Saturday, July 31, 2010


Much consternation over news of impending cuts in arts spending in the north east. The local press has details here.

Sadly, these cuts are to fall on organisations which have grown up under an enlightened view of the role of cultural activities in creating a setting for other ventures and investments. The Lower Ouseburn is a case in point. Following decades of dereliction and neglect – so-much-so few locals even realised where it was – the Lower Ouseburn attracted attention from artists and performers looking for an affordable base. It was ever thus; or, at least, since the turn of the century. Staithes on the Yorkshire coast, one of the most attractive fishing villages in the U.K. and a tourist magnet, was far from anything of the sort when Laura Knight went to live there. In her autobiography Knight describes a decrepit village terrorised by angry and suspicious drunks and incipient domestic violence. She and husband Harold were all but driven out. Similarly, other places now deemed idyllic were poverty traps which appealed to artists simply because they were cheap and no one else wanted to live in them.

Fast forward to the later twentieth century and suddenly the coffee bar and guitar culture takes off; Juliette Gréco makes the shapeless black sweater and 'Cleopatra' eye shadow de riguer and in no time everyone under thirty is dressing down like art students. Huge abandoned lofts in Lower Manhattan are taken over by the New York school culminating in Andy Warhol's (in)famous factory on Union Square near Greenwich Village.

Juliette Gréco - post war café lifestyle personified
Not long after artist film maker Derek Jarman joined with others to take space in old Thames side warehouses the property sharks saw the potential of 'loft living'. These early moves eventually led to the re-development of the huge and derelicit London Docks.

Unlikely entrepreneur: Derek Jarman (1942-94)

London Docks warehouses in the last century.
Abandoned by the 60s, these became studios and 
workshops until property developers moved in
and the creatives were moved out

Back in the States, artists and galleries moved on from 'The Village'. 'Tribeca' ('The TRIangle BElow CAnal street') was the once the home of meat packing amongst other operations and about as charmless as the industry it once supported. Quickly in the late 90s and early 00s it was a very 'hot' place to be and attracted widespread interest from artist's and 'culture vulture's' looking for cheaper rents. Actor Robert Di Nero was a seminal figure in this re-birth, helping to inaugurate the now internationally known Tribeca Film Festival amongst other ventures.

Tribeca, Manhattan, New York

The Tribeca Film Festival. A new and now very 
influential film festival based in what was the 
former meat packing district of Tribeca

It was unfortunate to say the least that these facts were lost on the chief executive of a government quango I met at a gathering in Newcastle to discuss urban renewal on Tyneside a few years ago. When asked by me to comment on the contribution of the arts to urban renewal this well fed friend of Tony & Gordon gave me an abrupt dismissal. He turned away and began a much more agreeable conversation with a like-minded and suited figure from the world of corporate investment. Shops and offices not artists was the order of his day.

I will be covering the astonishing decline of the 'shops & offices' sector soon, but in short there are rows of closed posh retail outlets in the city matched only by unoccupied offices, some brand new.

I hold to my own view that the art's are not a career except for administrator's and a very, very, few practitioners. Most artist's and performer's subsidise themselves and some have found ways to practice without receiving much if anything from the arts gravy train. This is actually very much in accord with history; the idea of being a paid artist would have struck many a household name as pipe dreaming. But as long as there are a few who feel it's their 'right' to receive financial support the money men in suits will make the rules.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Going, going

Gateshead's multi-storey car park is being demolished. The B.B.C. web site has a short (1 minute 18 seconds) video of the demolition together with interviews here.

Myself, I have to agree with architect Owen Luder who says on the tape "In ten years they will wonder why they knocked it down".

There is a post on this site devoted to the Gateshead multi-storey, famous for it's part in the seminal British gangster movie "Get Carter", here.

The Gateshead multi-storey car park will be replaced by a large Tesco super store. The video also features a short clip of Gateshead Councillor Mick Henry speaking on camera. Cllr. Henry is the brains behind such dazzling local initiatives as 'The Angel of the North' sculpture by Anthony Gormley and the Baltic Contemporary Art Gallery and the vast Sage concert hall along Gateshead's formerly run down quayside. In contrast over on the north bank of the Tyne, Newcastle's own forays into culture in recent decades have been disasterous. Twinning with 'poor relation' Gateshead has helped disguise this fact. The centre of Gateshead was largely destroyed in the construction of huge traffic interchanges in the 60s. From there it could only be up.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Summertime – and the something is something ..."

Up early – very! But what a delight it is on days like this. The street was quiet and the shadows long. A cool breeze blew when I looked outside. We have had some humid weather; much rain and warm nights.

Over on the 'Battlefield' the grass is newly mown. The Council's grass cutting teams are based conveniently nearby; little electric driven mowers, very agile and so noisy the drivers wear ear protectors. Wonder how they get on in traffic? Everything looked clean and green and so ..., well, verdant is the word.

Lush. A weed bed left uncut attracts numerous butterflies.

Lots of students have left town. The open space is almost deserted. A runner here, a dog walker there and a stroller like myself. From some angles one might be far from the city. Yet my anxiety over the strong possibility of loss and transformation of this precious space won't go away. But it is here now, all around me.

I said it before but ... We are under a mile from busy roads, a city and a mainline railway is feet away.

The children are outside in playtime, playground unseen behind a wall of vegetation, almost a school in the woods.

New accommodation block for Northumbria University.

I take a photograph of the nearly complete student housing block on Shieldfield. No sign of the larger development yet. Problems, I wonder? Universities are facing a tough time financially. The last two attempts to develop the old paint factory site foundered on questions of financial viability; over-supply of office space, then a collapse in the housing market followed one after the other. Student housing seemed a saviour two years ago. But today? Much student accommodation has been built in other places and a scheme on nearby New Bridge Street is proceeding quickly towards completion later this year. Maybe someone has had cold feet about the paint factory scheme? When will we learn? If Newcastle keeps up its fine old tradition, not until it's too late to do anything about it.

Cobbles. Once part of a back lane behind terraced homes demolished 
to make way for a new primary (junior) school nearby.

Here I met one of the nice people who work for Recyke y'Bike beside Byker rail bridge. He was road testing a handsome racing green tourer put back together with care. Their's is a work shop to behold; two railway arch 'caverns' filled with bikes of all descriptions waiting for another careful owner. We stand in the sunshine talking and enjoy the morning. That's what it is for.

Hidden highway. The mainline from London to Edinburgh, Scotland, 
runs alongside (left) the old back lane (beyond the bollards).

UPDATE 24th July

Link to Newcastle Journal article on Recyke y'Byke.