Interview with Ashleigh Brown Studio; from illustrating cats in jumpers to launching a creative business.

One of the nicer things about lock down is that I’ve actually had a bit of time to follow my own mantra around engaging with folks on my social media platforms. Instead of admiring folks from a far and being a queen lurker merely “liking” their content and posts – I’ve actually taken the time to reach out to artists and creatives to tell them how brilliant I think they are! In a world, where so many of us are working on our own with limited human interaction right now – I think we should all commit to reaching out to those who we think are smashing it to actually tell them! It can be lonely working alone on a “normal” day – never mind on a “new normal” day.

Ashleigh Brown is one of those folks – she caught my attention with a cat watercolour (yep crazy cat lady alert) and then her colourful feed of products and creative lushness made me really dig her work and style – it really “pops”. I love big bold colours and clashing patterns and her work it just that and very Culture Vulture – I was eager to reach out to her to tell her firstly, how amazing she was! But also, I was aware that her creative business was pretty new and without getting doom and gloom – the current situation and financial support available is not very receptive or helpful to new creative businesses; so I wanted to champion her! I love her work and I think my fellow Culture Vultures will too!

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Hiyer, Ashleigh – lush to digitally meet you. Can you introduce yourself to fellow Culture Vultures and tell us what do you do?

My name is Ashleigh and I am a designer from Gateshead. I have a background in textiles design and love creating surface patterns for products. I started my own business in November (great timing, I know!) I have one shop, Ashleigh Brown Studio where I sell my makes, cards, prints and illustrations and my second business, Quaintrelles Co, which sells stickers, stationery and other supplies. Links to both can be found HERE.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Ah from the HEED – I’m born and bred Gateshead lass! Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

Well I have always been creative; I grew up with great creative influences and was taught to knit, sew and crochet as a kid. Every weekend at my nanna’s house would be another creative adventure and she really nurtured my imagination and taught me that anything is possible. At 27 I decided to go back and study a textiles design degree after working in retail for a while. This really opened my eyes to the possibilities of being creative. During this degree we were expected to create our own marketing materials and keep a blog; this just expanded really into me wanting to work for myself.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

I think you have quite a distinctive style….how did you develop your design style?

I feel like I am still very much developing it. I love to mix materials and experiment. Getting to grips with digital design has really been the best though! It means I don’t need any special equipment or large workspace to explore my ideas in multiple ways. My brilliant tutor Laura showed me the wonders of adobe illustrator and I have never looked back.

Adobe is magic! When did you decide to set up your own creative business?

I have dabbled in many little businesses over the years, usually alongside my “real” job. I painted shoes and sold them on eBay, I made clay jewellery for a while too; But it wasn’t until I did my degree that I started to believe in my illustration work and really wanted to explore that. So, this time round I started November 2019, working with a business mentor in the months leading up to actually starting to trade.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Many artists don’t see themselves as business-people which I find fascinating as that is what they are! Do you see yourself as an artist or a business-person or both?

I suppose I am both, but I definitely wing it a lot of the time, haha. It took me a long time to take myself seriously as a creative (I still struggle to call myself an artist) because I saw these things as ‘hobbies’ and not as a serious business. I am just learning as I go but reading Lisa Congden books has definitely helped my creative confidence.

Winging it is a creative skill set – it’s all about evolving, being resilient, adaptable, entrepreneurial – professional at winging it right here! So tell me about your creative space – Do you have a studio? Where do you design?

I have a second bedroom in my flat which is my little creative haven. It’s a good job, its small because I would fill whichever size room I had with supplies. Hoarder over here!

I go through periods of hoarding before chucking too many things in the bin and regretting it. Tell me about your products – what do you sell and make?

I sell cards, prints and digital printables that people can print at home as well as stationery and stickers. I have a huge list of things I want to make and sell and I am gradually adding new products to the shop. You can visit HERE to view and purchase!

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

I know you take commissions – what type of work do you normally get?

I am currently working on an exciting project illustrating a page for a positive baby book! I get a lot of quote print requests and some custom cards too. I also did an illustration for a dog charity book. I’d love to work on more book related projects as this is something of a passion of mine.

I’ve just started a Silent Book Club – ohh book lovers! I first fell in love with your watercolour work (crazy cat lady right here!) – can you tell me a bit about that?

Thank you so much! I started doing some pet portraits during my degree and this was during the new craze of internet cats; this gradually turned into me just doing random illustrations of cats in jumpers. I love combining simple watercolour with ink and then adding detail like with the jumpers.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Cats in jumpers…. We are friends for life! Do you ever make art just for you? If so, what types of art do you make?

I do and it’s very therapeutic! But it’s tough once you get into the business mindset, everything becomes a potential product and even things I just did for me have ended up in the shop sometimes. I did the Frida Kahlo portrait just for me and I ended up loving it so added to the shop. I am loving exploring with portraits right now as it’s something I’ve never had the confidence to do before. I also did a Marilyn Monroe one which I need to play with digitally.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Do you find it hard to balance making to sell and keeping the creative love and flair going?

Honestly, no. I love what I do so much. Every day feels like I’m a kid in a toy shop; noting down ideas and playing round with concepts. The hardest part is working towards a goal and feeling that sense of accomplishment as I can tend to go off on tangents and not every idea works or is suitable for the shop. Some days I have little to no motivation (especially right now) but I have learned to accept that; I realise that not every day has to end with new products to list.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Where do you seek inspiration from for your design work and typography choices?

Pinterest is a huge source of inspiration for me but also Instagram. I have curated my Instagram feed so that it is filled constantly with positive messages and beautiful art and interiors. This means even when I scroll mindlessly that inspiration is leaking into my brain and leaves little room for negative voices.

I love to take inspiration from different genres of art and design; right now I am obsessed with soap makers. There are CRAZY beautiful bars of soap on Instagram haha! I also love seeing the slabs of clay people design to make into jewellery. As well as beautiful weave and embroidery. I like to be influenced by many creative paths.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

A lot of your products/prints embody the “positivity movement” on social; it has been a mindset life line during COVID-19 for me – do you follow any other creative accounts by artists/creatives/makers that you’d suggest we check out?

I love positivity. Like you say it’s super important; especially in this time, where we are either alone and probably lonely or trapped with family under our feet at all times. Everybody is working through stuff right now. I love Stacie Swift, @blessthemessy, the sad ghost club, @lettershoppe, @thecosmicfeminist… I could go on forever haha

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

You are smashing it on Instagram with your product photography set up – how did you come up with your on-brand scenes, props, visual merchandising etc?

Haha! Thank you. It was actually a total accident; I love pastels so normally work with some sort of pastel palette in my work. I bought some polka dot tissue to wrap orders and discovered it went really well with my colours. Then when I decided to buy some back drops, I picked those colours and patterns to keep it all tied together. The props I use have just accumulated over the years really, I did buy the peace hand from Tiger, especially for photos but aside from that I just grab yellow and pink things to tie my colours in. Told you I am WINGING it 😀

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

You’re across multiple platforms selling your products – can you tell me which ones you use and which ones you’d recommend?

My big plan was to be a multi-platform business goddess. HA! But I honestly haven’t had time to dedicate to most of the platforms yet. I want to have multiple income streams eventually. Right now Etsy is my main one and the main focus. But as many people know, Etsy is adding more rules and regs and more fee’s all the time so I do want to have a stand-alone website too. I am working on this. I love society 6 and definitely need to work on my shop there too. I’d love to find a washi tape printing place so I can do my own line of washi too. So many ideas.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

Said like a true creative – sometimes when I shut my eyes – the eyes are like screaming white noise and colours in my brain! So many of them! You’ve recently just launched – any hints and tips for creative product businesses/individuals starting out?

Honestly, just show up every day, even if it’s just a little progress each day. It gets you closer to your dreams and goals. Make lists, tick stuff off, even the tiny stuff.

A bit of REAL question – but I have to ask it! How has COVID-19 effected your business (and you!) and how have you responded?

It has been up and down. The first few weeks were hard and very quiet; this was actually good because I could barely function. I had a weird time coming to terms with this whole thing. Now it’s sort of got back to normal, I have off days personally but I just allow myself that. I have a chronic illness so I am used to pacing myself with these things.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

I’ve really struggled to engage my creative brain during lock down – I require space to walk and get creative in person, societal consumption and absorbing things from inspiration around me, triggers my creativity  – have you felt more or less creative in lock down? What’s your process like getting into the creative zone?

At first, I had a total mental block. I was seeing all these creatives using this new found time to create amazing things and I felt completely broken. But as time went on, I just treated myself as kindly as possible. I listened to music, read some books, watched my favourite films, baked some treats… This past week has been another hard one. I have had the block again but this time I am planting new plant babies and catching up with friends on zoom. My coping mechanisms have been plentiful and there definitely isn’t just one thing I keep doing.

Instead I keep mixing up my routines and tasks. Also, my monthly Gousto box has been a god send. It has kept me busy in the kitchen and been a nice reminder to nourish my body with good food when all I want is to eat ice cream and chocolate.

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

I know it’s really hard to think of right now – but what are your aspirations for your business/practice longer term?

Growth and expansion! I have a little list of huge goals that I want to accomplish on my wall as a reminder of where I am heading. I want to expand my range of paper goods, I want to get work published in some books, I want to sell in lovely local arty shops and galleries. And in the meantime I just keep working through my to do list!

That list never does end though! Anything else you want to tell me about?

I’m currently working on new cards which will be slightly different to the ones I offer now. Also working on some party goods, banners, cake toppers etc. My shop is just evolving constantly!

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Ashleigh Brown Studio

You can check out Ashleigh’s shop and social by following the link HERE! I am so excited to see Ashleigh’s business adventure unfold and creativity develop! There is something magical about speaking to a creative at the beginning of their current chapter – opportunities and lushness a plenty!

Thank you Ashleigh!

Until next time Culture Vultures xx

(#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.

2 April Stat North East

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

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

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

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

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

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

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

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

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

SANGINI

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

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

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

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

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

SANGINI

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

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

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

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

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

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

SANGINI

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

So tell me about your journey into the Arts?

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

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

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

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

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

What made you turn your house into a gallery space?

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

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

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Padma – Tracing The Evanescent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

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

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

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

Why do you think this exhibition and project is important?

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

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

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

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

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

The Storytellers

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

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

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

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

Tracing The Evanescent

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Other

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

Sum the exhibition up in 3 words?

Both: Immersive, poetic, bold

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me about another project you’ve worked on?

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

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

What’s next for you in 2020?

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

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

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

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Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

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

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

NOVAK from VJs to world class projection design: Bringing light to spaces and places through projections…

I’m currently working on Heart of the House – a joint collaboration commission between The Cultural Spring & The Customs House to celebrate 25yrs of The Customs House. I first put myself forward to work on the project at the beginning of Summer 2019….and I pretty much pestered The Cultural Spring until they gave me the gig. But that’s how excited I was about this happening in the North East.

For those of you, that don’t know – Heart of the House is a FREE outdoor visual spectacle designed by the world-class team at NOVAK that is on across 25th, 26th & 27th October on the side of The Customs House, running continuously from 6pm-10pm. It’s a total must see and experience.

More info on Heart of the House and FAQs can be found HERE.

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NOVAK have designed a 10minute long projection that will be rolling continuously across the night on the outside of the Customs House building celebrating the building’s past and present, and you’ll be taken on an enchanting journey of nostalgia, fun and illusion.

Expect to see everything from ship building and coal mining to music and performance with South Tyneside icons and pantomime characters popping up. The projections will feature the history, cultural rebirth and legacy of one of the most famous buildings in South Tyneside.

Of course, I love the folks at Cultural Spring and all their projects and events are ace – but it was certainly the NOVAK link that really got me excited. I love their work, I love their innovation, I love their humbleness, yep…I’m An unashamed NOVAK super fan……And they are one of MANY North East creative businesses that exist in the region that are absolutely flying and doing work on a global scale.

NOVAK specialise in motion design and create projections, art installations and stage visuals for music artists (Shawn Mendes!) and video for theatre performances. NOVAK has had work featured across the world at some of the most highly regarded arts festivals, including Lumiere and music festivals including Glastonbury and Coachella. NOVAK also created the stunning visuals in The Cultural Spring’s past commissions RUSH and WordPlay.

 

The festival of light - Southampton

Festival of Light – Southampton

I’ve experienced NOVAK at both light festival events, special moments marked with a projection onto a building and of course, stomping and dancing the night away at a festival and yes, Dippy at Great North Museum. At Dippy whilst everyone else, was of course, enamoured with Dippy the main star – I was blown away by NOVAK’s animation and the beauty of the interpretation on the walls. I kept telling random strangers – “now THIS is how you engage families in a museum!”. Their technical brilliance and detail is inspiring….. and you can experience it too at Heart of the House!

Dippy

Dippy

I’ve always been fascinated by motion design, digital art and projection….. I think because it’s just not my skill set and beyond me – to me it’s so magical! I remember watching the H&M Amsterdam store opening in 2010 and just being blown away. A building actually brought to life!

Anyway – back to NOVAK – I’ve wanted to interview the NOVAK lads for ages and working on Heart of the House presented such a good opportunity. I even blagged an invitation to their studio – very exciting. In between, their several big commissions alongside Heart of the House, Adam – the studio Director kindly let me interview him.

But before, we go into the interview – you need to watch their show reel which gives you a taster of their work; the quality and ambition of it.

Lumiere London

Lumiere London

Hi Adam, let’s start at the beginning – What is NOVAK?

NOVAK is a creative studio based in Newcastle upon Tyne that specialises in motion design and immersive installations with a big emphasis on projection design.

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How did it all start? What was your journey into creative industries?

It all started in the night clubs of Newcastle. All of the members of NOVAK met through VJing at local clubs and from these encounters we started to gig together which naturally progressed into greater collaborations.

A notable one of these was our AV show, 3D Disco, which we toured the world with for a number of years performing in Australia, Canada, Nigeria, Vietnam and everywhere in between!

During this time we started to develop other creative outputs, including projection mapping which has become a key part of what NOVAK is today. We have created projection mapped artworks at variety of locations, including the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, the Singapore Art Museum, Durham Castle to name but a few.

Brighton festival

Royal Pavilion in Brighton

Wish I’d been around for 3D Disco….I’d have been alllll over that? So you’ve created work for Cultural Spring before with Rush and Word Play; can you tell us a bit about that?

On both of these shows NOVAK, in collaboration with Southpaw Dance Company, designed and produced all of the projection content, which was integral part to both shows.

Rush in South Shields was the first project that we worked on with Southpaw Dance Company and we have since then gone onto collaborate with them on many more projects including shows as part of Hull City Of Culture and Greenwich and Docklands International Festival.

Hideout festival

HideOut Festival

What is Heart of the House (from your perspective!)?

It is a joyful celebration of the many art forms and creative practices that are at the heart of The Customs House.

How did you get involved in Heart of the House?

We were invited to tender for the project.

What can audiences expect from the projection onto the side of The Customs House?

The artwork depicts a variety of art forms and creative practices; each with its own very distinct and colourful look, all of which will transform the facade of the Customs House into a something that has never been seen before!

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Ohhh gosh – the NOVAK superfan within me is already getting excited! So what about the making process and the groups you’ve filmed to create the projection?

Key to the Customs House is the community and the different people and groups that engage with it. To reflect this, we have worked with various groups, including the Youth Theatre, the Indian Classical and Bollywood dancers, the Customs’ Breakers, amongst others, which will all feature in the projection.

When you run with an idea like Heart of the House, projecting onto a building, are there moments when you don’t know how you’re going to realise your vision? Projecting onto a listed functioning building must create some interesting challenges!?

It is always a challenge when creating a work to be projected onto something that was never designed for that purpose, but a combination of experience and some new technologies allows us to understand how things will translate onto the surface of the building.

Newcastle University freshers week

Newcastle University Freshers Week 2014

Well if anyone was going to do it, you folks are certainly the ones to make it happen! What would you like audiences to take away from watching Heart of the House?

A sense of joy and wonder!

Tell me about some other projects you’ve been working on? Enchanted Forest?

Most recently we presented a new work at Leeds Light Night called ‘Pleasance’, which was a 35 meter long ground projection. And presently we have another new work showing at Enchanted Forest called ‘Constellation’ which is a projection onto a water screen located in the loch in Faskally Wood, near Pitlochry.

Light Night - Rooster PR

Pleasance – Light Night Leeds 19 (Photo: Rooster PR)

Advice for folks wanting to get into the world of digital arts, outdoor arts and animation?

Always strive to do something original and don’t always look in the obvious places for inspiration.

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Flux – Newcastle Central Station (Photo: Rich Kenworthy)

Highlight of 2019 for NOVAK?

Very hard to say, as nearly all of our projects this year have been a lot of fun; they have been varied from presenting a digital artwork in Newcastle Central Station to projection mapping the National Theatre in London. Designing projections as an accompaniment for Dippy’s visit to the Great North Museum was certainly a high point this year as well as being quite a departure from our normal works.  We certainly expect that we will look back at Heart of the House and see that as one of the highlights!

National theatre

National Theatre – London

Absolutely! So post Heart of the House….What’s next for NOVAK in 2020?

Before we get to 2020 we have other projects to present after Heart of the House, including a projection on the inside of Doncaster Minster, which we are really excited about! As for 2020, early in the year we are collaborating again with Southpaw Dance Company on a new show in London, which will be really spectacular! Plus lots of others that I can’t talk about just yet!

Enchanted Forest

Constellation – Enchanted Forest

Well on that note of anticipation – that’s it from Adam and NOVAK. Heart of the House is going to be a beaut of a projection and is your chance to see NOVAK in action doing what they do best  – lighting up a building with a really special and innovative projection whilst capturing the past, present and future of the building.

You can view the projection ANY time 25th, 26th & 27th October between 6pm-10pm. The projection lasts 10minutes and will be continuously rolling so Heart of the House is a drop in. You can also head inside Customs House, see the Customs House Elmer inside and take in celebratory banners co-ordinated by The Creative Seed, made with various South Tyneside community groups and schools.

More info on Heart of the House and FAQs can be found HERE.

I’m now off to plot how I can persuade NOVAK to bring back their 3D Disco…..

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(#AD) An Interview with Workie Ticket Theatre – giving a voice to communities & human stories through theatre making….. #womenwarriors

One of my favourite things about being the Culture Vulture, is that I get to meet people who are truly living and breathing their passion – independent folks making real changes and a big difference to people in the North. Passion and purpose is what gets me out of bed in a morning, and I love to connect with others who connect with theirs.

Workie Ticket Theatre Company is a company of brilliant humans doing just that – they first came to my attached due to the name. As a bit of a “workie ticket” myself – I appreciated their branding……. For that don’t know – a “workie ticket” is a Geordie term for someone who is a bit mischievous, a tinker, someone who pushes the boundaries, pushes their luck……..but in a likeable way. I’m all about pushing boundaries so I really embrace the term and the Workie Ticket ethos.

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Workie Ticket are doing amazing things in the North East– their first project came to my attention on social media. Hear Her Roar, celebrated and gave a platform to brave, bold new writing by some of the North East’s most exciting playwrights. Giving a platform to new talent is something I’m really passionate about and part of my purpose as Culture Vulture so it’s lush to see others championing equitable opportunities. Their current project ‘Women Warriors’ is extremely important and gives voices to the stories of female veterans on stage- stories that haven’t been told, silenced and disempowered – so I was thrilled to be invited over to The Exchange in North Shields to meet JoJo Kirtley founder and co-Artistic director of WT and Lindsay Nicholson, co-Artistic Director of WT. We had some amazing chat about things we’d like to change in the theatre industry in the North East and it was an ace opportunity for a Culture Vulture interview and to find out more about Women Warriors on 9th October at The Exchange at 7pm – tickets are available to purchase HERE.

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Hi JoJo & Lindsay, right so for my reader and fellow Culture Vultures….Who are you?

JoJo Kirtley, founder of WT and co-Artistic director. I write, produce and facilitate. I am originally from Newcastle but I’ve spent a lot of my career in Manchester.

Lindsay Nicholson, Co-Artistic Director of WT. I’m a performer, facilitator and producer.

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Tell me about your journey into theatre?

JoJo– I went to Longbenton High School where I was introduced to drama because of my drama teacher, Ian Williams. He believed in me at a time when I was struggling. I fell in love with Brecht instead of Shakespeare, but I wanted to learn more about how to run a theatre. So, I worked in theatres as an usher, back-stage hand, in the box office and marketing whilst I was at Uni. I studied for my Masters degree in Theatre Studies at Manchester Uni and I then went into youth work and teaching drama to young people excluded from school.

I never saw myself as a writer. Never had that belief in myself. I didn’t write my first play until I was 26, when I was on maternity leave with my son, Tom. I had entered a Royal Exchange competition and later wrote ‘Loaded’ which was produced at 24:7 Theatre Festival. I fell into producing when I was pregnant again with Ry and my pals, Rob and Martin needed a producer to help produce their play, “Away From Home” which I did taking a baby every where with me!

Lindsay – My background is performance. I was in my first musical at the age of 9 – ‘Brigadoon’ – I’ve never been able to stand the sound of Bag Pipes since… After my degree in Performing Arts, I fell out of love with the theatre industry and ended moving into event management and art curation, I enjoyed running a Multi-Purpose Art Space in 2010, moving on to coordinate events at a queer-led art space – both non-profit Pop Ups that aren’t here today but I am immensely thankful for those opportunities that taught me how to deal with floods, minor electrocution and how to zip up a 6-foot-odd, bearded drag queen into a Care Bear dress.

I’ve had the privilege of working and living in some amazing places, teaching Drama one Summer in New York, working on the events team at Melbourne Arts Centre for two years in Australia and a year spent in-between Tokyo and Bali for an events and hospitality company. I realised however I was being pulled back to my original communities and the art of story-telling… I decided to return home and “dip my toe in” the acting world again. JoJo punished me with an 18 minute monologue and since then we have become sound friends and now business partners.

Tell me about Workie Ticket? What is it? How did it start? Inspiration behind it?

JoJo – I had a story I wanted to tell; my story and I wanted to be my own boss, when it came to writing (I am not good with people telling me what to do). I feel like the North East has a very male-dominated theatre industry and there isn’t many opportunities for women.

So, I set my own company up to create those opportunities-first it was just a group of us who primarily to wanted to raise money for Newcastle Women’s Aid and raise awareness about domestic abuse. Then, I realised that I could develop it further but I couldn’t do it on my own so I asked Lindsay to Workie Ticket too. Best thing I ever did!

We’re now a female-led theatre company who want to push boundaries and empower the people we work with through theatre. Essentially, I just want to tell stories that make audiences sit up and listen.

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I got goose bumps hearing that…Tell me about Women Warriors?  

JoJo – I was at a women’s mental health conference and I saw a post it note that read, “What about female veterans?” and I thought…..GOOD question, what about them? It haunted me…how come I had never thought about women who fight for this country?  Eventually, after some research I met up with Paulie from ‘Salute Her’ and we talked about me writing a play but I started to think that these women needed more…so Women Warriors was born…

Women Warriors has been devised by engaging female veterans through forum theatre and discussion-based workshops. We also spoke to a lot of women veterans at groups and meetings. Some rang us up and told us their stories.

Our main aim with WW is to contribute to their empowerment whilst creating a dialogue about how to support veteran rehabilitation through creative methods. We wanted to centre the lived experiences of female veterans, women who are often socially isolated, overlooked and suffering from lack of support in a theatre production but make it real. We also wanted to raise awareness of the challenges female veterans face in society such as prejudice, discrimination, abuse and PTSD but also celebrate these women. We were lucky to be funded by the Newcastle University Social Fund and work with Dr Alice Cree who is writing about our methodology. Other funders for this stage were Hospital of God, Sir James Knott, Greggs Foundation, Rothley Trust and the Joicey Trust.

Within a safe space, we have facilitated issue-based and forum theatre workshops to develop a series of short plays with five writers. We presented a rehearsed reading of our piece in July as part of our R&D in the build up to producing the first full production of ‘Women Warriors’ It was very well received and the veterans loved it; which was the main thing. Two days before the reading, the Arts Council confirmed funding the full productions and I remember thinking, if the veterans don’t like it then I will send the money back! And I would have.

But luckily, they loved it….and one said to me this week that they felt like they could open up more now and talk about their experiences.

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What can audience members going to see Women Warriors on 9th October at The Exchange expect?

JoJo – I don’t think you can really define this production. Expect to be shocked. Expect to cry and laugh. Bring tissues. There are some real moments of heartache which are pretty-hard hitting.

What do you want audiences to take away?

Lindsay – Really quite simply that they will think about female veterans from now. The audience may be more informed in why people sign up to serve. It is not the same for everybody…

JoJo – When we first started working with the veterans, I thought we would struggle to connect but they are an amazing group of women. I hope audiences see that.

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Sum the show up in 3 words?

Lindsay – Bike, dyke, frigid?

Talk me through the process of developing the show up to this point? Who have you worked with?

Lindsay – We made a connection with Charity – Forward Assist to engage with female veterans based around the North and developed a core group of veterans that attended our workshops and…

We knew right away that we would employ practitioner Rosa Stourac McCreery to deliver Forum Theatre Workshops. We see Forum Theatre as a tool for change, it’s an active empowering process – we knew this was the kind of theatre these strong, brave women would be interested in learning about and using. Rosa, also an experienced Director is directing the piece, considering the essence of the female veterans participation at all times.

Dr Alice Cree is an ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow in critical military studies and political geography at Newcastle University. Alice contacted us to see if she could follow our process for our research originally, but has become a vital part of our team on this project, advising us, drawing academic attention to our work facilitating collaborations and even helping us win funding bids. She is a real Workie Ticket.

Bridgelight Media – We absolutely love these guys!  A young, female led, media company who create sublime work, and have been great supporters of Workie Ticket.  They created our short documentary which perfectly captures our process and the veteran’s voices.

Great North Museum granted us free rehearsal space when they learned of our project and were a great host for our Rehearsed Reading event. It’s interesting to be able to playact in such a beautiful space with so much weight. It’s pretty rad to know that on the other side of your workshop space there are dinosaurs!

JoJo – Even my sister was involved, Dr Jenna Kirtley as she is a psychologist who specialises in working with veterans. She was there to offer support and advice.

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Tell me about the creative team behind it Women Warriors?

Lindsay – We have employed 4 incredible local playwrights to capture the stories and deliver them into short plays that explore issues the veterans raised in our workshops.

JoJo – Olivia Hannah has written an incredible play about being a mother after years of training as a soldier and the impact that has.  When we first read the play, we both cried.  Juliana Mensah writes about mental health within the military and when I watched it for the first time, I had goose bumps; such a clever piece of writing. Rebecca Glendenning-Laycock- whose piece explores homophobia in the Army has written a play that gives us hope. She worked with one particularly amazing female veteran who rang me out of the blue and said….please tell my story.

Our play is about a group of women who meet in a women’s veteran group and ask the question-what about female veterans? They also like to eat a lot of cake! I have also written all of the interlinking scenes which were the veterans’ real responses to particular questions we asked them questions like what it means to be a “woman warrior”?

Why did you chose The Exchange in North Shields as your venue?

JoJo – When I first started Workie Ticket, nobody knew me and I was finding a lot of closed doors from all the main theatre houses in Newcastle, which is standard. The Exchange was not one of them. Karen and Mike who run the Exchange were lovely and have always made me feel welcome. My sons come with me to a lot of meetings and now, they hang out there and go to their drama club. I genuinely feel like The Exchange is a lush place and I wish they were supported more.

Lindsay – We have a great relationship with The Exchange – they are very supportive. The venue is gorgeous and interesting and great theatre does happen outside the city centre believe it or not…;)

What does it feel like to give voices and opportunities to unheard and often overlooked folks? Why is it so important to you?

JoJo– It’s important because we’re living in a World where we need to speak up and speak out. It’s 2019 and I am still having the same argument about women’s rights as I did twenty years ago. I guess I don’t want to grow old (older…) and wonder why I let so many things happen without saying something.

Lindsay – It is really humbling when people share their stories with you – a great deal of responsibility goes into listening with sensitivity and then holding those stories with great care. It becomes your duty to bring awareness to these people’s experiences or struggles and it can be quite the challenge to make sure you are presenting it with the right respect, clarity and compassion. It’s important to us because it’s our way of fighting, our activism, to make these voices heard and to engage people into listening to them. By hosting and engaging people in these conversations we are on the first step of looking at affecting social change.  Theatre is a great tool for empathy.

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Tell me a bit about the previous project “Hear her Roar”?

JoJo – The HEAR HER ROAR project highlighted Tyneside women’s real stories and raised awareness of women’s issues such as domestic violence, working mothers, abortion, sexual assault and sexuality.

HEAR HER ROAR was our first major project, which celebrated the talents of North East women, collaborated with community groups and charities such as Newcastle Women’s Aid and promoted equality within the theatre industry. HEAR HER ROAR was successfully launched above the Bridge Hotel Pub in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, on 10th November 2017 as a night of script-in-hand performance of new short plays to give a flavour of our work and to highlight the specific themes.

We sold out.

We developed a network of creatives and we were even featured in The Guardian’s Readers’ Favourite theatre of 2017. I couldn’t believe it! In January 2018, we received funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery and the Catherine Cookson Trust, respectfully to deliver our February to September educational programme which included a full-scale theatre performance of our plays for International Women’s Day at The Exchange in North Shields, on 10th March 2018 and was part of celebrating 100 years of Women’s suffrage.

Again, completely sold out!

We also collaborated with the Red Box Project to collect sanitary products for local schools and collected for Newcastle Women’s Aid. In total, we have raised over £1300 for Newcastle Women’s Aid.

Are you a real life Workie Tickets?

JoJo – Without a doubt. My Grandad Joe used to call me a workie ticket when I argued back with him and that’s where the name came from too. He was a bold man who I adored and a workie ticket himself. I am a trouble maker but for all the right reasons. People need to be challenged.

What does being a feminist in 2019 mean to you?

Lindsay – NECESSARY.

In 2019 I think now the responsibility is educating people about Feminism because there’s too much toxic language and attitudes towards it. Educating people that feminism doesn’t mean the reversal of power, “women taking over” – It’s equal rights, it’s women being safe, being heard.

There’s not any ‘one way’ to be a feminist or define feminism.  You have agency – I think people forget that, when they hear language of feminism, many people and communities do it their way, everyone can be a feminist in their own way. I may not conform to some women’s idea of Feminism but I take responsibility to empower women and I am making that my work. For Workie Ticket it has always been about giving women a voice, levelling out the playing field, pointing out injustices and inequality and advising or indeed leading conversations and actions on how to make a fairer society for everyone.

Sometimes feminism is nurturing my male friends when they have been victims of toxic masculinity and reminding them that they don’t have to be oppressed by or conform to harmful male stereotypes.  Feminism is the pursuit of freedom – for everyone.

JoJo – I have been a feminist since I was 10 years old. Things have only slightly changed and I am now 38. I read recently that Apple originally made Siri to deflect questions about feminism and the #metoo movement. That says it all for me. It’s like the modern day way that women are being silenced and written out of history! So, the fight for equality must go on. Only feminism in 2019 must be intersectional, otherwise, what’s the point?

What’s next for Workie Ticket after this?

Lindsay – We are currently in chats about taking Women Warriors to NATO annual conference in Brussels next year…which is scary and huge but also really necessary for us to speak truth to power. To have the opportunity to be starting to believe your practice could have the power to become Legislative Theatre is just incredible!  We are looking at touring the production and we will be crafting our drama for wellbeing programme so we will get to continue working with loads of other lovely communities.

JoJo – I would like a decent nights’ sleep and a spa break…with some rum.

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Thank you Lindsay and JoJo! YES……it’s so important that independents like Workie Ticket exist. It’s important to the women in the North, the talent in the region, community minded folks and proof that yes indeed, exciting new theatre exist in venues outside of the city centres – in fact some of the best theatre I’ve seen recently, is at venues like The Exchange.

So fellow Culture Vultures, two bits of advice:

  1. Join me, on 9th October at The Exchange for Women Warriors – there are still tickets available to purchase.
  2. Embrace your inner Workie Ticket….we all need to be workie tickets in today’s society to make the changes we want to see.

Over and Out.

(#AD) Festival of Thrift 2019 – let’s get thrifty!

It’s September….it’s Autumnal and this is my favourite time of year…. It’s also time for Festival of Thrift!

There are some events and festivals that go on every year in the North East and you can mention them to folks and you’ll see a glint in their eye and their face lights up because they love them so much. In the North East, it doesn’t take too long if you put on a really lush festival/event that’s all about the people attending and connects with folks with a lush offer, that suddenly, it’s like the event is a North East tradition and we embrace it as one of our diamonds.

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(All photos belong to Festival of Thrift in this post)

Festival of Thrift is one of those events…..and this year it returns 14th & 15th September 10am-5pm in lush village of Kirkleatham – it’s a MUST do for everyone.  This annual award-winning festival is in its 7th year and is a proper celebration of sustainable living, positive change and protecting our planet….which has never been more necessary! Whilst there are lots of lessons and things to take away from the festival, it’s also a lush event and around every corner of the magical festival site is something different for you to discover and enjoy. And lots of my fave artists and creatives work on it…so I’m a bit (a lot) biased!

Each year, Festival of Thrift brings fresh themes and #thriftfest 2019 highlights clean air and celebrating the anniversary of the moon landing. Expect new journeys of discovery, thought provoking performances and a special mix of hands-on fun, food, music, dance and song. There are over 160 stalls selling all manner of thrifty, upcycled and recycled goods, delicious food and drink as well as a few surprises along the way….

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Since it started 7 years ago, I’ve never been able to fully enjoy it as it’s always clashed with Gateshead Family Sculpture Day, the day itself or the event prep, so my mind has been elsewhere and had to rush back. So this year, I’m excited…I’m going for the full Saturday, my mind will be all about enjoying the event and yes, I will be charting my full Thrift experience over on my Instagram……

There is loads to do and take part in across the two days…..drop in and pre-bookable workshops, storytelling, performances, lush live music, installations, thrifty stalls, advice pop-ups, talks, thing to make, see, do and experience….things for adults and families alike…..

Download Festival of Thrift programme to get plotting and planning your festival experience and for those who are just hearing about Thrift or haven’t quite decided if you’re going to go….well, by the end of this blog post, I hope you will!

I recently caught up with the wonderful  Festival of Thrift Director – Stella Hall for an interview; Stella is the visionary behind the festival and has been at the helm since its birth seven years ago! I met Stella at Make & Mend Festival 2019 and her passion for culture and events, across Teesside, in my opinion is largely responsible for lots of the excited happenings that are going on now and are set to come……

Interview with Festival of Thrift Director – Stella Hall

For those who are unsure, never been or curious, what is Festival of Thrift?

Festival of Thrift is the UK’s first large-scale festival promoting sustainable, socially responsible living, and creative, resilient communities.  Each September since 2013,  it has provided  a free weekend event  presenting  a mix of professional and emerging artists, community driven projects, skills and learning activities – with a focus on upcycling, recycling, making, growing, volunteering, skills building, learning and saving money.

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Let’s go back to the beginning…..How did it all start? What was the inspiration?

Festival of Thrift was launched in Darlington in 2012 at Lingfield Point business park inspired by the creative reuse of the buildings there, together with the UKs growing DIY and reuse, recycle, upcycle  culture.

Over the last seven years, the Festival has attracted 200,000 visitors, and is now recognised as playing a pivotal role in the social, cultural and economic regeneration of Tees Valley. It won the Observer Ethical Award for Arts and Culture and the North East Tourism Event of the Year 2015 and was shortlisted for Best Event North East for 2018.

In 2015, after the closure of the steelworks in Redcar, we moved the Festival to our beautiful Kirkleatham site and established as a Community Interest Company.

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For those who this will be their first year, what can they expect? Any pre-festival advice to get the most out of the weekend?

A beautiful , wooded green site  in a lovely village with play areas, fields  a museum absolutely packed with activities, stalls, performances, stages, demonstrations, food and drink .

Advice wise…

  • Bring walking shoes, dress for the UK weather, a picnic blanket and reusable cup and water bottle.
  • Bring your surplus fruit and veg and we will make soup and jam.
  • Bring things you don’t need – and swap them for things you do at the swapshop.
  • Bring stuff that doesn’t work and we will help you fix it at the Fix It café.
  • Dress in your finest remade clothing and get picked for the catwalk.
  • Book in advance if you fancy any of the workshops – but there will be plenty to see and do if you don’t!
  • Download the festival programme to plan your day(s).

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The theme changes every year, so tell me about the theme for this year?

Clean Air is one of our big themes his year – being in the Great Outdoors in the Tees Valley – we just don’t deserve the name “Smoggies” anymore, we’ve moved beyond that and Art is an invaluable way to help people to understand serious issues, as tapping into people’s emotional responses is far more powerful than simply presenting bald facts.

The other artworks in this year’s Viewpoints by Festival of Thrift will also respond to the Festival of Thrift’s clean air theme for 2019…. View Points is a series of pieces with a clean air focus curated by the Festival of Thrift for its second Viewpoints project, which sees sculptures, installations and artworks displayed across the Tees Valley from 12 -19 September to prompt discussions about sustainability issues.

The works include a lung cleaning experience at its railway station, a giant drawing using ink recycled from exhaust fumes, a series of enormous painted canaries using a dazzle camouflage technique, an extraordinary green house, a free-standing observation platform and Human Sensors consisting of wearable costumes that respond to air pollution levels.

The works we have selected for Viewpoints are effective ways to explain and help people to experience and explore the clean air crisis that we simply can’t afford to ignore.

You can find out more about ViewPoints HERE!

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Your marking the anniversary of the moon landing this year too, how has that influenced your festival programme?

It’s a great theme for celebrating what we can do if we really try – and boldly go! The theme also reminds us that we only really have one planet to live on – so let’s make the most of it and look after it well.

Plus we will be

  • Taking off with Whippet Up’s – Mission (out of) Control – an interactive re-imagining of the 1969 Moon Landing. Whippet Up’s vision will bring the excitement and optimism of space travel in the 1960’s to the Festival of Thrift.
  • Putting girls in charge with Space Rebel princess theatre show – a fearless young princess raised for royalty but not for rocketry, dreams of becoming an astronaut. Outsmarting the confines of her palace upbringing, she must boldly go where no princess has gone before!
  • Building your own rockets with Woodshed – this year they are building rockets out of reclaimed wood, hammers and nails, once the building is complete we will ask you to get creative with paint to personalise your invention.

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Now this is a toughie question….what are your programme highlights for 2019…your top picks?

I love all of it of course!

If I were a teenager (or adult!) it would be brilliant to be part of

  • Manic Chord’s search for an alien  in The unknown – Amber, a tech savvy teen and her rather more traditional grandmother, Dawn are onto something supernatural. With fellow members of the Society for Speculation, can the daring duo get to the bottom of these gravitational goings on? This show is free but prebookable HERE!
  • Urban Playground in the parkour show looking into the future, Zoo Humans. It’s a brilliant visual fast paced spectacle.

If I were under eleven I would go and be a Little Inventor…. Little Inventors is a creative initiative that takes children’s amazing ideas seriously and brings them to life working with local makers. From food waste to space travel, Little Inventors have tapped into children’s creative powers to engage them with the issues of today. At Thrift…

  • Dominic head inventor at Little Inventors (and Sunderland-born designer) will launch the new Pioneers Energy Challenge right at Festival of Thrift, a new project for children aged 8 – 12 to invent better ways to make, use, store and stop wasting energy.
  • Work with Little Inventors to create your own invention from ideas that help generate, save or use energy better. Come and draw your idea and have a go at making a simple prototype model using recycled materials, helped by the Little Inventors team. Your idea could help to save the planet!

If I were under five I would want a go on…  

  • The hand-carved wooden roundabout – The Bewonderment Machine. A visually stunning cycle-powered carousel creating a magical journey for small children-This handmade, human-powered merry-go-round combines hand carved animals, puppetry, and music. This is a miniature theatrical flight of the imagination, empowering the very young to care and to be curious. Climb on and embark on joyful journey. For times visit HERE!

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For adults – there is literally loads to do see, do, eat, listen to but this year….

  • I can’t wait to taste this year’s menu in our community meal – The Town is the Menu, inspired by the town Guisborough – The Town is the Menu is created by Simon Preston with Menu by Jess Miller and Sammy Coxell, the Ugly Duckling team. It’s £7 for 3 courses and there are limited slots left….you can see the whole menu HERE!
  • I always love the ingenuity of the Oxglam fashion show; it’s moon inspired this year! The Oxglam fashion show, features stunning creations using recycled clothing donations, is one of the highlights of the Festival weekend.
  • I am fascinated by the WRAS show – The Best of All Possible Worlds.. The story of a trio of innocents continuously buffeted by fate – 3 characters torn out of the pages of a book, Candide, and placed in an unfamiliar, unstable world. There’s a wilderness, the growth of civilisation, territorial disputes, war, a flood, a miraculous get-away, bad weather, hell and a happy ending that isn’t what it seems This puppet/object theatre show  will be presented with all the visual panache and wit expected from the Whalley Range All Star. For times visit HERE!
  • And all festivals are about their live music and we’ve got a great outdoor live music programme….

These highlights are just a fraction of what we have lined up this year. There’s plenty more to come and, as ever, people can expect the unexpected at the Festival of Thrift…..

Tell me about the Friday community parade launching this year’s festival?

We began the Parade last year to join the town to the village – it was a hit so we have created another one…. This year’s Thrifty parade will launch the seventh Festival of Thrift in joyful style, championing creativity and community in Redcar and helping to spread the Thrifty message of good living in sustainable ways.

Led by Stellar Projects, the procession will include a combination of local community groups, professional performers and musicians, including last year’s popular CowCar (has to be seen to be believed), to restate the highly topical warning of the dangers of methane emissions, and dancers wearing Kasia Molga’s extraordinary Human Sensor costumes, which measure and reflect  diesel emissions in the atmosphere!

Setting off from Kirkleatham Museum with a cohort of bikes which will make their way to Redcar town centre where they will meet the walking parade participants which will include school and community groups, performance groups and structures. The parade will take Thrift through the heart of the town centre and along the sea front to finish Bandstand.

It starts at 6.30pm at from Kirkleatham Museum and it’s going to be ‘Breath of Fresh Air’!

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Festival of Thrift is a jewel in the North east events and festival programme…..rightly so! Why do you think Thrift is SO popular and much loved?

We take huge pride in being a one-of-a-kind event with our packed celebration of sustainable living and we are promising another riot of ways to have fun at the festival this year.

It’s just a joyful weekend packed with sustainable arts, crafts, music, fashion, food, entertainment, shopping, demos, workshops and upcycling inspiration, our hugely popular Festival offers a weekend of free eco-friendly fun and attracted over 35,000 visitors last year.  A true weekend to remember!

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Whilst the festival is a lush weekend, there is a really strong environmental and sustainability message – what could the eco-curious take away from Thrift?

That each of us has a responsibility and each of us can make a difference but altogether, we can make a big difference.

Do you think events like Thrift has positive change making effects for the everyday?

Certainly – our audiences tell us this every year. But we also need to get active, join campaigns, make our voices heard. It’s a 365 day a year project – not just a weekend! Festival of Thrift is a great starting point for the rest of the year and an excellent way to discover new ideas….

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What’s one bit of Thrifty advice you have for my readers?

To ask ourselves questions in the moment….

  • How much do we really need?
  • What can we share?
  • What would we want our grandchildren to think about how we have contributed to creating the world they will live in?

We have those answers ourselves.

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Well thank you Stella – I’m totally in the mood for Festival of Thrift right now and I hope my fellow Culture Vultures are too.

Click here for 10 Festival of Thrift 2019 highlights and get planning your visit and happenings. The official Thrift website is a fountain of EVERYTHING happening across the weekend….or be like me, plan nothing and just discover as you go…..

Until next time Culture Vultures…. xx

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#AD – Interview with musician Anthony Vacher ahead of his Lindsfarne Fest main stage shenanigans…..

I’m off to Lindisfarne Festival next weekend, 29th August – 1st September for the ultimate end of Summer party on the Northumberland coast; born out of the desire to create something special for the North East, Lindisfarne Festival came to life in early September 2015, when a 2000 strong crowd descended onto the glorious fields at Beal Farm to experience a weekend like no other. Now into 2019…this lush independent festival is growing year on year – there are still tickets left (less than 400) so you can still join the party.

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Being the Culture Vulture means I get to meet and interview absolutely amazing creative folks – it gives me a total buzz. Folks who are passionate, doing exciting lush things and full of ambition to make a creative mark on the world. For 2019 Lindisfarne Festival ran a Musicians Against Homelessness Unsigned band competition – those who follow social might remember a post, I did about the final short list encouraging votes. Check out the short list, as all of the folks are mega and that’s what festivals are truly about to me…. Discovering new music and shaking myself out of my usual Spotify playlist comfort zone.

MAH put on 100s of gigs & festivals across the UK, creating opportunities and spaces for up-coming talent to play and raise money for homelessness services. Now that’s a double bubble of Culture Vulture love right here, as I’m all about champion independent new talent alongside advocating for positive social change through using my voice. Homelessness is a real issue – I was totally humbled by the recent exhibition across Newcastle “History of Homelessness” – especially when moving from venue to venue, homeless folks were in doors all over the city being ignored and their stories unheard so projects like MAH are imperative.

The winner of the MAH competition secured the opportunity to perform at Lindisfarne Festival 2019 on the bliddy main stage……which for an up and coming musician/band is an amazing opportunity to play to thousands! I was super excited when I heard the winner – he was one of my short list faves and I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing him this week, before his Lindisfarne main stage shenanigans….

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So let’s get this interview started…. Step right up ANTHONY VACHER & THE SILHOUETTES; you can catch Anthony on Friday at the main stage at 1.30pm. Look out for me fan girling at the front, thrashing my elbows around and stomping my feet (a.k.a. “dancing”)……

Singer-songwriter Anthony Vacher has been a familiar name on the North East music scene for some time. Often accompanied by his trademark ukulele and accompanied by his band The Silhouettes; his songs are as beautiful as they are honest but with a real zest for life that fills the heart with joy. He’s also got a LOYAL social media and fan following which have surely helped him to win this competition….

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So hi you, who are you?

I’m Anthony Vacher, hi!

Tell me about your journey into the music scene – when did it all start?

I launched my solo music roughly 2 years ago when I released my first single I Don’t Wanna Wake Up. The legends at Punch-Drunk Comedy who are also at Lindisfarne gave me my first stage to perform on, opening before the comedians play, and it wasn’t long after that I won a competition to play at the O2 and I knew I needed the band behind me to make the shows a much better experience. They’re more just my good mates as opposed to my band because I make nowhere near enough to pay them – hahaha. Chris has been with me from the start but Dom and Gary have just recently joined me.

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So they do it for the love! Sum up your music in three words?

Really tough one cause there’s quite a lot of variety between the full band and acoustic stuff! I think I’ll go, energetic, fun but emotional.

Sounds like you’ve described my life so far…. Can we listen to your music pre-fest to get in the mood? 

Of course! You can find me on all streaming services, Spotify, Apple Music etc, or just head over to my facebook/twitter/insta/whatever your preference is and you can find stuff there too!

facebook.com/anthonyvachermusic

Twitter @anthonyvacheruk

Instagram @anthonyvacher

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What made you enter the Musicians Against Homelessness Comp?

I’ve followed MAH on social media for a while and I only saw the competition on the final night! But a chance to play at Lindisfarne and work with Musicians Against Homelessness was something I couldn’t not apply for.

Aha a last minute larry, a man after my own heart! Why are projects like MAH important?

Homelessness is a huge and growing issue at the moment, and what MAH are doing is incredible. Simultaneously helping homeless people whilst giving upcoming artists huge opportunities to grow, it’s quite simply amazing.

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How did it feel being shortlisted and then seeing the love for you on social media?

It was crazy really, but if I’m honest I had totally forgotten about it! I was just sat at home at the time and saw that MAH had tagged me in a post, and I was like, huh? Then when I looked at it and saw we’d been shortlisted, and it was to play on the main stage, It felt mad! I instantly messaged the lads and we all got hyped up and knew we had to win this.

I’ve actually been away from playing music for a few months due to illness, but seeing that I still had so much support after all that time out was a feeling I simply can’t explain. The amount of shares, comments and people passing the link around was something I’m so grateful for.

Well I was one of the folks championing you – I hadn’t heard of you before the competition shortlist and now you’ve got a firm fan! What did you do when you found out you won and you’re playing the main stage? What went through your mind?

The first thing I did was ring my Mam hahaha! There was a day between the competition ending and them announcing the winner so I actually thought we didn’t get it as we’d heard nothing. I woke up the next day, opened my laptop and the first thing I saw was a picture of my face saying we had won and I went crazy. Great way to start a day!

Happy dances a hoy! What can festival goers expect from your set?

This is a massive opportunity to play in front of a lot of people who have highly likely never heard of me before so we have to put absolutely everything into it. We’ll be playing a mixture of full band & acoustic tunes, so something for everyone!

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Well I’m really looking forward to it and your set. Festivals are all about discovering new music and stepping outside of your comfort zone – is there anything on the festival line up that you think “I might go see/do that!”?

Lindisfarne has a tonne going on. Comedy, street art, even fire walking! I’m planning on making the most of it and catching as much of everything I can!

Who are your top three fellow musician ‘must sees’ at the festival…the line-up is a cracker this year so I know it’s hard to choose?!

The line-up really is amazing this year, so I’m going to avoid the obvious ones and plug some smaller musicians/friends haha!

  1. HATi. I’ve worked with HATi in the past and played alongside her, and she is an incredible songwriter and an amazing musician.
  2. C-Collective. C-Collective are so much fun and they put on an incredible show. You cannot miss them.
  3. Can I name a stage? Cause the MAH Stage has an incredible line up with some amazing local musicians, Sarah Connolly and Sleeptape to name a couple. It’s a stage everyone should 100% go and check out!

Have you played a festival before and/or are you a festival goer?

I’ve only ever played more local festivals which are a tonne of fun, but Lindisfarne will be my biggest to date. I used to work at music festivals too so I’ve been to most!

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Do you have any advice for fellow festival goers?

Yeah, come see us play! But really, just enjoy yourself. There’s so much going on at Lindisfarne so try to catch a bit of everything. Head over to the smaller stages every now and again, go see a bit of comedy, try something new like fire walking or yoga.

Forget what the weather may be, relax or get drunk, whichever you prefer, but pretty much just forget real life for the weekend and enjoy yourself.

Festivals are a total escape from life “good time2 bubble” – Festival drink of choice?

If its sunny get yourself a fruity cider, goes down perfectly!

Are you staying the full weekend? If so I hope you’re embracing the Viking theme and expect mega outfit! 

Sadly due to other commitments the band and I can’t stay the full weekend but we’re staying the full Friday! To be honest I wouldn’t make a very convincing Viking, I have a total baby face and I have tried but can’t grow a beard to save my life!

What’s next for you after Lindisfarne fest? Where can people keep in touch with you post Lindisfarne?

I only have one show lined up following Lindisfarne which sadly I cannot talk about yet! If you follow me on all my social media links then you’ll hear about it very soon:

facebook.com/anthonyvachermusic

Twitter @anthonyvacheruk

Instagram @anthonyvacher

Mainly though, I recently released an acoustic EP, and now we’re planning on recording a lot more music in the very near future so keep your eyes peeled for that too!

𝘽𝙞𝙩𝙚 𝙢𝙮 𝙏𝙤𝙣𝙜𝙪𝙚 is out NOW on all streaming services.

Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2KiMq9o

Apple: https://apple.co/2YSydba

Physical edition: http://bit.ly/2YQxNSB

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Well thank you Anthony, you’re totally mega! Absolute pleasure to see and meet an upcoming musician – I’m excited to see what he does next!

Tickets for Lindisfarne down to the final few hundred so nab them quickly….. http://www.lindisfarnefestival.com

(#AD) Sundown Social -the new mini festival on the block.

So one of the wonderful things about being the Culture Vulture is that I have my ear to ground and seek out all the lush new happenings and stumbling across or finding a new event is one of my favourite things – I have a serious constant case of FOMO.

And if this was a superhero movie, I’d class this chapter as “the rise of the independents!” The event and festival sector is extremely dominated in the region by big corporates or same old same old and I don’t know about you lot, but I’m hungry for more, things that are a bit special and new. Independent event organisers and commissioners are nailing it at the moment –putting on lush events, with a community heart that focuses on audiences having a great time and are able to experiment, take risks, be bold with their programming. I’m loving watching independents thrive.

I’ve had my eye on Saltwell Park for some time….. I’ve lived at the top of it for 30 years and it just screams potential.. I’ve had three ambitions for Saltwell Park as The Culture Vulture – I wanted festivals, I wanted outdoor theatre and I wanted a Silent Disco. My silent disco ambition has become a bit of a joke across my networks as I’m always banging on about it – but going off Beccy Owen’s success and their beach silent disco – I’m happy that other folks are finally buying into how mint it is! So how excited was I when I heard Third Space events (an amazing independent events company) was building on the smash hit successes of their Gateshead food markets and launching Sundown Social on 27th July – an outdoor event with a festival vibe AND a silent disco. And to use Meatloaf’s song title…. two out of three ain’t bad!

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Thirdspace are doing fantastic things and they are certainly ones to watch – their food markets are full of folks who really “get” their events, food traders who love being a part of them (this is not an easy task believe me!), audiences who return month after month and people just having a bliddy good time. It takes a long time to establish an event and A LOT of hard work has gone into things – so hats off to them…..they were on my list for some Culture Vulture love!

Visit their Low Fell Food Market facebook page to see other events they’ve run!

A head of the launch of Sundown Social THIS Saturday in Saltwell Park (Tickets and more info available HERE) – I thought I’d sit down with them for a weeee interview to find out more about the event, what to expect, why tickets are must have and what’s next!

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Of course, sitting down with me a few days before a new event…perfect Culture Vulture timing (haha!). So tell my readers who you are and what you do?

We are Liz and Sally from Third Space Events; a 3 year old events company which specialises in pairing up interesting, beautiful or underused spaces with high quality events. We each have an MA in Event Management along with a total of 15 years’ experience in events, exhibitions and hospitality between us. So it’s fair to say we LOVE events and creating memorable experiences. We are also friends who go way back and share a passion for good food, the outdoors and making the most the time we have with our nearest and dearest.

Well I can’t think of a more underused space than Saltwell Park’s Grove and all the best friendships are formed over food…..What is Sundown social?

A chilled out gathering in beautiful surroundings with a fun, festival vibe – that’s it in a nutshell! The first one is on Saturday 27th July – this weekend. We like to think of it as an exclusive party in the park where you can sip a craft gin or beer under the trees, be entertained by a host of pop up performances and have a bite to eat from some of the regions’ best street food stalls.

We’ve got two slots – one is 4.30pm – 7pm and is family friendly (adults £4.50 & Children £3) and then a more adult session 7.30pm -10pm (Adults £4.50 & Children £4.50). Babies under two are free but need a ticket.

Who should go to Sundown social?

For all! We’ve split the event into two and packed a lot into both. The afternoon session has more of a family vibe with activities such as a play bus and free kids yoga, dance and storytelling sessions. When the kids have run off enough steam the adults can sit back and enjoy a summer tipple along with the finest regional street food. The evening session is more for adults, so people can take full advantage of the food, wine tasting, holistic treatments, amazing local ales and fizz whilst enjoy amazing live musicians, comedians and of course our silent disco.

Why did you pick Saltwell Park for this event?

Because we love it! It’s leafy, lush and green. Add some live entertainment, street food and folk kicking back and relaxing whilst enjoying a cool drink – well you’ve got the best beer garden in the North East!

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As you know, I’m allllll about the food. My Buddha belly is a testament to that….so come on, what food traders have you got?

Well – not only will we be delighting the senses with live music and performances we’ll also have your foodie favourites to feast on. Folk can choose from freshly cooked wood fired pizzas from Noshbox Pizza, Catalinas Newcastle with their flavoursome topdog kebabs and bruschetta, loaded fries and tasty wraps from Hatch76, Acropolis Street Food with the best gyros in the North East, delicious rolled naan with your choice of tasty curry from CurryRolls and Churros Barcelona will be serving up their dangerously delicious fried treats drizzled in chocolate!

Mama Horts LOVES Churros… I shall alert her. I’ve got friends with minis who want to come…what’s there for families?

We’ve got this covered in the afternoon session. As well as the street food and free live entertainment, there is free activities with yoga, dance and storytelling. We also have a play bus and for just £1.50 for your child to climb, slide and play in the ball pool! We also have the amazing Kay Ella who’ll be adding a bit of extra sparkle to the event with her glitter creations.

I’ve got a troop of my child free pals coming…. What is there for them? I’ve heard rumours of a Silent Disco (literally screamed with excitement and hope Britney is on repeat) and my pal Si Beckwith providing some funnies!

If you’re pals are planning to come to sessions 2 then we’d fully expect to see them dancing the evening away with our Silent Disco. We’ll be keeping it old school with hits from the 70s, 80s and 90s – so we recommend your pals to wear these dancing shoes!

The evening will also feature amazing live acts with Duke – Duo – acoustic music, Matt Grant and comedians Si Beckwith and Andrew Flood from Off The Wall Comedy.

They won’t be going thirsty either with regional ales from Black Storm Brewery, fizz on tap with Fizz On The Tyne and a great selection of gins, lagers and wine with The Tipsy Trailer.

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Mama Horts is coming with me and she loves all your events – which is high praise indeed…. What is there for Mama Horts and her pals?

We know Mama Horts is a lady of refinement so a spot of wine tasting with Laneberg Wine Ltd would be right up her street – you can book onto a slot via this link or at the event. Gateshead’s first and only Urban Winery, Laneberg Wine Ltd invites you to a night of wine tasting like no other! Head Winemaker Elise Lane will guide you through their very first vintage made here in the North East, sampling four fantastic 2018 English wines, explaining how each wine was made and giving you the chance to taste.

Or if Mama Horts is after a bit of pampering then she should head over the our Holistic Treatment tent which includes Indian Head Massage and Organic Facial Treatment with Neal’s Yard.

I’m obsessed at outdoor events – at being head to toe covered in glitter….my boyfriend has embraced this by getting involved too….i need glitter deets?

Who isn’t?! We love a bit of sparkle! Expert in all that shines and glimmers Kay’Ella will be at Sundown Social creating that glasto vibe with glitter face and body creators.  We love Kay’Ella because all her products are water based, biodegradable and alcohol free so everyone can be part of her fabulous festival services.

Why are you so passionate about championing and supporting North East (and often Gateshead based) independents?

As we’ve said, we both live in Gateshead so what can be better than supporting your home town by hosting a range of events. Keeping it local is always part of how we operate. From the food, to the drink, to the live entertainment – Sundown Social, like all our events, showcases the melting pot of creativity and hard-working small independent businesses we have here in the North East.

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Blackstorm Brewery

Why do you think people are really buzzing about Sundown social and that tickets have been flying?

Hopefully we’re adding something different into the mix of fabulous events that are offered in Gateshead and the region already. For us the setting of Saltwell Park for this kind of event could not be any better. We can’t wait to welcome everyone in the event on Saturday 27 July and to have a well earned drink (or two) when it’s finished.

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Sum up the event in 3 words

Chilled, feel-good, fun

Is there going to be more Sundown socials?

The next Sundown Social lined up is Friday 23rd August. Stay tuned for announcements about that! Next year, as well as Saltwell Park, you will be able to find us at some new exciting venues and locations across the region.

P.S. For any of you festival loving couples who are looking for an alternative wedding, give us a shout as we offer individually curated Sundown Socials for your special day. How exciting!

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If I was going to get married, I’d want an outdoor festival vibe! You’ve certainly tapped into something there….and we’ve got some collaborating to do in 2020 haven’t we!? I’m super excited for Saturday and to see how this grows and grows.

Well you will find me down at Sundown Social on Saturday as The Culture Vulture with my gal Marion in tow – so if you’re around and coming along– make sure to say hello!

Tickets for Sundown social are available here!

Disclosure : I have not been paid to write this post but I have been given comp tickets to the event and doing a social media take over on the second second.

Make & Mend Festival 2019; A feast & a festival for creatives, crafters & makers…

Well the festival season is fully upon us now and I don’t know about you, but I’m SUPER excited. There are festivals out there to tickle everyone’s fancy; food, music, film, South Asian arts, LGBTQ+, design and even craft!

Make & Mend festival is a one day festival on 7th July at Preston Park in Stockton all about celebrating colour and championing creativity – it’s a day in which you can take the whole day just for you to have a go at different crafts during workshops and take part in Big Makes, watch demos, meet fellow makers, buy creative product lushness from independents and just absorb the creative atmosphere. It’s also a day which invests into wellbeing – so there are wellbeing talks with experts (in this busy world, we all need a bit of advice and empowerment to help us be our best selves), yoga sessions, time to explore the grounds of Preston Park and lush foodie options to purchase through-out the day to keep that creative fuel high!

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Tickets are flying now with their only being one week to go and some workshop slot are sold out and others about to….but there is still time to get your ticket (Starting price £10). Visit website for tickets and here to check out the line up on the day to whet your creative appetite!

I heard about Make & Mend festival last year – I didn’t go and I had a SERIOUS cause of FOMO. One of those events, that everyone who went and everyone who took part in it, raved about and the festival decorations were so innovative – insta worthy x a million. If you’re like me, well you’ll hate missing out too. So this year, when I heard it was happening again, whilst chatting to fellow creatives at Thought Foundation, again everyone was raving about it and how excited they were and I vowed to go!

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Well low and behold – how buzzing was I when Rachel and Lyndsey, the imaginers behind the whole festival got in touch and invited me along on the day to do some live social media taking over their channels to chart the event and all the happenings. One of the things, I always said when I started out with Culture Vulture, was that I’d only work with and champion things that were part of the culture vulture ethos and after chatting to Rachel and Lyndsey, I can confirm they are fearless good eggs with big ambitions for this festival…..

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As that has become tradition on this blog – well I thought I’d catch up with them and interview them to tease out from their perspective why Make & Mend festival is the craft festival you’ve been waiting for and to give the full low down….

So over to Rachel and Lyndsey….

Right let’s start at the beginning…..who are you?

Rachel – We are Make & Mend Company, two friends Rachel & Lyndsey who wanted to set up in business together after redundancy from our day jobs. We combined our passions for making and well being to create a company that celebrates the positive benefits making and in particular sewing can have on your mental health.

The Culture Vulture – As a passionate advocate in the mental health agenda, that sounds right up my street. I advocate the power of drama and writing and you sewing…..basically being creative and having creative opportunities are essential to a balanced happy mind!

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So tell me about the festival?

Lyndsey – We have a strong belief that making is good for the soul and the festival basically shares this passion. It will be a fantastic day filled with lots of creative opportunities, in a relaxing environment with other like-minded craft addicts – what’s not to love?!

A fun day of colour, character, positivity and wellbeing and we hope people will leave feeling inspired and rejuvenated. There will be the opportunity to enjoy workshops ranging from embroidery to aromatherapy; floral watercolour to bookbinding. There will be artist demos in weaving, letter press and printing from expert makers. We are offering inspiring talks from wellbeing experts which will give you tips on how to integrate more positivity and self-care into your life. There will also be yoga classes where you can unwind for a while and a maker marketplace where you can buy some beautiful handmade products and supplies from some fantastic local makers and artists.

The festival is basically an opportunity to take some time out in beautiful surroundings, relax and unleash your creative spirit!

The Culture Vulture – I’m a firm believer that everyone has a creative spirit bursting to get out!

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Tickets have slightly changed this year from last….tell me about the ticket options available?

So this year we have a few different ticket options;

  • Entry only which gives you access to the full festival site, drop in workshops, craft demos, makers market, talks from well-being experts and access to the well-being garden area for delicious food and relaxing in the sunshine!
  • Then you have the option to add 1 hour workshops into your day with our team of expert crafters making something to take away and learning a new skill and the ticket options include entry +1 workshop, entry +2 workshops and entry +3 workshops (which is our best value ticket).

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Why are crafting and creative opportunities so important?

Lyndsey – We set up Make & Mend because we recognised the importance that craft and creativity has on improving our well-being and we wanted to share this with the world! For us, crafting is a way to relax and unwind; we find it very therapeutic and it is our way of switching off. Everyone is creative (whether they believe it or not!) and doing something creative regularly is a way of exploring your individuality and expressing yourself, giving you freedom to explore new ideas. It’s also a great antidote to sitting at a computer or being on your phone – there’s nothing better than creating something beautiful by hand!

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Advice to someone who has never crafted before but fancies coming along to the festival?

Rachel- Just get started! There can be a real fear that ‘I’m not arty’ or ‘I can’t draw’ but guess what neither can I! It is as much about enjoying the process as it is the end result plus there are so many brilliant crafts out there, that if you don’t get along with one, then just try another! Buying a kit is a great way to try a craft without having to spend a lot on buying materials and equipment.

The Culture Vulture – Oh gosh – I hear you. I was told all through school I was “bad at art” meaning I couldn’t draw…but I’m actually one of the most creative people I know…. I just REALLY can’t draw!

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If you used to craft all the time, but you’ve just got out of the habit or stopped having the time – what’s your advice?

Lyndsey – Same as above – just do it! Start somewhere – it doesn’t matter what the outcome is; it’s about developing confidence again and getting back into the habit. I think we sometimes put high expectations on ourselves about the outcome which can take the joy out of something, but it’s just about enjoying the process and seeing where it takes you. And if it all goes wrong, who cares?

The Culture Vulture – I totally agree with you – I attended a Crafthood event many moons ago and made a red nose day pompom…..it went totally wrong and provided much hilarity for myself, my mum and the gals from the Crafthood, but actually I had such a good evening and loved having a go at something new. Also Sebastian loves chasing it around my kitchen to this day, so everyone was a winner!

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Favourite type of craft?

Rachel – My favourites are all things textile, love a bit of needle felt to stab the stress away, plus embroidery of course!

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Why do you think crafting has come back into fashion?

Lyndsey – It’s great that things seem to have come full circle and there is such an interest in craft again. I think people have realised how beneficial it is to our wellbeing in terms of it being a way to relax. It’s also an anti-device activity! We spend so much time on our phones and on technology that I think people are craving something practical that they can do with their hands. Obviously the interest in sustainability and recycling has had a big impact as people are seeing the value in making and mending again.

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What gave you the inspo for the festival last year?

We run smaller workshops and really enjoyed sharing our ethos with more people and figured why not do something a bit bigger. Our backgrounds are in event management and outdoor festivals so it seemed like an obvious next step. Plus we couldn’t find anything nearby to go to ourselves and it felt like a good time to start celebrating making again!

The Culture Vulture – They say not to put on events for yourself, but actually I’m same, when I see there isn’t something out there that matches what I want, it usually signifies a gap and opportunity!

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So, this is year two for the festival, tell me what’s new for this year?

Lyndsey – We have new workshops such as macramé, bookbinding, printing, aromatherapy, origami and floral wreath making. Our artist demos are also new – opportunities for people to watch the experts and learn a new skill. We also have an artist in residence this year – Raquel Rodrigo who creates beautiful large-scale cross stitch installations. She will be creating something special for us this year at the festival and will be holding workshops where people can get involved and learn more about her techniques.

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One of Raquel Rodrigo’s pieces on a building in Barcelona

Many of last year’s visitors raved about the decorations – where did you get the inspo for them?

Rachel – It’s really all about the colour for us, anything bright and colourful we love! It always starts with a Pinterest board and looking for inspiration online, we create everything ourselves as we are working to a really small budget so we keep it simple and luckily we have a beautiful venue which helps!

The Culture Vulture – The best decorations are done on a budget, it gives the opportunity to get REALLY creative…I LOVED the umbrellas from last year- they are so simple an idea, but yet I’ve never seen it before and it just looked amazing!

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How did you select your list of workshops/facilitators for this year?

Lyndsey – We look at crafting trends and integrate what is current – for example, macramé is hot at the moment! We spend a lot of time researching local artists and finding out what skills are available locally. We always try and keep to local artists where we can.

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An embroidery hoop design you can have a go at one the day with Make & Mend Co

For the more avid crafter, what’s unique about this event?

Rachel – I think it is the range of different workshops on offer and they are such a high quality; we have selected the best makers we can find to teach the workshops so there is bound to be a new craft to learn.

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If YOU were attending as a punter – what activity or workshop would you be most excited about doing yourselves?

If I was coming I would be desperate to make a macramé pot hanger, an origami lampshade and I would love to make a floral wreath (sorry that’s three!). Also really interested in learning more about aromatherapy and the benefits of essential oils.

The Culture Vulture – I have seen the macramé pot hanger and I’ve seen it modelled with a bottle of prosecco in which obviously spiked my interest….crafty, lush AND functional for my Friday feeling vibe…I want to have a go at macramé too!

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You’ve united crafting, making and mindfulness and well-being together….why did you make this connection?

Rachel – I guess the connection has always been there for me, in stressful times I have always turned to sewing to help me, same as some people go running, do gardening or cook. It was always my way to relax and switch off so making people more aware of the mindful benefits of sewing was always something I wanted highlight – that’s why in our embroidery kits we give instructions on how to sew but also on how to appreciate the process and make it a mindful experience.

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To a complete creative nut slash workaholic like myself, I’m actually the most super excited about the talks…can you tell me a bit about them and how you curated them?

Lyndsey – We’re super excited about the talks programme too! We have huge interest in self-care and improving our wellbeing and think that these talks will offer lots of valuable tips which people can integrate into their everyday lives.

We’re wellbeing addicts and are always buying books and attending courses as it has made such a huge different to our lives and helping us to adopt a more positive and resilient attitude. We have been really inspired by our speakers – we either follow them on Instagram, have done their courses or read their articles. We think the topics they will be covering can really make a difference in terms of supporting people to look after themselves and improving their mind-set.

The Culture Vulture – One of the things that I’m learning as The Culture Vulture, is that barriers exist, stopping people being creative or jumping at opportunities – the whole, not having time, feeling guilty for taking time out, lacking in confidence at trying something new etc – so I think with your talks, you’re hitting the nail on the head. I’m really looking forward to live tweeting them!

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What do you want people to take away from the festival?

Rachel – We want them to have fun, make something, relax, meet new people, enjoy a little time for themselves and leave feeling inspired to try and include a little more making in their lives!

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Well there you have it – a colourful day with a festival vibe of making, creating and taking time out for yourself awaits at Make & Mend Festival on 7th July at Preston Park in Stockton. Tickets are still available but they are selling really quickly now with one week to go, so don’t be like me and spend the rest of the year with FOMO, get your ticket now!

And if you’ve already got your ticket – then YASSSS- make sure to use #makemendfest on the day so I can spy on your creative shenanigans.

(Credit given for the majority of photos used above to Clare Bowes Photography)

Thoughtful Night Market Winter 18

There is still something for me about a Saturday night….I struggle to stay in (not a Saturday night TV fan) and yet, the call of Saturday nightclubs are long gone! But I still crave to get out and about on a Saturday night! I love going to different things on a Saturday night that still have an evening vibe and a bit different. This Saturday night I’m hitting up Thought Foundation in Birtley Gateshead for The Thoughtful Night Market Winter 18 edition!

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If you’ve been along before – you’ll know how magical and lush this event is (this one’s even bigger and better!) – but if you haven’t, then it’s a must for this Saturday evening! Go along, go as a troop and I’ll be lurking there.

I thought I’d take some time out from what has been an insane week of Culture Vulture work so far to catch up with my faves The Crafthood who present this event with Thought Foundation!

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Well hello lovelies…right so tell my fellow Culture Vultures who you are and what you do?

We are The Crafthood; a North East based modern craft company. We are a female duo; Kay & Sharon and we deliver contemporary craft workshops and events as well as designing and producing a range of products.

(Visit their website to see all their lushness in all it’s glory and their Instagram game is pretty good too! http://www.thecrafthood.co.uk)

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Now onto what we are here to hear about….tell everyone about the Thoughtful Night Market!

The Thoughtful Night Market is a collaborative project with the wonderful Thought Foundation. First held in November 2017, we set out to create a ‘market’ that was experiential and engaging with a focus on the provenance, ethics and ethos of the businesses that were selling.

We wanted attendees to come along and have a great night out… for it to be a pleasure away from the hustle of the high street with a great atmosphere; music, great food and a programme of workshops on offer. We also wanted to support and showcase amazing local small creative businesses – at an event they enjoy and are also happy to be part of. We really wanted to champion the #shopindie movement and encourage guests to see the lovely range of unique goodies and talent that is out there. This is the third event and each time round we learn and build something new into it.

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Crafthood Baubles

So tomorrow evening; what can people expect when they visit the Thoughtful Night Market?

There are 2 goody bag drops – for the first 25 through the door at both 5pm or 7:30pm so if you are lucky you may receive one of these bags of treasure made up of a selection of goodies from our stall holders.

Once through the door they can beat the winter chill with some amazing food and drink from the super tasty brain food kitchen at Thought Foundation. There are a selection of creative workshops going on through the night from festive watercolour to chunky knitting to terrarium baubles (more on that later).  There will be live music throughout the evening from a singer that Leanne (Thought Foundation) found, the artist was busking on Northumberland Street at the time!

However, the main feature is of course, the beautiful stalls made up of 25 of the regions’ finest makers and creators alongside the Thought Foundation Shop, which is in constant residence. This is a chance to chat with and meet the makers and find out the story behind the items you choose. If you are a selfie fan then make sure you find the balloon backdrop from our event stylist Imaginarium Balloons – it’s the stuff of Instagram dreams. We hope you feel it is cosy and thoughtfully put together. Entry into the Thoughtful Night Market is £3.50 which includes a donation to our chosen charity Help Refugees – a double whammy of the feel-good factor.

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Crafthood product

You’ve mentioned workshops….what is available to take part in across the evening?

We have three workshops running across the night. Firstly, Festive Watercolour Gift tags with Katie Burns from Katie Burns Design House.  Katie will guide you through some simple contemporary watercolour mark making to create some unique festive gift tags.

Next up, we have Woolly Nana leading a chunky knit hand-woven scarf workshop.  In this workshop you will be provided with everything you need to start your very own chunky hand-woven scarf so no need for needles at all – revelation! Expert tuition will be provided by Woolly Nana and you will leave with your own cosy winter scarf and the skills to make more.

Finally, we have a workshop that is now sold out – Terrarium Bauble making – a little birdie tells us that this proved so popular Hoe’s & Ditches are running another at Thought Foundation on December 2nd.

All of these workshops are available to book onto in advance via Event Brite (all include cost of entry into the event).

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I’m passionate about purchasing all my Christmas gifts from independents this year…. So tell me more about the traders?

We have over 25 very varied traders with us on the night and have recently written a blog which details them all (along with a few of our other favourite North East indies) and have really tried to cover all bases so you’ll get something for everyone.

(Culture Vultures you can read the blog post here! )

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What about the live music? Can’t have a Saturday night without some music….

Along with the chance to participate in a creative workshop, we have live music from Megan Davidson. You can check her out before the event on spotify – we cannot wait to hear her on the night and Megan may even provide a little entertainment outside to people waiting to get in! It’s the third market of its kind and have found that people come along and help contribute to the atmosphere and banter so whether you come with friends, partners or family; it’s a great chance to get Christmas ready in a chilled out way.

How did this collaboration with Thought Foundation come about?

We connected with Thought Foundation as soon as we heard about them. They appealed to us so much because of the ethos behind their brand; Thoughtfulness, Kindness and Creativity – so much positivity!! In the very first meeting we had with Leanne (Thought Foundation co-founder) we discussed having a market in their space and around six months later the first Thoughtful Night Market was actually happening!  We were so worried that nobody would turn up but had almost 300 people through the door and a queue to get in!!

Thought Foundation are a dream team to work with and having similar values means that the event has a strong identity that we are continuing to build. We love working with them! They are so pro-active and have so many ideas, that they are both a joy and inspiration to be around.

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Leanne and Gareth – Team Thought Foundation!

This is a silly question – because Thought Foundation is just a lush unique space – but I’m going to ask it anyway! Why did you pick Thought Foundation as a venue?

For anyone who hasn’t been to Thought Foundation then we always urge people to check it out. It is in Birtley, Gateshead and we LOVE the fact that a creative arts space and is thriving in this area.  The space is an ideal market venue as all traders are in the same area allowing for a unique atmosphere.  Thought Foundation already has a beautiful and eclectic shop (which is like having another beautiful stall in the place).  It is easy to get to being on a major bus route from both Durham and Newcastle and there is parking around the venue.  Thought Foundation epitomises everything the market stands for and is a unique blend of creativity, energy, warmth and thoughtfulness so it’s how could we not?!

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Thought Foundation

You’ve piqued my interest when you mention goody bags…. Tell us more!

The goody bags are EPIC. We ask every trader to provide a small number of items that are then distributed across the bags.  Traders are unbelievably generous and so the goody bags are not just full of flyers/business cards but host a range of beautiful bespoke goodies.  We have already made up the goody bags this year and yet again have been blown away by what we have been able to put in them! Think gin, jewellery, greetings cards, baubles – we are not surprised that people queue round the block to get their hands on them.  Each bag is hand lettered by us too.

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You had me a gin….Now this is a good question and something we all collectively champion….Why is it important to buy from independents at Christmas/In general?

Shopping from local independents feels good; not only will the individual maker be truly grateful that you have chosen them (and do a happy dance with each sale!!), you are also supporting the local economy and creative sector. When you buy independent, like at the Thoughtful Night Market, you will get the unique opportunity of being able to chat to the maker and ask questions that they can easily and happily answer.  They will often go the extra mile; for example by offering a beautifully packaged purchased or arranging to make something to your requirements. In buying independent, you are investing in the maker and contributing to developing a local talent helping to secure vibrant and diverse gift options. You are also securing a unique item that cannot be purchased widely on the high street – perfect for anyone wanting the wow factor.

We are passionate supporters of the movement towards ‘consciously consuming’ – shopping thoughtfully, investing in great quality items that are well crafted using quality resources by makers who know their supply chain. We have consistently found that small creative businesses often have ethical making and creating at their core.

Shopping indie is just all round more colourful and joyful than the alternative! Please do support what independents you can even if it is #just a card.

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Couldn’t agree with you more ladies! Right….Culture Vultures The Thoughtful Nightmare is just a lush and different way to spend a Saturday night. I’m itching to see what’s on offer and will be doing some live social media during the event as The Culture Vulture. I will share my haul of goodies purchased from all the lush stall holders too…..

And of course – look up The Crafthood for all their lush work! http://www.thecrafthood.co.uk