(#AD) Does Culture Matter? – a mass participation research project from Crystallised.

I’ve found myself really missing cultural experiences whilst on lock down. Even as The Culture Vulture, I didn’t realise how much “culture” mattered to me on a day to day personal level and how intrinsically linked going to the theatre, cinema, wandering around a gallery, is to my sense of self and well-being. I miss it and I miss feeling a part of a creative community in person. Attending things and supporting cultural venues gives me a real sense of positive purpose and now their doors are closed, I’ve spent a little while feeling lost. I am going to go on the BIGGEST cultural binge when this is all over – I want to attend, see, visit, experience e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. all the time.

I’ve been trying to replace this sense of loss in my life with cultural streaming – watching theatre, live performance poetry, launching a Silent Book Club (and about to launch a Culture Vulture film club) alongside heading down a rabbit hole on Insta discovering new artists and creative lushness. It’s helping ease that loss….but it’s not the same!

A project that is helping me tackle some of the above and making me feel useful to the cultural sector – is Crystallised’s project Does Culture Matter?  You might have seen me plugging it on my social…. Does Culture matter? explores that question thematically by collating the opinions and insights of the Nation, during COVID-19 and beyond. Through a series of weekly questions sent direct to your inbox on a Sunday, you get to explore and reflect on what culturally matters to you, what you’re missing and what you’d normally be out and about doing.

Lead DCM

Crystallised are collecting all this data, to make it available to arts and cultural venues and sector when locked down measures are lifted. Your insights and data will directly help organisations recover, pivot, be more resilient, stronger through the power of knowledge and shape their activities by enabling them to identify what is actually important culturally to you!

So do I think my fellow Culture Vultures should get involved…..

  • It’s something a little lush to do, to get you thinking and reflecting. The questions asked are interesting and in the moment – I mean there was a question about Tiger King last week!
  • It’s something to look forward to each week; I really look forward to the questions dropping in my inbox, grabbing a cup of tea/Sunday gin and sitting answering them. Only takes a few minutes but it’s a little lush brain exercise.
  • You are a part of a cultural community who are united in sharing their insights – it’s lush to feel useful and to be a part of something happening across the UK. #peoplepower
  • It’s helping the creative and cultural sector at a time of need – the organisations that will have free access to this data need a helping hand to recover post-COVID – this is that helping hand. Knowledge is power. At a time when you can’t attend these venues, support their cancelled projects or donate to every single cultural organisation and venue – this is something you can do to help that they will all have access to.
  • The data produced could form part of regional and National government lobbying – fingers crossed – it could form the foundation to justify increased spending in culture and creative projects by evidencing what is important to the Nation; what they want, need, love.

To get involved and to sign up – follow this link to take part – takes seconds and you can do it HERE

I had the pleasure of catching up with Laura Rothwell, Managing Director of Crystallised to find out more about why they launched this ‘Does Culture Matter’ project, why it is important and what they hope to achieve through it!

Hiyer you – right first things first, tell my fellow Culture Vultures about Crystallised?  

Crystallised is a marketing, PR and events agency for ethically, socially or culturally motivated organisations.

That’s the spiel.

What that means is we work with a range of organisations. All of them with a cause or purpose at their heart. We help them promote themselves, or their initiatives, we help them reach new audiences, market their work or make some kind of change. Invariably that means we work with a lot of arts and culture organisations, but we also work with charities, NGOs, ethically minded brands and foundations.

We’ve been doing this for seven years; we’ve helped organisations reach audiences of over 30 million people from all over the world.

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Team Crystallised

Impressive stuff – has has your organisation been personally impacted by COVID-19?

Yes, big time. A lot of our work is about getting people to a place. Arts, culture or destination marketing. So, jobs have been cancelled, or indefinitely postponed. We’re seeing many of our clients putting their plans on hold until at least October.

In January, I started looking at pitching for work which was less event-focussed, because of COVID-19. I have anxiety, and actually that has come in handy here, because I was worrying about this very early on.

Snap and snap! It’s been full of devastation and an opportunity to re-imagine in equal measure. What was is about the cultural and creative sector that drew you in?

It took a while to be honest. As a kid, things like ‘culture’ (museums, galleries) weren’t ‘for us’. Sometimes we went to castles which I loved, other times we went to National Trust properties which I hated, my main motivator for tolerating those was the Kendal Mint Cake at the gift shops.

It’s marketing that got me here, it’s where I started at 17, as a Marketing Administrator. And it’s what I’ve done for the past 19 years. The first eight years or so was retail and destination marketing, very commercial environments which are incredible places to learn and to train as a marketer.

I eventually took a role which connected me to ‘art’ for the first time, albeit in a commercial art organisation. There I ended up working on projects in the museum sector, at Great North Museum; Hancock, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Magna Science Centre (Sheffield).

That’s what drew me in. I saw – for the first time really – what art meant, what culture could do for people when/if it wasn’t about commercial gain, how essential it was. I very quickly felt as though I had to use my marketing experience to allow more people (everyone, ideally) to a) know what was out there b) feel like it was ‘for them’ and c) contribute to it, own it, be part of it and d) benefit from it.

I started Crystallised, and seven years on I still feel those things acutely.

We are crazily similar #kendalmintcake Let’s move on to Does Culture Matter? What was the inspiration behind Does Culture Matter? – why did you start the project?

The idea came from an Instagram group convo with a collection of excellent women I know who work in the creative sectors. We were talking about what this all (COVID-19) meant for us, for our jobs, for the sector.

I was in the middle of what I suspect was coronavirus, I felt truly awful in the mind and the body. We’d had a recent, sudden family bereavement, and my brain was just not up for anything at all.

Anyway, as is the way, during this chit-chat back and forth, inspiration struck. I just thought, now is the perfect time to listen to audiences, to learn, without an agenda. No-one is paying us to do this, we aren’t trying to meet a brief, we are simply listening.

You almost never get an opportunity like this.

Can you describe what it is and how people can get involved?

Does Culture Matter? is a mass participation research project. We want to understand how our relationship with culture is changing because of COVID-19, what it was like before, perhaps if our own definitions of what culture means are changing and what we might want it to look like after COVID-19.

We want EVERYONE to give their opinions, even if – no, especially if, like me back in the day, you don’t think ‘culture’ is for you.

All you need to do is follow and input your email address.

You’ll receive an intro questionnaire via email and then one every Sunday for the rest of the year.

Why is it important that people share their insights with you?

It’s important because culture belongs to us all. There should not be someone ‘in charge’ of culture, there should not be someone gatekeeping, or deciding what is or isn’t culture. It belongs to us all. We own it.

I believe every single human being should be able to be involved with and relate to the cultural offer of their cities or communities.

The sector talks about ‘hard to reach’ audiences, that is infuriating bullshit. Audiences aren’t hard to reach, it’s the organisation that is hard to reach, because for whatever reason, intentional or not, they have made themselves inaccessible.

So, it’s important for you all to join up and share, because when your voice gets heard, change can be made.

We have an opportunity to come out of this and shape the next chapter. I felt as though the best way Crystallised could contribute to that change, was to use our skills and expertise.

Listen to people, advise organisations. It’s what we do every day.

Have there been any interesting insights you wish to share?

Our North East participants told us their favourite places to visit in the city, at the moment, the list looks like this – the data changes the more people who join, so that’s another reason why everyone should get involved.

Tyneside Cinema

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art

Sage Gateshead

Northern Stage

Laing Art Gallery

But, if you look at our North East respondents under the age of 25, the list changes:

Cineworld, Newcastle

Tyneside Cinema

Riverside Newcastle

O2 Newcastle

Utilita Arena

Three music venues, two cinemas. I find this fascinating, there’s much that can be explored from this data alone.

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What do you hope to get out of it after the research period?

I’d like the data to have organisations start asking their own questions. I’d like this to be the starting point for organisations to look at how they can better serve their communities.

I’d love to work with the braver organisations who want to do something bold and radical as a result of seeing the data, perhaps homing in on something specific, collaborating with audiences, flipping the narrative and to some extent taking a back seat, so that others can shine.

In your opinion, do you think Culture Matters more during this period?

Yes.

This is a horrible, terrifying time, we’re all going to lose someone or something. There are many many people, organisations, institutions that desperately need support. I’m not suggesting that an “art gallery is more important than the NHS” – which I’ve been accused of on social media of late.

No argument is that black and white.

I think culture has the power to uplift, to teach, to heal, to connect, nourish and to be fun. I think it’s essential for us to support and protect the sector if we don’t want to see a desolate, cultural wasteland post COVID-19. Our lives and societies will be much poorer if we don’t act.

Has the lock down changed your cultural consumption personally? Have you been watching any streams/online happenings?

Yes, I’ve been watching National Theatre, stand-up comedy, a film discussion and some DJ sets all online.

A theatre performance feels special even when it’s on the small screen, you can still sense the atmosphere between the audience and the cast.

How do you feel about the movement to digital culture and events through streaming platforms and social media?

I think it’s amazing and fantastic that so much has suddenly become available, the speed at which organisations have been able to adapt to the changing circumstances I think is impressive.

However, I can’t help but find it problematic that it’s taken a global pandemic for organisations to make their content accessible. It has long been the case that parts of the arts sector are inaccessible to disabled people. To now see all this readily available content filling our timelines because their able-bodied audience members are no longer allowed to attend a venue, is shameful.

The future must be radically different. We cannot live through this, witness all the change that has been enacted and then revert. That would be a tragedy.

What’s the first thing you’re going to do post lockdown?

Oh Christ! I’d like to go to Riley’s Fish Shack, sit on the beach and listen to my pals chatter, feel the sunshine on my face and be able to lie down on the sand, let my dog make friends with a Bichon Frisse, and just take my sweet sweet time outside.

What would be success for you as Crystallised for 2020?

Crystallised still existing would be success. I’m fearful of how much harder the year is going to get for business. This is going to be a slog. If we still have our full team and are on the way to some semblance of stability at the end of this year, I’ll be thrilled and relieved.

Anything other projects or happenings you think my fellow Culture Vultures should know about?

Right now, we’re working with one of our long-term clients Family Arts Campaign, who exist to make the arts accessible for families. Our focus is supporting their ambition to be the go-to national database of all arts and culture events happening online for families to join. We’ll be working on PR and influencer campaigns to get as many families as possible trying something new. Find that here: fantasticforfamilies.com

We’re also deep into New Creatives, a two-year project with BBC Arts and Arts Council England which looks to find undiscovered talent to make work for the BBC – could be a film, or something for radio. No prior experience is necessary, we’re trying to find northern creative folk under-30 who have something to say. Find that here: newcreatives.com

Other than that, we’ll be staying at home.

DCM. Share your thoughts.

Thank you Laura….so does culture matter? Well it does to me, it does to Crystallised and I think it matters to my fellow culture vultures, followers and readers. I’d love you to support Crystallised on their mission by signing up to participate in ‘Does Culture Matter?”

Remember – signing up is LUSH and is contributing to a project that could support your favourite arts and culture organisations to learn, pivot, recover, restart and fingers crossed – GROW.

Signing up takes seconds and participating in the project takes approx. 5mins a week.

You can sign up by HERE and feel free to share the project with your friends and networks – spread the word! #ganon

Takeover Festival 2020 : What is it, how to get involved & meet #teamtakeover Harrison & James

I had the pleasure of attending the Takeover 2020 launch event and hearing about the plots & plans for this year’s festival – you know when you leave somewhere and feel buzzing with ideas and can’t wait to get home and write about it – well here I am!

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The Takeover is an annual week-long arts festival at The Customs House that is produced by, with and for young people to develop and showcase their leadership skills. The festival is led, planned, marketed, delivered and evaluated by the Takeover Team, a group of 12-18 year olds who are recruited from diverse backgrounds and have varying leadership and arts experiences.

I am working on Takeover 2020 advising & supporting with audience development and marketing. I will also be working with the Takeover Team supporting them with marketing, PR, social media & supporting their skills development. I’m buzzing.

The Takeover is authentically a festival by & for young people – the Takeover Team have full control. In a similar ethos to Mortal Fools’ approach with young people – they treat & support young people as creative practitioners & professionals from day one, investing into them and their learning journey as the future generation of creatives, freelancers, entrepreneurs, innovators, writers, performers, artists, facilitators, business professionals etc. And they have an amazing time too!

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Young people may get involved with a specific ambition of realising an event, others may want to learn more about an art form or professional element of practice, others it’s about meeting & connecting with young people and for others, it’s to develop the transferrable skills for their future career or education choice.

This year’s Takeover dates are 25th-29th May (get them in your diary!) & a five-day festival awaits for young people; each day into evening. Lots of the programme is unknown (at this stage) because it’s worked up with young people – but there will be a visual arts exhibition displaying young people’s work, a poetry evening, a new theatre show, film awards, music, workshops and who knows what else!? I’m excited for what the team comes up with!

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Recruitment for the Takeover Team is currently open – they will meet every Monday from 24th February, 5pm-7pm at The Customs House. This is open to ALL young people aged 12-18yrs old. You don’t have to be able to attend every session (great if you can though!), you can dip in and out and if you can’t make the first session, you can get involved at a later Monday. To get involved & find out more all you have to do is email Izzy@customshouse.co.uk

I was blown away at the Launch and it was great to hear and see from last year’s young people about why they got involved, their REAL experience, what they learnt and what they are excited about doing & making happen for this year’s festival. Now I could wax lyrical about what a brilliant opportunity this is for young people and why other young people should get involved…. Or I could share mini interview profiles with two of last year’s team, who are also part of Take Over Team 2020 as Team Assistants. I had the pleasure of meeting them at the launch and what BRILLIANT humans. It’s young people like this, that make me feel a bit better about the future of the world….

Over to James & Harrison

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Takeover Assistant James

Tell me a bit about yourself?

I’m an 18 year old college student currently studying for my A levels in Maths, Chemistry and physics. I enjoy going out to gigs especially locally.

Why did you join The Takeover Team last year?

I joined last year as I have always been interested in the running of different venues and always wanted to organise such events for myself so when I heard about takeover festival it was an opportunity I simply couldn’t miss.

What was your favourite part of Takeover 2019?

For me my personal favourite part of the festival was The Lake Poets gig as it was the main thing that I helped in organising and seeing it go as well as it did felt really rewarding after putting in all the effort in the build up to prepare.

What did you learn from being part of the team last year?

Last year, I feel like I learned a lot about the inner running of a venue; as well as learning a lot about other communities that were involved in the festival – the different theatre groups, dance groups and LGBTQ+ artists that aided us with the festival.

As Takeover Assistant this year what will you be focusing on?

This year I will be concentrating on developing my leadership skills as I’ve never been in any kind of leadership role, so this is a whole new experience and challenge that I’m excited to undertake.

Why do you think being part of The Takeover 2020 team is a good opportunity?

For me, it gave me an opportunity that will help me in the future showing me the ins and outs of organising a festival. It also is really rewarding when you have put in weeks of work building up to one event and seeing it go brilliantly is a great feeling you rarely get the opportunity to achieve at our age.

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Takeover Assistant Harrison

Tell me a bit about yourself?

I am an 18 year old sixth form student currently studying A level Maths, Computer Science and BTEC Business. During my spare time I enjoy playing football and have a particular interest in business finance. In the future, I would like to complete an apprenticeship in this field.

Why did you join The Takeover Team last year?

Last year I joined The Takeover Team as I felt it was a unique opportunity to gain real-life work experience as it’s something not easy to come by. When Natasha approached me, at first, I was hesitant as I was unsure of what my role would be in the team but I was not disappointed.

What was your favourite part of Takeover 2019?

My favourite part of Takeover 2019 festival was the North East Young Filmmaker’s Award as some of the talent on display was immense. However, I really enjoyed leading the finances of the festival as that is where my aspirations lie and the experience was invaluable.

What did you learn from being part of the team?

Last year, I learnt all the different entities needed to run a successful festival and how every member of the team has value and brings their own skill sets. I also gained leadership qualities as I was team leader on 2 of the days.

As Takeover Assistant this year what will you be focusing on?

This year, I will be focusing on the finances of the festival again but I also hope to develop my public speaking skills as well as furthering my leadership qualities with being in a more senior role.

Why do you think being part of The Takeover 2020 team is a good opportunity?

The Takeover Festival is an opportunity for any young person to express themselves in whichever way they want. No matter what your interests are, there is a place for any young person wanting to gain work experience and a place for you to aid with your own festival. For me, my interests were in finance but many of the team had backgrounds in the arts and each team member was valued equally bringing different qualities to the table.

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Well how cracking is that – I wish there had been opportunities like that when I was a young person instead of spending time learning about biscuit making (long and strange story!).

Take Over team recruitment is open – email Izzy@customshouse.co.uk for more info. Sessions are Mondays – 5pm-7pm at The Customs House in South Shields.

There are also LOADS of other ways for young people to get involved & call outs open too! Let me take you through them…..

Other opportunities:

Visual Arts Call Out for the exhibition part of the Festival.

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Poetry Call out for Young Poets

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Young Film Maker Call Out

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Writer in Residence Call out – (Future Culture Vulture blog coming with last year’s writer Elijah Young.)

Takeover Young Playwright in Residence

That’s all for now Culture Vultures – I’ve got a back log of blog posts to publish – so expect them coming in thick & fast from now!

The Late Shows 2018 : The Culture Vulture essentials!

After recovering from the excitement of Eurovision, I’m now thinking about this coming weekend and The Late Shows. It’s another mega favourite weekend of mine and one of the ultimate culture vulturing weekends across Newcastle and Gateshead on 18th May 7pm-11pm and 19th May 6pm – 11pm.

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It’s a free late-night culture crawl taking over this weekend – an array of museums, galleries, studio collectives and landmark historical buildings open their doors to offer visitors one-off events, parties, sneaky peaks at new exhibitions or work, demonstrations, workshops, behind-the-scenes tours, performances and lots of lush artists and creatives to speak to.

There is something totally lush about being about to visit venues and spaces in the night time – whilst they treat you to a unique after dark experience. Every year, I get really excited and what’s not to love about a city wide creative and cultural celebration. Each year – people and venues do different things, so whilst you may go every year – you’ll have a brand new experience.

So I’m not one for telling you guys, my fellow Culture Vultures, where you should go to – as the venues and spaces involved this year are all equally as brilliant and part of what I love about Late Shows, is that YOU plan your own cultural adventure or as I often do, simply go with the flow on the night and just enjoy it!

I thought instead, I’d feature this blog post on the unmissable reasons why you MUST not miss Late Shows 2018…..

  1. There are several FIRST TIME venues taking part or venues in their brand new digs opening their doors and I’m all about being one of the first to see and do something– so for you it’s an opportunity to check out somewhere you haven’t been before and their spaces whilst experiencing something lush and creative. So who are the first time Late Shows 2018 venues:
  • The Nest – Low Fell, Gateshead (Sat Only) – A lush family venues full of fun times and good food – you can print the Angel of the North and also eat the Angel.
  • The Kiln – Low Fell, Gateshead (Sat Only) – A vibrant and interactive paint your own pottery studio – you can paint your own Angel mug.
  • The Newbridge Project: Gateshead (Sat Only) – Visual arts studios and gallery in it’s first year; Explore the Deep Adaptation exhibition and leave your own responses to questions, take part in kimchi making and take home your own starter seed capsule.
  • Alphabetti Theatre – Newcastle (Sat Only) – A performing arts venue open since Sept 17; venture from room to room as you stumble across a variety of bands, poetry and pop-up theatre.
  • Star and Shadow Cinema – Newcastle (Fri Only) – An alternative social, cultural, arts and community hub run by a collective of volunteers open again in its new space – drop in to celebrate their re-opening.

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The Nest by Pop Up Studio Low Fell – Print the Angel. #Angel20

  1. There is a really special one off from Curious Arts on Baltic Square, Gateshead on Saturday on – the launch of Curious Arts’ 36point7 – a HIV/AIDs light art awareness project. 36point7 aims to support the visibility of this global issue and the legacy of those lost and silenced during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980’s, Curious Arts is working with light artist Stuart Langley to reimagine the World AIDS day ribbon.

You will be able to chat to Curious Arts about the project and take in this lush large light installation which will be positioned inside Gateshead Millennium Bridge box.

In addition – Curious are offering free creative workshops so you have the opportunity to create your very own light art.

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Sneaky peeky of 36point7 from Curious Arts.

  1. Late Shows embodies a lot of what The Culture Vulture is all about…. It’s an opportunity to support, champion and visit Independent venues! I’m ALL about the independents and many of them across the weekend are hosting amazing events and parties – so get in the Late Shows vibe and enjoy! My top independent picks:
  • The Tyne Bar – Newcastle (Fri & Sat) – one of my favourite boozers anyway – but for the Late Shows they have a collaborative 90s throwback exhibition featuring work by second year Newcastle Fine Art students Charli Payne, Roberto de Abreu Preciosa, and Wesley Bray. I’m OBSESSED with the 90s – so I will be there on Friday for good time and 90s vibes.
  • Cobalt Studios – Newcastle (Fri) – A creative studio space and venue; I love what Kathryn and her team put on there and I’m itching to do a Culture Vulture event in the space. They got a mega Silent Disco party for you – three very diverse DJ’s & three parties in one with visual projections. My dancing shoes and twirling is at the ready.
  • The Staiths Café – Gateshead (Sat) – A lush independent café space… drop in for some communal singing with Beccy Owen’s Pop-Up Choirs who will later perform at the end of the workshop. Expect lush vibes.
  • Kommunity – Newcastle (Sat) – A bar/participatory social space that hosts dance, art house film screenings and much more…it’s run some of my favourite people in the world and it’s just a lush venue. And what a night they have planned for you from 9pm-middnight! Think STUDIO 54 and the last days of disco! The global growth of disco music and nightclub culture is going to be celebrated by your DJ for the evening Absolutely Fabulous Lady Annabella Marczewska! Dress to impress, exude energy and most importantly glamour!

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  1. Lots of Gateshead venues are celebrating The Angel of the North 20th Birthday this year within their Shows events! #Angel20
  • First up is the Nest in Low Fell Gateshead on Saturday – it’s a must for all you mini culture vultures (and grown-ups!). This year, they’ve brilliantly partnered up with another megababe local business – Pop Up Studio Low Fell. With Laura from pop up, you can bring an Angel of the North design on to fabric – make it as loud and proud as you want. She has also said for the grown-ups, you can totally go rogue and print whatever you want – including glittery swear words! With Lee and the Nest team, you’ll be able to make #Angel20 biscuits and literally eat the Angel. Mint!
  • Then there is the wonderful hidden gem on Low fell high street – The Kiln! On Saturday, you’ll have the opportunity to get proper creative and have a go at painting an Angel mug….they will provide expert guidance, lots of materials and of course, chat all about their wider offer!
  • Bensham Grove on Saturday in yep… Bensham Gateshead; is also doing lots of #Angel20 creative and crafty activities. You can create your very own Angel of the North sculpture for their garden and make your own angel in their make and take glass, pottery and textile workshops all whilst listening to live music.
  • The Shipley Art Gallery – On Saturday they are celebrating the Angel of the North’s 20th birthday and you’re invited! Join them to make your own Angel themed crafts, and get in the party spirit with live music, dance performances and a bar from Arch Sixteen’s Pam.

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The Kiln – Low Fell

  1. Be the first to see some of the AMAZING summer happenings and exhibitions – Late Shows 2018 acts as a bit of an exclusive preview – so enjoy!
  • The BALTIC (Sat) – This is a rare late-night opening view of their spring exhibitions. Visit Idea of North, a group show part of the city-wide Great Exhibition of the North. This exhibition celebrates northern imagination and identity through architecture, photography, music and design. It’s an exploration of northern imagination, unpicking and revealing different voices within the idea of a ‘northern’ identity.

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  • The Shipley Art Gallery (Sat) – Whilst they are hosting a fantastic #Angel20 party – Late Shows 2018 on Saturday also provides an opportunity to see the new Grayson Perry exhibition.

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Grayson Perry

  1. It’s not just about the venues and spaces – it’s about showcasing lots of amazing artists across the weekend; so if art is your bag – here are my recommendations!
  • The Biscuit Factory (Fri) – This is certainly my first stop on Friday and I can’t wait! They are launching the Open Contemporary Young Artist Award 2018; a mixed media exhibition featuring new artwork from over 20 emerging young artists. You will be the first to view the shortlist and cast your vote for our People’s Choice winner. Alongside the exhibition award-winning Streetwise Opera are performing live in the gallery AND you can enjoy The Factory Kitchen’s new urban roof top terrace with Ouseburn views, a pop-up bar and Mexican street food! (It looks amazing!).

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The Factory Kitchen rooftop garden

  • 36 Lime Street (Fri) – A top favourite artist space of mine! So many of my favourite people in there. Artists and makers from 36 Lime Street Studios open their doors after dark to give a glimpse of their working life and to have a natter. In the gallery Bethan Maddocks and Maria Sears present Paper Jungle, a growing, glowing paper-cut jungle that visitors can add to throughout Friday. Big fan of megababe Bethan – so excited to see what this looks like!
  • Jim Edwards (Fri) – Well he’s in my top 5 favourite artists of all time – and of course, I will do my usual trip to his studio and pay homage to Craig David Pub Cat. However, for Late Shows, I’ve heard he’s going to be working on and exhibiting some brand new pieces – I’ve already seen the Hadrian’s Wall one on social – so can’t wait to see it in person. But whispers tell me, there might be a Heaton focused one – and as Heaton is my second home, I’m excited!

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Jim Edwards

  • Commercial Union House (Sat) is just full of galleries, artist spaces, parties and workshops include Vane, B&D Studios, Breeze Creatives and others – so take your time and enjoy! But my recommendation for extra attention goes to of course, Ampersand Inventions! I love Ampersand and if I wasn’t working the full Gateshead Late Shows evening on Saturday – I’d be ALL over this…. They are presenting a ‘Homage to The Handyside Arcade: The New Breed’ – (Another great theme Jonpaul!) The Edwardian-built arcade on the city’s Percy Street was a spectacular glass-roofed construction housing a range of popular quirky shops and outlets, ‘Tyneside’s answer to Carnaby Street’. From the dust of legends, Ampersand Inventions are opening their front doors to showcase their amazing boutiques, shops and not forgetting their weird and wonky artists! Mixing heritage, culture, lifelong learning, innovation and enterprise! You have some Culture Vulture faves in there including Trendlistr, Melanie Kyles, Roberta Louise Green and others.

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Ampersand Inventions

Bliddy heck…what a Late Shows 2018 weekend! I’m excited to get Culture Vulturing and of course, if you see me – say hiyer! I will be live social media-ing, drinking gin (not when working obvs) and having a fantastic lush time.

 

 

Beth O’Doherty; fave human, actor, singer, dancer, writer, panto lover & challenger of asexual stereotypes.

The region is thriving and vibing culturally at the moment. I honestly, think this is the dawn of the independents, the makers, the doers, the passion project pushers, the creative thought leaders – the creative folk championing each other, their projects, their journey and I’m very much a part of that. Part of being the Culture Vulture means I’m a cultural cheerleader- willing everyone on, championing them, mentoring, trying to lead by example that the creative sector is truly ALIVE and has space for the brand new, the disruptors, experimenters and independents.

At the moment the performing arts sector in the North East is exactly that – there are so many independents, projects, individuals coming forward with new ideas and shows –  it makes me smile with pride and I’m so excited to see how 2018 pans out.

In 2017, I had the pleasure of falling back in love with performing arts – through my role at Sunderland Stages, was invited to work on 4 audience development projects, I saw 61 theatre shows, met 18 theatre companies, saw 3 festivals and BAM true love reunited.

I met a fantastic amount of exciting talented people and again, as the Culture Vulture – I love the possibilities and I have no idea what talent I might discover around any turn. Beth O’Doherty was around one of those corners and she’s thriving and vibing into 2018……

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Hi Beth, so tell me a bit about you and what you’re up to at the moment?

Why hello you! At the minute, I’m enjoying the seasonal festivities and a bit of rest and relaxation time so I’m re cooperated for 2018.

You seem to have your fingers in so many creative projects and pies – it’s great and I love that about, honing your talents and vibe whilst experiencing so many things. What was your highlight of 2017?

That’s a tough one! I’ve been a part of so many lovely shows but seeing Alphabetti Theatre get a new venue and reopen with a triumphant hurrah was an absolute joy and the programme has been full of delights

I first met you at part of GIFT Festival 2017, which for those who don’t know, is a fantastic festival of theatre in Gateshead. Tell me about why you got involved in GIFT and your favourite GIFT 2017 moment?

I was taught by Kate Craddock (Festival Director) and the lecturers are always keen to give you experience through their projects. I couldn’t resist getting involved as I just love festivals. They wet your appetite with lots of different teases.

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Bonnie and The Bonnettes

I got to build up my skills in Front of House and tech and generally see how you put such a mammoth event together. It was an amazing chance to see international work from different countries and to see international ways of working right on your door step. We are definitively better together and when we share and stay connected so I hope that this practice can continue.

Saying that, my favourite moment was when Bonnie and the Bonnettes along with their guests performed The Bloodhound Gang’s Bad Touch. What an absolute riot!

You remind me of ‘Little Voice’ – actress Jane Horrocks plays a shy, quiet young lady – who when she has a mic and on a stage, unleashes this mind blowing, unexpected big voice….. I love your voice; I love it so much, I invited you to sing at Newcastle Start Up Week’s Creative…… tell party me about your singing journey and how you developed your voice?

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I am absolutely blushing! You are FAR too kind. I have a lot of people to thank that have gone into my singing. I watched so many Disney movies growing up (and still do) that bursting out into song was natural and all I wanted to do so I joined local theatre groups as a way to have fun and make friends.

There, I started developing my technique. You learn from every musical director you work with. I love old Hollywood musicals and the vaudeville style variety shows and am inspired by Judy Garland and Ella Fitzgerald so listened to them on repeat and started to build up a jazz repertoire. I’d love to learn to scat.

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You recently, hosted a Jazz Showback at Prohibition Bar  in Gateshead – what was the inspiration behind that and most importantly, when’s the next one?

We have so many amazing performing arts groups across the North East and when you’re working on a show you sometimes end up in a bubble so I thought it would be nice to have an excuse to come together, meet new people and celebrate the level of talent we have here. Mitch, the owner of Prohibition bar was so open to ideas and so helpful in the planning. It’s a stunning venue and I’d recommend it to everybody, whatever the occasion. Big thanks to everyone that came to the first one and definitely watch this space for the next.

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I was buzzing when you popped up on my Facebook news feed in full Panto character make-up! What show were you in, how did you get the part and what is being in panto really like?

I went to an open audition in London after seeing an advert and crazily got it. I had the amazing chance to play Widow Twanky in Aladdin for Chaplins Pantos. We were touring schools and community centres around the Midlands and it was such a howl. I think everybody that does Panto falls head over heels for it. You can’t get better audiences. There’s all the nostalgia and tradition behind it, no matter what story you are telling.  You have total licence to play and turn little mistakes into the biggest laughs. For example, I lost my wig in perfect timing with the last beat of the music for the bows riling the kids back up just when it was meant to be over.

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Big props have to go to panto stage managers and crew on book for trying to follow the madness.  Yes, you end up telling the same joke a ridiculous amount of times but it’s just so easy as the audiences give you all the energy you’ll ever need to keep it fresh. I must send my love to the Chaplins team, my cast and Sam, my director for such an amazing time.

I was catching up with Phil Douglas – Creative Director last week (p.s. absolutely can’t wait for Curious Festival 2018) and he told me that you were successfully awarded a Curious bursary! Well done you – very proud; what was the application process like and what was your motivation to apply?

I wanted to apply for Curious as I’ve loved previous years and the conversations that have been started through it. I was developing the idea for the piece and talking with other LGBT+ artists through workshops with Mother’s Ruin and Curious has given me the chance to take the piece to the next level. The application process was very accessible and the team we’re so lovely to talk to.

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Mother’s Ruin

Your developing show is really ground breaking and interesting – what’s the show about?

It’s about my asexuality and not wanting sex when society is giving you so many messages about it. . It’s not wanting to hear another love song on the radio. It’s the confusion when everyone else your age seems to be hooking up. It’s not getting innuendos but not being brave enough to urban dictionary it, all with a bit of song, dance and dress up

As someone that has always struggled with sexuality labels in a world that is so focused in labeling, I think work like this is so important as it shows the spectrum and how individualistic it can be and the journey to a certain point. Do you mind explaining what asexuality is?

Basically, I don’t feel any sexual attraction or arousal. As with any sexuality, everyone has a different connection with it and I’d never claim to speak for anyone else.  I’m attracted by personality and having mutual interests. I’m part of a great online network full of people that use asexual to define themselves. We support each other, share experiences and campaign for visibility

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I know it’s still in development – but what do you want audiences to take away from it?

To recognise that people have different feelings around sex and that enjoying it isn’t a given and to learn a bit about asexuality. I use the show to laugh at people’s negative misconceptions and reclaim jeers so I hope people might relate that to their own situations but most of all to laugh and have a good night out

When can I see it in scratch and do you know where it features in Curious yet? (sneaky way of also trying to find about the Curious programme).

I’m performing on the 6th July at Alphabetti Theatre alongside the other commissioned work which I am very excited to see. I’m not sure how much I can say but by the sound of current plans a wide range of venues are getting involved. It’s gonna absolutely cover the North East. The team are turning the heat up for sure. The range of art forms is gonna be amazing well. There’s gonna be so many different forms of expression.

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BALTIC LIVE is Curious (Photo: Michael Mcguire) 

So what else is for Beth in 2018 – any other projects on the horizon?

I’m assisting the lovely Take Part team at the Customs House with their family arts sessions during the school holidays and am gonna be performing at Mama Rhi and Lydia Brickland’s night for International Women’s Day in March brining out all the girl power songs.

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Mrs Fanny Bleach and other wonderful artists on the 8th March at The Bridge Hotel @ 7.30pm

This time next year, in a year’s time – what do you want to have achieved? One thing?

This is probably a massive ask but I’d love to be a part of a new, original Geordie musical for and about Geordies. Our Billy is still going strong, writer Tom Kelly knows every way to play with my heart (Dolly Mixtures was a highlight for my family last year), The Last Ship is coming back home and there’s some amazing triple threat companies creating vital work. As a region we have so many stories up our sleeve so I can only hope I can get amongst it.

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Not at all a massive ask – an absolute reality in the making and it’s a pleasure to watch you creatively bloom. And of course, remember to invite me to all the scratches and launches of everything or I’ll be getting in a huff.

Big love for Beth – a lass making big waves in writing, singing, directing and just getting amongst it.

Until next time Culture Vultures!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Stupid about?

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

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

What can audiences on Thursday expect?

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

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

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One line to sum up the show?

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

Can you tell me about Stupid’s development process?

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

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

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

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

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

What was your inspiration for the show?

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

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

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

What’s your writing process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what’s next?

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

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Well thanks Sian and Anna!

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

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

Ticket for Stupid are available from here!