Sunderland’s recent Summer Streets festival was cited as a success story in ambitious plans launched to change the face of North East arts and culture.
Two years after its inception, the North East Culture Partnership launched its 15-year plan to boost cultural activity in the region and attract investment.
Peterlee-born actress Gina McKee, Sunderland broadcaster Lauren Laverne and the chief executives of Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Fund were among those who spoke at the Case For Culture launch, held in Durham Castle.
The initiative will build upon programmes already in place, such as the Cultural Spring, which is staging a host of activities in hard-to-reach communities across the north of Sunderland and South Tyneside.
John Mowbray, co-chairman of the North East Culture Partnership, said: “To show how things have changed already in the last two years, I want to focus on Southwick, an area that’s been part of the Cultural Spring’s activities, an area where I went to school.
“Ten days ago I went to the Summer Streets festival, which attracted 2,000 people. It’s important because it’s an area which doesn’t usually have access to things like that. It’s not used to seeing performances there, or being part of it. That’s how I measure progress and the difference it makes in people’s lives.”
I remember seeing an A4 notice in a shoe shop window in Peterlee for a youth drama workshop, we didn’t know what it was, but with nothing better to do we went along and it was unexpectedly amazing.Gina McKee, actor
All twelve North East local authorities are supporting the Case for Culture, as well as arts and heritage groups, health and well-being groups, businesses, private sector representatives and the region’s five universities.
Manifesto aims include reaching an extra 500,000 people a year through arts participation across the region and to increase the £100m worth of investment already in the pipeline to at least £300m in the next five years.
Gina McKee said: “I remember seeing an A4 notice in a shoe shop window in Peterlee for a youth drama workshop. We didn’t know what it was, but with nothing better to do, we went along and it was unexpectedly amazing.
“Looking back, I can see that that decision to attend was deeply significant, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it changed my life. “Until then I had no idea I could make a living in the cultural industry. In Peterlee it wasn’t on our radar, it wasn’t our world, it was what other people did.”
The actor, who’s appeared in numerous films and TV productions including Our Friends in the North and Notting Hill, said in the current climate of austerity it was more important than ever to attract arts funding.
She said: “There are amazing communities in the North East filled with people with stories that need to be told, with talents that need to be widely celebrated.”
Darren Henley, chief executive of Arts Council England said: “The North East is very important to us at the Arts Council. The North East has a remarkable capacity for reinvention and this document underlines that.”
He added: “Last year the Arts Council invested £12.53 per head of population in the North East, the largest outside of London.”
Carole Souter, chief executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund, also spoke at the event and said: “The North East’s heritage has made it the wonderful place it is today to live and work. Thanks to National Lottery players, we’ve already invested over £340m into heritage projects, stretching from Northumberland to the Tees Valley. We are delighted to support the Case for Culture and hope it will boost investment in the region, helping make the North East a centre for growth, innovation and cultural development.”
The report identifies five key aims for the region including: to spread the benefits of arts and heritage further; to continue to innovate and broaden access to culture for children and young people; to attract and retain the very best cultural and creative talent; to continue to support economic growth and job creation; and to create a vibrant and distinctive region with an excellent quality of life.
The Case for Culture proposes that these aspirations will be achieved with:
•The continuation of the North East Culture Partnership (NECP), with a move towards a formally established organisation to provide a voice for the cultural sector in the North East;
•Working with central government and national bodies such as Arts Council England, Historic England, the Heritage Lottery Fund, local authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships and other partners to ensure the voice of the culture partnership is heard – on areas such as legislation, policy, practice and funding.
•Using investment in the region to lever further funds.
•Encouraging everyone working in the cultural sector to use the Case for Culture to make a case for investment in their plans and ambitions, to help achieve the five aspirations.