Mays great reason to do business in the North East celebrates our vibrant and culturally rich places. Fraser Anderson, director of external relations and strategic development at Sage Gateshead, discusses the importance of NewcastleGatesheads iconic imagery, our cultural organisations like Sage Gateshead, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Durham Cathedral and the wide variety of art, cultural and heritage experiences available in the North East.
The decision to live and work somewhere is not just about salary expectations, tax rates and house prices. These are of course important, but we also all want to feel part of somewhere– whether that’s a city, region, town or village. We know this because it has always been true. And culture is at the heart of this.
The cultural offer in NewcastleGateshead is rich and diverse, and it is a major draw for both visitors and those relocating from somewhere else. Before lockdown NewcastleGateshead’s major cultural venues attracted nearly 700,000 visitors. A thriving cultural life signals well-being, vitality and urban renewal. We know what this looks like when we see it. And the North East has it.
Making a creative, vibrant and culturally rich place involves lots of different things happening in lots of different places. It’s young people having access to music lessons, families being able to attend events, and artists being supported to fill communities with creativity. Admittedly this has all taken a knock during the pandemic, but here in the North East we’re working towards everyone being included in the creative life of the region.
But if you need a more tangible illustration still of what the region has to offer, look no further than NewcastleGateshead Quays. Born from a belief in the positive social and cultural impact of the arts on communities, Sage Gateshead and its riverfront cousin BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art have helped spark a culture-led regeneration. It’s been amazingly successful, with Sage Gateshead alone generating around £500m for the region since opening. But you don’t need facts and figures, just look – new housing and hospitality, spurred on by these cultural draws, sits happily around the quayside. People interact in these spaces and socialise around them with visible pleasure. I can think of few post-industrial urban riverfronts that have reinvented themselves so successfully.
The North East is not just NewcastleGateshead and it is beguilingly unique. It has a distinctive personality, which is of course is created by its people, their history and their context. Some of it is well-known worldwide; some of it might surprise. It’s no secret the region is football mad, but on Tyneside’s beaches there’s also a thriving surfing community. And those beaches – mile upon mile - all along the North East’s coasts are amazing.
The bridges that dominate postcards and promotional images of Tyneside are iconic, but so are the wider cityscapes. The Twentieth Century’s leading architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described the neoclassical sweep of Grey Street as one of the finest streets in England; Durham Cathedral as one of the great architectural experiences of Europe. Bill Bryson calls it the best cathedral on Earth.
Sport. Architecture. Countryside and coast. They are not what we might group together in the ‘arts’ but are part of a broader cultural offering in the North East. They bring us together and create special shared experiences. They shape us and the quality of our lives. It would be naïve to suggest these things can be accessed equally, across all sections of society, and there’s more work to do to connect everyone to culture.
Sage Gateshead, like others, has its own role to play here. The organisation was created as part of a movement to help drive social and economic regeneration through making world-class live music available in a world-class venue whilst also fostering individual musical creativity in schools, community halls and homes across the North East.
But now the pandemic has brought challenges to every area of cultural life. The arts have been hugely affected, with several impact studies showing it’s been substantially harder hit than even hospitality. We can’t take our artists and arts organisations for granted, and we need to support them to recover – without this many will continue to struggle next year, and this means financial support is needed. The arts and culture are an extension and provocation to our very humanity. We should aim to create a society where this richness can be experienced by us all, in the North East and across the country.
Of course, the government has a role to play – Culture Recovery Fund and Lottery support being two brilliant, important examples in the context of the North East. But we also need our regional financial success stories to support culture: after all, it is in everyone’s interest that our communities are happy and productive.
In April Sage Gateshead was thrilled that Dame Margaret Barbour and The Barbour Foundation awarded our organisation a gift of £1m to help with recovery and to encourage others to support the arts in the region. This donation is an extraordinary gift from a leading businesswoman who understands the value of our cultural life.
It’s great here, but there’s more to do - let’s not run the risk of reversing decades of incremental progress. And if you haven’t yet, come and see it all for yourself, now that you can.
Fraser is a Director at Sage Gateshead and one of those lucky enough to have relocated to the North East.