skills and equipment resources, but thinks and creates in a heavily sound orientated way.

The Culture Vulture – When learning something new or feeling out of your depth, there is an impulse that can lead to buying ALL the kit possible as a solution or assuming the best kid will compensate for the lack of skills. I’ve been guilty of that for visual stuff and learnt the hard way!

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Matthew Tuckey

You worked on an Enchanted Parks’ piece – I didn’t know you back then,  but I worked on EP that year and remember your name, it was a wonderful piece– can you tell me about the piece?

Matthew – That was a lot of fun collaborating with Molly Barrett on her sculpture piece ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ in 2018. I got to play around with some new ways of manipulating the voiceover that was part of the wider Enchanted Parks story and working with some theme music from the wonderful Roma Yagnik.

I’m really hoping that Enchanted Parks makes a come-back after their hiatus. It’s a fantastic event and my involvement in 2018 left me with big ideas for a parkwide sound installation.

The Culture Vulture – Me too – both as someone who visited every year as a punter and lived along the top of Saltwell Park, it’s a proper visitor gem! AND as someone who worked on the event for a couple of years – it’s a big miss to my yearly calendar.

Can you tell me a career project highlight so far?

Matthew – That’s a tough one!

I really enjoyed working with Selma Dimitrijevic on ‘joey’. It was a preview tour and Selma’s first point in the brief was ‘very lo-fi’ – we were literally touring to venues that had the most basic of sound systems. The piece was performed as a monologue by two performers simultaneously, one in English the other in BSL (the very talented Scott Turnbull and Faye Alvi respectively), and so we decided to make the soundscape quite low-frequency heavy in order to maximise the effect for our D/deaf audience members. These very strict parameters helped me to focus my attention on the source material inspired by the script and manipulate these in a really creative way that supported and scored the performances on stage.

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Joey – Photo credit – Bish

I also have to mention working as Associate Sound Designer for Northern Stage’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and working alongside sound designer Nick John Williams. That show was a lot of fun, not least because of the sheer scale of the production. Nick brought me onto that project to help with some particular tasks, which included recording various sound effects such as church bells – a first for me! I was also responsible for creating vocal effects chains for the different types of ghosts and narrators in the show. Both of these challenges were a lot of fun and we were very happy with the outcome.

The Culture Vulture – Great answer and it gives a real overview of how broad and diverse your work can be!

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A Christmas Carol – Northern Stage – photo credit Pamel

Can you tell me how COVID-19 has affected your work/practice?

Matthew – As soon as the PM suggested people stay away from theatres (prior to ordering them to close) the theatre industry pretty much shut down over night. My diary for the foreseeable cleared overnight simultaneously. Which was a shock to the system to say the least!

I had already been developing my practice in the digital art scene and making commission applications and funding bids in this area. Now with social distancing in place, a lot more people are contributing to digital art galleries which is great but also means the competition for funding and commissioning has jumped up!

The Culture Vulture – I hear ya! But from knowing you and chatting briefly to you about what you’ve got in store, I’m extremely excited to see your ideas and work unfold!

What challenges have you faced and how have you responded to them?

Matthew – The most immediate issues for me were the worries of financial loss and losing momentum in my practice. As a freelancer, I struggle with this mentality that if I stop for too long and lose momentum then it’s game over – I’ll lose clients, I’ll miss opportunities and I’ll forget how to do what I do.

I dealt with the financial worries by taking a few days just to gather my thoughts and assess the situation – fortunately I wasn’t in any immediate trouble and since then I’ve been successful in securing an individual ACE emergency support grant. I’ve also got some online workshop facilitation work for the lovely Mortal Fools and some online tutoring for Newcastle College’s FdA Stage Management and Technical Theatre students, which is also a lot of fun.

In terms of my practice – I started off by setting myself small, short term goals. I created a mini series of daily-ish ‘Mystery Sounds’ giving people 24 hours to guess the sound from a short recording clip. This helped me feel productive while I adjusted to the new circumstances. I’m still finding it difficult not being able to go very far with my recording equipment and to see people, but the cacophony of birds in our garden are more than obliging recording subjects for the time being. Listen here!

The Culture Vulture   – I loved your mystery sounds and I think it is a testament to your creativity with sound. In a busy digital space where everyone was suddenly pushing out content – I genuinely found yours fun and interesting! It also drove me insane trying to guess!

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Matthew Tuckey

You’ve been successful in receiving ACE emergency support funding – so firstly, BLIDDY WELL DONE PAL! Can you tell me what was the application process like? How did it feel to find out you were successful?

Matthew– It was a fairly simple process and I had some great advice from people who have a good track record with securing ACE funding. I’ve also been through a few bids over the past year, that were all unsuccessful in this ever increasingly competitive sphere of funding, so it was a real relief to find out I was successful. I was having a bad day when I got the email so just dismissed it without reading it in a moment of negativity and pessimism – thankfully I went back and read the email properly!

It was also very encouraging – I’ve basically spent lockdown juggling what little work is done remotely, applying to commissions for digital art, and trying to maintain some sort of routine! Now this help from ACE can give me some structure and purpose for a brief period of time.

YAS!  Proud of you pal! What will the funding enable you to do? What can we hook into?

Matthew – It’s buying me time really. The Arts Council asked how I would use this time to plan and stabilise for the future. And my answer was two things: take some sections of my original sound library and create collections to be bought online, and also to host webinars and discussions for collaborators who want to find out more about the sound design process and how they can collaborate with a sound designer in their work.

The webinars and discussions are largely going to be promoted through my existing networks with the help of regional theatre companies, but if anyone would like to get in touch to hear more about these events then they can find my contact details on my website.

Count me in for the webinars and discussions! So, I know it’s hard to plan during the uncertainty right now – but what’s next for Matthew on the horizon? What projects/happenings/things should my fellow Culture Vultures look out for?

Matthew – I am currently working on a mini album of sound art made during lockdown. It’s largely inspired by sounds I’ve noticed more since social distancing measures and sounds I am missing too. This will be available on my Soundcloud page (and other platforms that I will announce via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@MGTuckey, @thesoundportrait)

As soon as I can safely do so, I will be recording more pieces or ‘episodes’ for my Sound Portrait ‘Podcast’. This is a long-term project that I am running through a Patreon page that is all about hearing someone unfold their thoughts in a type of one-sided conversation. For me, it’s the sound artists portrait photograph of an individual. I’m steadily growing a following and patronage for this project, and I’ve recently created a new lower tier (just £1 per month) on my Patreon in order to try and encourage new followers to support the life of the project. It’s a slow burner, but my hope is that we can create a series of portraits that collectively amount to a sonic time-capsule of people, a kind of living oral history if you like.

Other than that, things are fairly uncertain during lock down unfortunately, particular with regards to theatre work – who knows when this will pick up again.

The Culture Vulture – a sound portrait of an individual…..I really love that. Just reading that has got me excited and I would love to be involved in some way!

Matthew – The other project I have continually running in the background is called The Rime and is my personal response to the epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and combines influences of field recording, acousmatic composition, and sound poetry. I am constantly applying to commissioning opportunities to take this work further and hope I’ll be able to share more about this in the coming months!

The Culture Vulture – Thank you Matthew; you can find out more about Matthew on his website or via his socials; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@MGTuckey, @thesoundportrait)

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Matthew Tuckey

One of the things I love about working in the cultural sector, is the rich tapestry of people, vocations and skill sets that exist within it; it truly is unrivalled. I am unsure if people outside of the sector, truly understand its richness or skill diversity. I often sit back during a project team meeting and look around thinking…..”bliddy heck – what a talented bunch of people we have here!?” Matthew is one of those people!

And I am truly excited to see the opportunities as I predict tech and digital will creatively collide due to the pandemic, connect and from that, exciting collaborations will unfold.

Until next time Culture Vulture.

Enchanted Parks 2018 the Artist edition…..celebrating outdoor art and hidden stories with Helen Yates!

We’ve been blessed across the North this year for outdoor festive events – you could literally attend something lush and magical every day and night. When you’re attending you might forget that these events are only possible thanks to a mega team of creatives; a project team and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears that make such events happen. Since I’ve started working on outdoor events as The Culture Vulture, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for these people and all the artists/creatives involved.

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The Finders Keepers at Enchanted Parks, Theatre Space NE (Photo: Rich Kenworthy)

I recently attended this year’s Enchanted Parks at Saltwell Park; Enchanted Parks is an outdoor after dark arts adventure around the park with light installations, sound, performance – all based around a theme. This year the theme was The House of Lost and Found – the story of a mysterious travelling circus that collects lost things and reunites them with their owners. You can get a sense of this year via this year’s professional photos from local (and bliddy amazing) photographer Rich Kenworthy.

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Enchanted Parks 2018 Photo: Rich Kenworthy

In my opinion, it was a great year and I loved all of the installations – quite different than previous and pushing the boundaries! A firm favourite of mine was an installation called ‘Precious and Found’ by Helen Yates – Burning Light Arts. Helen’s installation consisted of hanging in the branches of the Cherry Tree Walk in Saltwell Park, a series of birdcages hosting a fascinating array of curiosities, each with a story to tell.

I became really curious about what it’s like to be behind the scenes, working on this type of event and the artist experience! How scary mary, but also lush to have your artwork out there for all to see – night after night! So I decided to reach out to Helen Yates for the artist perspective – to find out more about her piece, how she came to be a part of this year’s Enchanted Parks and of course, her Enchanted Parks experience as an artist!

So step forward Helen Yates, one of this year’s Enchanted Parks’ artists!

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

Hi Helen, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you – so let’s start at the beginning for my Culture Vultures; tell me about you? Who are you?

Who am I? Strangely enough I made a piece a number of years ago with that very title, a textured, wax wall piece that incorporated the phrase in as many languages as I could track down. Some languages don’t even have the words to be able to ask the question!

Me? Well…… I have had a number of labels over the years: artist, lead artist, educator, lecturer, project manager, workshop leader, schools’ artist….I reckon my most enduring labels have been mother and artist.

Can you describe your arts practice?

I am one of those people that loves to gather new skills, materials and processes; so my work varies. I feel I have succeeded whatever the piece is, if I can create a response, a need to touch or discover more. Site specific installation tends to be my preferred way of working at the moment. I want to make work that fits the people and place that it is intended for and introduce some elements of hidden stories and thoughts for people to question. Temporary installations are great because people and places change, so I like that the work doesn’t feel static.

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The Lost and Found Tree, Dave Young at Enchanted Parks 2018. Photo: Rich Kenworthy

I ask every artist I interview this question….what was your journey into the arts?

From a very young age, I loved to read and draw. My mum would order me outside to ‘get some fresh air’ when she thought I had stayed in my room to long…. I would take my books and pencils outside and sit until I went numb with cold.

Throughout my life I have drawn, made and created things. My journey wasn’t as typical as most but I was always determined to go to college and university to ‘prove I was a creative’, so just after my son was born I did. I gained my degree and 2 daughters along the way! From there I hounded my local arts officers and officially became an artist. Three children and tight finances led to diversifying into college teaching and from there into arts development whilst still working as an artist.

What inspires your practice?

There are probably three things that have been extremely influential in shaping what I do. The first was at Uni; I obsessively drew and painted large scale nude figures in empty spaces – I wanted to portray being ‘human’. Secondly, when asked why I never incorporated objects or clothes, my response was that these things labelled people, put them in categories, people made assumptions. The more I thought about it, it led me to thinking about the power of objects and how we respond to them. I have always loved history, so archaeology and how objects are used to build pictures of long gone people become the overriding theme in my work…. Objects ruled! The third event was my visit to the Tate modern some years ago and seeing Cornelia Parkers Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View – she exploded a shed and its collection of objects into thousands of pieces and then reconstructed them in mid-air, creating a still, quiet and beautiful moment in time from a noisy, destructive moment in time. I saw how installations transformed and created their own spaces and this idea has stayed firmly in my mind.

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Cornelia Parkers Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View

Can’t believe I’d forgotten about Cornelia’s piece – went to see it at the Tate and WOW! But back to you….You had an installation at this year’s Enchanted Parks – how did that come about?

I came across the opportunity and loved the theme…. The idea of storytelling and lost objects immediately caught my attention. I have collaborated with storytellers on previous projects; I feel it’s a wonderful way of creating a new link between the work and audience. It invites people into thinking about an objects past, its meaning and the people that owned it. I want my work to engage children as well as adults so this commission had the possibility to do all of that. So I applied and I am extremely glad to say I was asked to create my proposal for the Cherry Tree walk at Saltwell Park.

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

What was the inspiration behind the piece?

The overriding theme of the commissions for Enchanted Parks 2018 was put forward within the brief and some images were sent within this to visualise these ideas. Within this was an image of a contortionist who had squeezed into a birdcage, it was a very striking image, if a little sinister! From here I wondered where Peter Chavalier (travelling circus leader) might store all his found objects on his travels and birdcages seemed very portable and just the kind of thing he might use to keep the found objects safe. They also seemed an excellent way of lighting and displaying the Precious and Found objects.

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Helen during the rigging process for Enchanted Parks 2018

How did you chose what items went inside the cages? Loved the Octopus and it was a firm favourite for visitors!

Thank you! The items were inspired by my research into what items have ended up in lost property offices around the world and it seems some very unusual items have been found, including an octopus on the London underground – probably not as big as the one in Precious and Found… but you never know! Can you begin to imagine though how anyone can lose a bag of skulls, a prosthetic leg or a missile guidance system? Of course others are more usual, the teddy bear and the puffer fish (well maybe not!!).

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

What does it feel like having families and culture vultures seeing your work every night and engaging so positively with it?

It makes me smile, even when I saw a toddler vigorously tugging at the octopuses leg one half of me was worrying that the leg would stay on, the other was chuckling and loving the intense concern that the child had, wanting to free a foam and latex, pink octopus..… I love the interaction…. It’s why I do it.

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

What did you think of this year’s Enchanted Parks theme?

Excellent! It has given rise to a lot of varied and excellent work. I feel the way the theme has been created is extremely creative in itself …. Well done Enchanted Parks!

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The Little Legionnaires of Lost and Found Studio McGuire at Enchanted Parks 2018 – Photo: Rich Kenworthy

I recently found a story about a day in the life of a chicken written by a 6 year old me – it’s so lush and pure; I don’t remember being obsessed with chickens but apparently I was a big chicken fan as a mini….have you ever found something that you thought you’d lost forever?

That’s a lovely story….chickens make excellent children’s characters! Unfortunately my response is not so lovely. After a brain injury some years ago, I lost the ability to walk, communicate and draw even a simple circle! Over the following years I found all these things again.  Words can’t explain my relief at knowing they were not lost forever.

The Little Legionnaires of Lost and Found Studio McGuire at Enchanted Parks 2018 – Photo: Rich Kenworthy

They say that the brain never really forgets – it’s just the path to remembering which is damaged. Whilst all the pieces are fantastic this year – do you have one that stands out and you’d say is one of your faves?

Can I cheat and chose two? I love And Now’s piece with its carousels and fire garden and the lost and found labels hung by the visitors are a treat to read. Whilst that piece is beautiful low tech, I also love The Mcguires’ Studio pieces, The Little Legionnaires, I love the mix of tech wizardry and the beautifully constructed 3D elements that make up their enchanting illusions.

Merry Glow Round, And Now at Enchanted Parks 2018. Photo: Rich Kenworthy

Now EP is done and dusted – do you have a bit of down time? Christmas plans?

Not yet, I have workshops in schools immediately after the de installation, after that hopefully a mince-pie and brandy or two might be in order!

Looking back across the year, tell me about a highlight for you/your practice in 2018?

2018 has been a good year for work – I have been kept busy and produced work that I have enjoyed creating so I can’t ask for more. Of course Enchanted Parks has been my highlight, great people, great place, met lots of interesting artists from around the country, excellent food (think I’ve put on half a stone!) all in all a very lovely and interesting opportunity.

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Nova by Studio Vertigo at Enchanted Parks 2018. Photo: Rich Kenworthy

What is on the horizon for you 2019?

I enjoy collaborating with other artists, especially when they bring very different skills to the mix, so I have a couple of ideas in the pipeline…..watch this space!

Well thank you Helen! Such an interesting insight into being a part of Enchanted Parks and it’s been lush to hear about the artist experience. Really looking forward to seeing how Helen’s 2019 unfolds….

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

Promise not to leave it soon long Culture Vultures!

Megan Randall; Guerilla Clay, #getnorth2018 & making.

I was delighted to recently be invited to do some real time culture vulturing around Ouseburn Open Studios for their spring event. Just trumped by Eurovision, Open Studios is a calendar favourite of mine. I had a wonderful time with my pretend paparazzi for the day, professional photographer and lush megababe Marion Botella, who captured my every move as I visited The Biscuit Factory, 36 Lime Street Studios, Northern Print, Jim Edwards Studios and The Kiln.

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One of my favourite elements of Open Studios is the opportunity to chat to artists and find out more about their process, passion , pieces…..most of the time, the people behind the art are just (if not more) interesting as the art itself. For the Spring Open Studios, the Biscuit Factory did something extra special in celebration of International Women’s Day; they invited the likes (and absolutely megababe favourites) The Crafthood, All Round Creative Junkie, Trendlistr, Megan Randall and others to host pop ups. Championing Northern artists is what I’m all about so that gets me excited, but championing female artists, well that gets me jumping out of bed in the morning!

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Artist Megan Randall

I loved my Spring Open Studios experience and it was the perfect opportunity to catch up with all the pop up artists at The Biscuit Factory especially ceramic artist and maker Megan Randall. I’ve met Megan a few times – she’s been to Culture Vulture events (yay!), works as a freelance participatory artist for the Baltic, hosts amazing pop up sessions at The Thought Foundation in Gateshead, has an interesting practice – all alongside a commission for The Great Exhibition of the North. Her pop up at The Biscuit Factory invited participants to create small, white porcelain flowers which would be used as part of the #getnorth2018 wider project.

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Megan is a fantastically interesting artist and maker – her work and passion is multidimensional; it crosses many different art forms. I really loved Megan’s recent 2016 Guerilla Clay Project; a series of installations, interventions and workshops in Northumberland National Park to engage communities, residents and visitors. The project came from the idea of sharing clay artworks with the world in an anonymous way; making things and putting them in public spaces for strangers to appreciate.  ‘Guerilla’ anything interests me – putting something pop up, unexpected or starkly out of place in a space really interests me.

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I also really like Public Art for the reason of community shared ownership, the ability to view art accessibly without a threshold, stumble across it almost but still able to fully appreciate it. In an open public space – the art belongs to everyone and every individual thinks, feels or connects to it differently.

Megan says this about her work: “In the process of my work I relinquish control, instead of having a predetermined outcome of how the work will be received. I do not mind if the work is stolen, destroyed or rearranged just as long as it is treated with the same passion used to create it.” I find this really interesting – as many artists become so unbelievably attached to their work, almost like a part of them. And even I with my creative projects – I could not disconnect at the point of project implementation and delivery….

I took my Open Studios visit as the perfect opportunity to catch up with Megan and get to know her more….find out about her projects.

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Hiyer Megan, it’s been lovely to chat and catch up – can you tell me how you became involved in this Spring Open Studios?

Rachel Brown, Biscuit Factory Gallery manager, invited me to attend the event; I had discussed with her making some work as part of Great Exhibition of the North and she wanted to link that to open studios for visitors to contribute to the project and see me making.

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Ohhh so this Biscuit Factory commissioned project is for #getnorth2018 – that’s really exciting! So brilliant to see Northern artists benefitting and securing work from what is going to be an ace summer! Tell me more about the project?

I am making a large installation that will be made up of approximately 14000 magnetic Parian flowers. The flowers are made by a combination of mould making and hand building; they range in size from 2cm to 14cm in diameter and each flower will be completely unique.

During Spring Open Studios, I made with visitors several hundred flowers, all of which will form part of the huge installation, almost a wall of texture. Each flower will be individually for sale except a number (including those made at open studios) which will be given away to distribute on street signs and lamp posts through-out the city.

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More Guerilla art, I love it! So where can people see the final piece?

The work will be displayed in the biscuit factory during #getnorth2018.

I love the individualistic nature of each flower and the fact so many Northern folk & Biscuit Factory visitors will have contributed to the end piece. What are you hoping people will think when they view the large piece?

I want people who visit the gallery to be confronted with a wall of texture which is bigger than them and is formed of small delicate components so that it becomes a solid mass of texture. I like the idea of being overwhelmed by something which individually so small.

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I know this is a super hard question to answer but I’m going to ask it anyway! Tell me more and your practice?

My practice is a confusing one; I have two strands. The first is Megan Randall (@meg_makes) which is where I make installations using hundreds, sometimes thousands of components. The second is Cobalt and Lustre (@cobaltandlustre) where I make and sell designed ceramics homewares, jewellery and art.

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The two practices complement each other; I make the large scale installation pieces because I love playing with spaces, watching people’s interactions with ceramic objects and gifting places with unusual objects. In my own artistic practice I tend to selfishly make for myself, make work which tackles issues which are important to me. This selfish making develops skills, new designs and new ideas which feeds into work made for Cobalt and Lustre; a wonderful platform to talk to people, gauge reactions, and get into the meditative role of making.

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Tell me about your journey into the arts?

I got the clay bug at primary school when I worked with a visiting artist to carve a clay robot which is still attached to the outside of the school. This encounter means that now I love working as an artist facilitator and working with schools, collages, families and community groups. I think that art is getting pushed further out of school timetabling which means there is less time to mess and explore materials, which alienates kids like me who were a bit rubbish at English and maths.

I did an art foundation then came to Sunderland University where I studied glass and ceramics at degree level and then went on to explore ceramics as a PhD student.

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Favourite project of 2017?

My favourite project of 2017 was being commissioned by art mix at the Baltic to make a bed and ceramic quilt where I collected peoples’ hopes and dreams. It was part of an exhibition called ‘What Happens to a Dream Deferred’ and for me was all about making beds and laying in them. I received a huge response and had dreams ranging from, ‘I want a pet dinosaur’ to peoples’ hopes for marriage proposals and regrets of broken relationships. There is something about anonymity that frees up people to say what they really mean. It’s why toilet cubicle graffiti is so interesting!

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Love that you made a project out of beds….One of my favourite venues in Gateshead is the Thought Foundation – what do you do there?

As well as working with the Baltic and National Glass Centre, I also work with Thought Foundation in Birtley. I love the space as a venue as it is so welcoming and inclusive, I sell things in their shop which is beautifully curated and have exhibited in their gallery space. I have also started delivering some workshops from there. And, it also sells an amazing caramel apple cake!

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Tell me about your future projects?

In 2018/19 I made a promise to myself to make an artwork each week, which is going well. I’m currently making 365 clay knots, all based around a love hate relationship with clay with is beautiful and malleable one minute and cracks and breaks the next.

I have been working with lots of school groups and applying for funding to instigate a project with older people based around memories. I will be exhibiting work at the Biscuit Factory and Thought Foundation in June. I have made a new range of jewellery for Cobalt and Lustre and have other projects lined up with local creative companies.

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Well that sounds ace Megan – I’m so excited to see your Guerilla flowers across the city during Great Exhibition of the North and to see your piece at The Biscuit Factory.

Check out Megan’s work Culture Vultures – it’s truly wonderful!

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!

All rise for Lady Kitt; subversive, perfectly ridiculous & immensely talented.

The whole point of International Women’s Day is to celebrate women, feminism, Northern lasses and champion women who rock your world. So for this year’s, International Women’s Day, I wanted to profile an artist and creative that I personally have loved from a far since I first became aware of her – her work, passion, innovative and interesting projects and commitment to creativity and  equality.

Well hello Lady Kitt…..total megababe. Kitt’s projects, work, events and her exciting ambitions are not only inspirational to the regional, National and Internation sector – but to me, she is someone  brave, bold, empowered and doing creative things that are truly exciting and making her mark in a thriving and vibing independent arts and cultural sector. She’s my kinda gal and I’m thrilled she accepted my invitation to be feature in this blog post.

BOOM – Happy International Women’s Day Lady Kitt – reet so let’s start at the beginning; tell me about you and your extremely diverse practice?

Hi, I’m Kitt- I’m a…. “Maker”. I guess that best sums it up. Art, jokes, food, quite a lots of mess, and, with my lovely husband Andy, a couple of super little humans. It’s all making really isn’t it?!

It’s funny – the diverse practice thing, I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot recently. I reckon the tools I use are quite diverse- there’s research, paper cutting, mass bubble blowing, fruit carving, performance, lectures, projects, … but really, the core of my work has always pretty much been the same- it’s all about delving into, developing, celebrating the social aspects of creativity.

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Everyone has a different journey into the Arts; what was your journey into the arts?

I’m not massively into the idea that people are “born” to certain things; but looking at my early life it’s easy to link it to my practice now. I was brought up in a creative family. I grew up with my wonderful younger brother Louise who was severely disabled and terminally ill. He was an amazing artist and seeing the pleasure and power he experienced through being creative has had a huge influence on how I see art and why I think it’s important. I was taught at home until I was 14 – so had a good amount of time to focus on being creative and lots of time to spend with one of the most important people in my life- my sister, Bridie. Our relationship and creative adventures together are big, big part of almost everything I do.

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I’ve always made physical stuff- embroidery, nests, paper cuts- but for a long time I didn’t think I was an artist. I started off wanting to be a dancer. I trained in the Indian dance/drama discipline Bharata Natyam for six years and was taught contemporary dance by the completely awesome Trish Winters. It was through Trish that I started to experience some really playful ways of using and presenting performance. During my art foundation degree, I started making work that combined performance, working with community groups and making stuff all at once. But it wasn’t until I was at university that I really discovered live art and artists with a ‘social practice’ and then I was like- yes- that’s me- I have a gang!

Lady Kitt is an amazing artist name  – I love it!

Name wise-when I was coming up to my 21st birthday- my parents were talking about what to give me as a birthday present. I’ve always been a Republican (in the anti-monarchy sense), really disliking the idea of being subjugated, inherited titles and all that gubbins, so they offered to change my first name by Deed Poll to “Lady”, as a daft, subversive, two fingers up the whole system. I loved it – it’s such a cheeky gift- so we did all the paper work and everything- sent it off, but it was rejected – on the grounds that I was trying to “assume a title”- which is sort of pleasingly ironic. I thought “fuck it- I’ll just call myself Lady Kitt and I’ll keep doing it until everyone else does too” and that’s what I’ve done.

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You have a very strong visual identity within your work and expression of yourself as an artist – how did you develop this?

It’s really interesting that you say I have a strong visual identity; looking at it objectively I can see what you mean, but that’s definitely not how I experience it myself. For me, I have a strong methodological process, and some very definite ideas about making art in inclusive, ethical ways.

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I’ve developed my process by pretty much by throwing myself in at the deep end and seeing what happens. I don’t ever really think “this is too ridiculous” (although it nearly always is). I think “how can I do this so it genuinely, clearly says something I’m interested in” or “how can I get lots of people involved and change something we all want to change” or “how can this be the most fun possible?”.

Like with the first Nasty Women exhibition last year- I just thought “this is really important, I want people in the North East to have an opportunity to be part of this. I want an opportunity to be part of this”. I didn’t think “Bugger we can’t do this- we’ve got no money, no infrastructure, no gallery, no clue”- which was all true! So yup, that’s how I develop the process…

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But visually, with the sort of “end product” – I don’t consider myself to have a very coherent style or visual language- I just make the next thing that I feel compelled to make, without ever thinking does it look like something I’ve done before- will it “fit in” with my existing body of work? Maybe it’s because the physical objects I make aren’t really the “end product” to me- to me they are a tool for getting to the goal- which could be raising awareness, building a community, changing a policy, having a good time.

I love your ethos of experimentation, challenging creative roles and processes – where does your creative playfulness come from?

Thank you! I like to see people reacting to things in curious, inquisitive, ways and I like to create situations that let people do that. So some of it comes from that- basically it just makes me happy!

It‘s fun for me to invite people to apply to be my muse (like it’s a formal job), or to encourage people to use my head as an art gallery or to make a performance where the content is authored by viewers sending me text messages telling me what to do. So that’s part of it- And some of it is more philosophical. People are creative- making things in a (generally!) thoughtful way is one of the things that makes us Human.

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Often people don’t get (or give themselves) opportunities to enjoy that- I want to create situations that encourage people to make physical stuff, make decisions and think about / celebrate the importance of being creative. I also hate all the hierarchical “hi/ low brow art” crap. I think it’s detrimental to individuals and to society. People thinking that they are not creative or not creative in the “right way” stops them from developing vital skills.

Making stuff gives people agency- it’s a chance to physically encounter change. Making in groups is like apes grooming- it’s social glue. When people start being creative together they almost instantly create a little community that has its own culture and rules- just like that, out of nothing, it’s like magic. Once people do that and know that they can do that then, they often start to explore other wider things that they can create and change. A community full of people who feel empowered in that way can be supportive, kind, resilient. Elitist ideas of what is art and who is an artist just stop all that dead. Sorry, I could go on about this for EVER.

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It’s great to be able to showcase you, on International Women’s Day….. what does being a female artist in 2018 mean? What does it mean to you?

Wow- well, I’m extraordinarily lucky. For me being a female artist in 2018 (in the UK), means freedom. I’m free to say what I want to say in the way I want to say it. A few people might think I’m idiotic, a lot of people will question me (and so they should) – but no one can stop me. Being a female artist in other places in 2018 doesn’t mean freedom, it can mean absolutely the opposite. And being a female, or a being queer, or being an activist can still mean torture and death. For me, knowing this and campaigning to change it, is a very important part of being a female artist and of being a Nasty Woman.

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How do you plan to mark it this week and #pressforprogress?

Again I’m so lucky. This year I have work in 4 exhibitions all over the UK all opening on Thurs 8th. I’ll be in London performing at the Creative Debuts and Nasty Women “Empowerment” exhibition along with a group of bloody amazing Nasty Women from all over the world.

We are also launching the Nasty Women International Art Prize this week. The aim of the prize is to: Recognise and reward Nastiness in art and activism. Prizes include an Artist residency, money and opportunities to show work in UK, USA & Holland.

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Last year hundreds of artists from all over the world gave their time and work to Nasty Women events- the generosity was overwhelming. It’s estimated that the movement has raised half a million dollars for Planned Parenthood and other women’s & LGBTQ+ charities so far. This year Nasty Women organisers wanted to create an opportunity to celebrate those artists and an art prize seemed like a good choice! The judging panel consists of 12 Artists, curators, gallerists & activists from around the world including:

Carolina Wheat & Liz Nielsen from Elijah Wheat Showroom, New York (USA), artist and co-founder of NW Amsterdam Airco Caravan (NL), Curator & NW North East Co-founder Michaela Wetherell and me!, to name just a few. There’s so much to say I don’t really know where to start, but we’d love it if lots of North East based artist entered! Anyone who is interested can check out here.

Do you have a female artist that you’re inspired by?

So many, but not just women, not just artists… all sorts of everyone. Me and my sister just went to see Bryony Kimmings “a pacifist’s guide to the war on cancer”; it was so funny and thoughtful and generous and utterly devastating, but in a really cathartic way.

I’ve just read Scottee’s play “Bravado”- it’s had a big impact on me, I’m making a lot of work about toxic masculinity at the moment and he’s perspective as a “sheep in wolves clothing in the world of men” is very shocking and inspiring.

Betsy Greer- the mother of Craftivism!

Nasty Women North East co-founders Michaela W and Aly Smith.

Venus di Milo- a Newcastle based performer who describes herself as “just a drag queen with no arms”.

Leeanne and Gareth at Thought Foundation in Gateshead– running a stunning, creative business whilst bring up two small children….

The world is full of bloomin’ fantastic, inspiring and very Nasty (in the nicest possible way) people.

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Tell me about Nasty Women?

Nasty Women is a global art and activism movement started by New York based artist Roxanne Jackson in Nov 2016 just after the election of Donald Trump. It is pro equality and anti-Trump. There have been Nasty Women events all over the world, raising money for and awareness of women’s and LGBTQ+ rights charities and organisations.

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What is a “Nasty Woman”?

The Nasty Women North East’s definition is:

Anyone!!! It is not necessary to identify a women or an artist

  1. Believing in equality and wanting to protect human rights (in particular women’s rights)
  2. Believing that art (in the broadest sense of the word- poetry, dance, drag, music, knitting etc) can be used to help increase equality and protect human rights
  3. Being happy to welcome and support others who also want to do these things…..

If this sounds like you, then as far as we are concerned you are Nasty- Hurrah!!!

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Will there be another Nasty Women conference in 2018?

I’m not sure- we won’t be organising one because we’re busy with the art prize and creating a feminist art magazine for children under 10! Also, if there was another I don’t think the same group should organise it -as a big part of the movement is about understand other people’s perspectives and doing things in a way that suits your own setting, so if there is another one I hope it’s somewhere completely different. I hope another group do organise one because I’d LOVE to go to it!

That sounds like a something, the Culture Vulture would be interested in…..how can I, and other potential Nasty Women, get involved?

People can get involved in a huge variety of ways- it’s a totally grass roots, DIY movement, you don’t need permission or any kind of initiation! So you can have an exhibition in your garage and invite your mam and 5 friends and raise money for a local women’s charity.

You can send your art work to one of the many NW shows going on around the world- these are listed in the USA website , you can submit work to the Nasty Women International Art Prize & you can volunteer to help a local Nasty women group

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You can also call out inequality and gendered idiocy when you see and experience it, you can tell children you know that they are thoughtful and strong and funny and creative and fierce and fabulous regardless of their gender. You can listen, really listen to the next person who says something sexiest because being Nasty is about being open minded, it’s about understanding perspectives that are not your own and looking for long term solutions.

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But ok – we are kindreds…..but let’s get back to you – Lady Kitt; what projects do you have planned?

I’m focussing on my projects “Worth”, “King Kitt” and the “Making Manifesto”.

Throughout 2018, to coincide with the centenary of (some) women’s right to vote in the UK, I am making a series of works called the “worth” portraits- inspired, in part, by Caroline Criado-Perez’s campaign to have Jane Austin’s image on the Bank of Engalnd 10 pound note. When that campaign was going on I was horrified by the abuse (including death threats) Criado-Perez received for wanting to celebrate the achievements of women in the same way the achievements of many men have been celebrated for years. The works are portraits of amazing women made by cutting love heart shapes from real £50 notes, each one depicts a woman who I feel needs celebrating. I am always on the lookout for new subjects, so if you know a wonderful women who needs celebrating please get in touch!

I’m also hoping to sleep quite a lot after next week as that’s something that’s been a bit neglected of late….

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What does being a feminist/megababe mean to you?

For me being a feminist is not just about women’s rights- it is about equal rights for everyone. The “King Kitt” series of works are about toxic masculinity- which I feel creates a series of circumstances that can make men comically manly, dangerously macho and devastatingly vulnerable. According to the Office for National Statistics- of the 5,965 suicides registered in the UK in 2016, a total of 4,508 were male and 1,457 were female. More equality will, hopefully, create a society where shocking statistics like that can become historical records, not lived realities.

The Making Manifesto is a research project based at Byker Community Centre about the benefits of community making. It involves a lot of the stuff I’ve ranted about earlier- hi art elitism and Making physical things and giving people agency!

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Wow – ok so for me as The Culture Vulture- I feel so inspired – this entire interview has given me a kick to be more Nasty, to be more experimental and to seriously consider doing something North East Nasty Women Conference related.

Big love and happy International Women’s Day Culture Vultures.

Kayleigh Marshall of Marshall Art Life? #completeditmate

So my Culture Vultures, this week is a Culture Vulture blast from the absolute past. Someone who I knew years ago whilst we studied law together. Little did we know, within that law degree theatre – that we actually had a lot more in common than the suffocating career path of a legal professional potentially ahead of us.

We were both secret creatives.

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I felt so shit walking away from a legal career – especially as I thrived in it academically but it just felt so wrong. Years later on Instagram I’d stumble on megababe and kindred creative Kayleigh Marshall – otherwise known as Marshall Art Life. I was astounded by the colourful creativity that Kayleigh possessed and I felt so proud, that another creative had embraced the calling and broken free.

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Kayleigh with gin (see what a kindred!)

Even though I only usually champion Northern artists – as Kayleigh lived in Newcastle for several years – I’ve decided she’s an honoury Toon megababe and she is the subject of this blog piece. Also, she produces the most amazing art pieces, street art and has one corker of a creative story to tell.

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So well hello Kayleigh, so lush to catch up; I’m always surprised when I met creatives and artists that were accountants, lawyers, corporate suits……we met on our Newcastle University law degree – do you find that a lot of creatives and artists end up in the corporate world until that moment, when they just can’t pretend anymore?

Oh for sure. I call this the ‘fuck it’ moment. That point in space and time where you realise you were put on this earth to do something outside of the prescriptive 9-5. In the words of Amy Winehouse “If you don’t throw yourself into something, you’ll never know what you could have had.” I just couldn’t pretend anymore and I needed to experiment with other options. From my experience with other creatives if we don’t have an outlet for our creativity we turn a sickly shade of grey and spontaneously combust; it KILLS us to not express our creativity and working in the corporate setting was doing nothing for my sanity. I managed 1 year in the real world before I went solo.

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Wow one whole year of “beige buffet” working – congrats. I’m a heart and soul kind of worker so I relate. What was the “fuck it” moment for you? It’s a big move to say, right I’m not going to be lawyer; I’m actually going to be an artist!

So my ‘fuck it’ moment didn’t just happen overnight, it took weeks of research and self-reflection. I’m an incessant list maker and so towards the end of 2016 when it came to working out what was making me unhappy I spent weeks writing down lists of EVERYTHING that make me tick and everything that didn’t. It wasn’t until I realised that the career path I was meant to be on couldn’t be found on LinkedIn or Glassdoor that it became crystal that I was destined to forge my own.

I didn’t have a clue where to start but that was my moment of clarity, my fuck it I’m going to be an artist. Hahaha sounds ridiculous writing it down, I guess it was a pretty bold move!

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Believe it or not, I went through a very similar list making process – I still make endless lists. Things aren’t real until they are on paper and I have too much going on in my head. So, tell me about your creative journey and how you came to be this fantastic artist?

Let’s break this down chronologically. Growing up I was that kid always drawing on stuff. Always arranging my crayons into the rainbow and making other kids cry at pre-school because I’d steal their pens when mine had run out. High school is where I had my only formal art training. In 6th form I studied Art and Design at A-level and honestly I was obsessed. Literally used to come into school at 7am to work on my art projects before registration. High school is also where I was told I was ‘too smart to study art’. Yes, those are real words that really came out of a teacher’s mouth to me and my parents at meeting about my career options.

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Fast forward a few years and I’m graduating from Newcastle University with a 2:1 Law degree having done barely anything remotely creative. In 2015 I moved down to London to start a job in Marketing, 6 months into that job I was loving life, I started creating again, people even started paying me for commissions. Then in October 2016, when I was sick of the corporate life came the ‘fuck it’ moment and since then I have launched Marshall Art Life, created over 20 mural and street art pieces, over 250 illustrations and worked with some wicked clients on their branding!

Now I’m here and I look back on all that, it was obvious I was always going to turn to art at some point, even if there was a slight detour via Law and Marketing…

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You have a signature style – how did that develop?

Looking back on last year (2017) it was the year Marshall Art Life figured out her style. From experimental abstracts, to daily art challenges, I focused on working out who I was, what I wanted my brand to say and what style of work I wanted to spend my days producing.

It’s not something that happens overnight, believe me I wish it was, and so you have to just let yourself get lost in different styles and keep experimenting. Having said that you don’t just arrive at a signature style; it’s something that I believe should always evolve to avoid creative stagnation.

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I know you sell your work, I know many artists who love it and others who find it kind of gut wrenching – how does that feel handing a piece over to someone else?

For me there is a HUGE difference between selling my prints, and handing over a commission.

  • Selling a print is a fairly easy transaction for me as an artist because my client has found my work, seen a piece they love and made the decision to purchase. Easy.
  • Handing over a commission however is a whole different ball game. My clients are placing a huge level of trust in me and my ability when they commission a piece of work because the artwork they want doesn’t exist at this point. It’s my job to translate their vision into a reality. Hours of thought, skill, design and creativity goes into a commission all of which is based on what I believe my client to want. So when it comes to handing over that piece I actually lose sleep until my clients and I agree it’s exactly spot on! I often wonder if this process will get any easier but I doubt it hahaha.

When you commission a Marshall Art Life piece of work you actually get a few hours of my lost sleep thrown in on the house, you’re welcome haha.

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A commission with some real life blood, sweat and tears – I hope you’re charging for those type of extras. So how much of what you do is commission and project based alongside just you having an idea or series concept and going with it?

It’s a cyclical process. When I produce new work or develop a series of pieces that triggers an influx of commissions in that style. Hitting the sweet spot is when I come up with new concepts WHILST producing commissions. It’s SO important as an artist to constantly develop creatively and with every new piece I produce, I am improving and exploring new concepts.

If I were to try and put this balance into a %, I’d say right now in my creative career it’s a straight 50/50 split, with plans in the future to spend a greater % of time on the conceptual side of things.

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Your Marshall brand is amazing, distinctive and just so perfect for you and what you’re doing – why did you decide to develop a brand for yourself as an artist?

When I set out on this creative journey I made a promise to myself; a promised that I would be honest and in order to be honest I have to be a real person. My brand really is nothing more than an extension of me, my style, my thoughts and my work. Marshall Art Life isn’t a facade, it really is just me, Kayleigh!

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Your social media game is strong – you do lots of live videos, stop-motion, live drawing etc – I think it works really well; (in the least creepy way possible) I enjoy watching you! Is it hard to really share that in the moment creating process?

It isn’t easy to capture on camera those magic moments of creativity because I never know when they are going to happen BUT I believe in sharing as much as I can about my process. Whether it’s my live tutorials or sharing snippets of me illustrating I think my followers enjoy the invitation I extend to them to better understand my creative world and subsequently how artists make a living.

Recently I interviewed Emma Cale, the founder of Gallery Piccolo who I have just partnered with to sell my work. We went Instagram live, chatted about the mysterious artist / gallery relationship and shared the whole conversation with our followers – I don’t know anyone else who is doing that!

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Tell me about your Cosmo experience – what an opportunity!

Well first and foremost I’d like to hold my hands up and say that this project with Cosmopolitan Magazine was a lucky break for me. A very lucky break indeed!

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After quitting my job I knew that I would have to leave London and move back home with my parents to give myself the best chance of getting Marshall Art Life up and running financially. The first thing I did on day one of funemployment was apply for this #CosmoHomeMade scheme. To raise awareness about the crippling rental market in London Cosmopolitan wanted to house some of its readers as property guardians in a London ‘Cosmo House’.

Long story short I got the call to say I was a successful applicant and that was that! After just 5 months back at home I moved back to London and into the Cosmopolitan House with 6 other entrepreneurial girls! We were all featured in the magazine and still live with each other now!

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You were a Northerner for a while and now, you’ve gone back down south. (wahhh!) How do you think the cultural and creative scene is different in the North in comparison to the South?

Every city has its own creative identity, and I think the difference between each one manifests itself through the people who live there. London is a melting pot of culture with a very dense population meaning the variety of subject matter of artwork down here is probably greater than up North. Let me just reiterate I don’t mean that it’s better, just more varied.

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You seem to love street art like I do – Shoreditch, Manchester & Liverpool has amazing street art scene! Do you have a favourite street artist?

Falko! 100%. This street artist tours the world painting elephants into obscure urban spaces. He is a magician with spray paints and his colour combinations are electric! You can imagine how stoked I was to find a piece of his down the road from where I live in Brixton! Properly geeked out.

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Tell me about your favourite project last year?

In July 2017 I got my first legal street art permission. I was painting alongside 20 other street artists from across the world in Croydon as a part of Rise Galleries ‘Street Art Jam’.

This was a phenomenal experience not only creatively because in those few hours I learnt so much about handling spray, but also because of the people I met. Let me tell you Street Artists are some of THE nicest people you’ll ever meet. The network I built up during that one painting session in Croydon has been responsible for a huge amount of work I have subsequently had.

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What have you got planned for 2018?

2017 was the year of developing my style. 2018 is the year I take that and absolutely run with it!

I feel like now I have my product there is literally no stopping me. On the agenda for Marshall Art Life this year is taking my brand to festivals in the UK, more gallery partnerships across London, moving into a bigger studio, creating portraits for the music industry and running my first solo exhibition. Gonna be a busy one, come and join me for the ride!

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Well I absolutely hope to get an invite to your first solo exhibition! Do you have a favourite piece?

Nope. I haven’t created it yet.

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Good answer! Where is Marshall Art going to be in the next 5years – what’s the megababe ambition?

WORLD DOMINATION. Or just a richer version of my happy self?

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You and me both creative soul sister! I’m so excited to see how you progress and grow – it’s a privilege to watch your creative journey unfold. And when I buy my house (need to get round to that) I hope to have a Marshall Art commission pride of place.

Oh and please come back to the toon for a visit.

Make sure you check out Marshall Art and oh, she has a cracker of an Insta.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boom!

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

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

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

So now over to Amy…….

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Who are you?

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

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

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Tell me about your arts practice?

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

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Tell me about a recent project?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me about your commission?

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

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

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

What was the inspiration?

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

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

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

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

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

Top 5 90s songs?

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

Dreams – Gabrielle

What’s Up – 4 Non Blondes

Another Night – Real McCoy

Sunshine After the Rain – Berri

The Whole of The Moon – The Waterboys

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Favourite 90s moment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GemArts and Sunderland Stages present Gods & Mortals at Sunderland Minster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What should I not miss out on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Culture Vulture xx

Mixtape 90s: The Six Twenty

We all know I love theatre, I love a good old night out, buzz light years over a pub quiz and currently experiencing an intense nostalgic love affair with the 90s….. so Sunderland Stages bringing Mixtape by The Six Twenty to The Peacock in Sunderland is right up my street. Sunderland Stages is all about bringing theatre to unexpected places in Sunderland…..and of course, theatre in an actual pub is pretty unexpected and lush.

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Mixtape is an immersive performance pub quiz….. The Six Twenty have taken it to festivals, Live Theatre and other venues, all with sold out performances. I’ve heard rave reviews so I’m super excited to attend on 30th June…. (tickets are available now – bring a group, bring yourself and in typical 90s Nirvana style – ‘come as you areeee!’)

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It’s also a perfect opportunity to check out the newly opened Peacock venue – a beautiful independent pub within Sunderland’s thriving cultural quarter….. I’ve heard they do a corking Sunday lunch too.

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And, The Six Twenty are a Newcastle based theatre company that is growing and has big plans for the future so this is an opportunity to check them out and their work…..

I caught up with The Six Twenty’s Artistic Director, Creative Producer and all round absolute megababe, Melanie Rashbrooke, to find out more and all about 90s Mixtape….

Hi Melanie, right tell me about The Six Twenty?

The Six Twenty are dedicated to creating playful, entertaining and immersive theatre that’s ambitious and fun. We make new work and also produce re-imaginings of classic and contemporary plays. We tour throughout the UK to theatres, outdoor spaces and unexpected places. We hope to make theatre that inspires, moves and creates conversation and brings people together.

Now tell me about Mixtape?

Mixtape is our infamous comedy music quiz show. It’s a unique concept that was invented at The Six Twenty and is performed and created by a brilliant band of theatre-makers, comedians and musicians who we call Mixtapers. Basically The Mixtapers perform comedy sketches that are created entirely out of song lyrics; the song lyrics can be reordered and repeated but no additional words can be used. Plus the sketch can’t be longer than the running time of the track that inspired it.

The Culture Vulture: I literally feel sick with excitement at the thought of this already….. I know 90s songs inside out…….

The audience plays along in teams and tries to guess the songs, bands and artists that inspire the sketches. The team with the most correct answers at the end of the night wins one of our highly coveted Golden Mixtapes. Each of our shows is themed and the next one is The 90s so expect a mix of pop classics, Summer anthems, dance tracks and Brit Pop!  It’s a really fun relaxed show that’s great for music and pub quiz lovers as well as theatre fans.

The Culture Vulture: New life ambition is to own one of these golden Mixtapes…….

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What’s it been like getting rave reviews and sell out shows!?

It’s been great to see the show grow and build a real following. I’m particularly excited by the feedback we get from audiences – especially people who might not attend the theatre that much and who really enjoy the show.

The Culture Vulture: As someone who works on events and organize my own, feeding off the audience buzz and interaction is what feeds the want to do another event. It’s lush when people enjoy and champion what you’ve put on and of course, had a lush time!

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What was the show’s inspiration?

It was something I dreamed up whilst I was working on a writing project with Write on Tap (a group of writers based in Newcastle). The theme for the project was ‘Who I am with You, Who I Am Without You’. I decided to challenge myself by writing a short script using just the lyrics of the U2’s song…yes that one! And thus Mixtape was born.

Also, I love my music and who doesn’t love a good old pub quiz!

You’re bringing Mixtape to Sunderland 30th June, the Peacock….tell me about the show?

We’re bringing our new 90s show; the show recently premiered at Live Theatre (where we create all of our new shows) to a sell-out crowd. Expect a night crammed full of 90s tunes, comedy, crop-tops, dance routines, mayhem and fun!

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What can attendees expect on 30th June? Why should people come and get their tickets?

Comedy, quiz, fancy-dress, music, fun! A night crammed full of super fly hits. From boy bands to dance anthems, grunge and summer hits; this show’s gonna be off the chain. So dig out your 90s crop tops and Docs, brush off your Discman, and bring a team along and see if you can win the Golden Mixtape.

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90s fancy dress is also highly encouraged with the best dressed 90s team winning a special prize too!

The Culture Vulture: Well I’m going to be prancing around the place dressed as blossom with a side pony tail.

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As someone who is OBSESSED with the 90s….I dig the theme. Why did you go for the 90s music?

We’ve created a variety of Mixtape shows based on different music themes including North East bands, Alternative music, Rock ’n’ Roll 50s, Boy Bands vs. Girl Bands, 80s…the list goes on. So it was about time we tackled the most bangin’ decade. There are some seriously good tunes featured in the show.

The Culture Vulture: Right – I need to see every single show……love the sound of all of these!

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Your favourite 90s song of all time?

Ooooh tricky…there’s so many to choose from. I’m going to go with a curve ball option – I’m Too Sexy by Right Said Fred. Come and see the show and find out why……

The Culture Vulture: Now that’s a controversial and interesting choice – I need to know more. I’ve rediscovered E-17 recently – ‘House of Love’ plays on repeat currently…..

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Tell me a bit about some other The Six Twenty projects (fans!) and other things coming up?

In 2016 we won the Bridging the Gap award to create a new show called FANS which is part music gig and part theatre show and written by the brilliant Nina Berry and made with an awesome team of theatre-makers, musicians and creatives. It explores what it means to be a music fan. We’ll be redeveloping the show later this year and then re-touring the show in 2018.

We’re also working on a couple of new shows. One is with Mixtaper Lewis Jobson called Redcoat and explores what it means to be happy and what happens when you have an ‘off day’ and you tell Barney the Dinosaur to f***k off (in front of a load of kids)…at Butlins…in Bognor Regis.

The Culture Vulture: What a great concept for a show…..

The other show we’re working on is with Charlie Raine who performed in FANS. It’s called The Playground. For this we’re interviewing children aged between 4-7 years old about their lives and their views of the world. The final show will be performed by adults for adults as adults – using the words of the children we interview and collaborate with.

The Culture Vulture: This is brilliant – kids say hilarious and pure things.

And of course we’ve got loads more Mixtapes coming up!

To find out more about the projects we’ve got coming up and how you can get involved visit our website at www.thesixtwenty.com

Well thanks Melanie, this all sounds lush and brilliant………. I’m so passionate about theatre in and around the North East – love it! Get your tickets for 90s Mixtape everyone…….you’ll be greeted on the door by The Culture Vulture, manically happy, like some 90s super fan.

Big love from The Culture Vulture. xx

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……