Spotlight: ‘Do we need to grow up’

A close up of a drawing. It is a diagram of names of artists and venues interconnected with lines. Black ink on white paper.

To coincide with their fifth birthday, the artist-led community space The Newbridge Project kicked off their birthday celebrations early by playing host to the two-day symposium; Do we need to grow up?

Chaired by Newcastle University’s David Butler, the discussion included contributions from other various creative spaces; together they explored the importance of repurposing empty building premises, and the achievement of turning them into thriving creative hubs.

The Newbridge Project itself started off from humble beginnings; located in the heart of Newcastle city centre it has provided quality affordable studio space to local artists since 2010. The space was established to help support artists in the early stages of their creative careers, and provide them with the opportunity to exhibit and develop their creative practice. Over the past five years The Newbridge Project has remained true to this ethos, which has allowed local artists to thrive in a critical and collaborative atmosphere. Nevertheless, the space has continuously evolved and has changed rapidly, morphing into an ever-expanding creative environment; as well as now housing eighty artist studios and one large exhibition space, it recently established an independent bookshop, which again has proved an astute addition to the space.

Yet contrary to their pioneering success, The Newbridge Project’s residency in their 29,000sqft office block is currently under review by the local council, with one very real, very ominous prospect, being that this wonderfully innovative art space could be replaced by a luxurious department store.

Precarious survival is an all too common plight for such avant-garde initiatives, so the symposium provided a brilliant opportunity for all involved to share ideas and concepts on sustainability, because although they may display comparable creative models, they all embrace very different funding aides.

Each of the guest speakers gave a short fifteen-minute introductory into the history of their spaces, and the successful growth in which they have gone through. This included presentations from Grand Union, Birmingham, Castlefield and Federations House, Manchester, Star and Shadow Cinema, Newcastle, East Street Arts, and lastly NAC foundation / Foundation B.a.d. Rotterdam. The audience too were invited to participate in discussions, with many reiterating a reoccurring theme during the event; which is how important and influential such creative spaces can be to the local community. It was a topic that was also explored by Rotterdam’s NAC foundation / Foundation B.a.d. who revealed that they use community outreach programmes to not only demonstrate their contribution to society and to justify their continued existence, but also warrant additional funding.

It was one of the many positive and inspirational ideas that were shared during this two-day event, where visionary art initiatives combined to demonstrate how important creative hubs are to society, and to celebrate their collective achievements for all to hear.

One can only hope that those who hold The Newbridge Project’s survival in their hands were listening.

Published 04.10.2015 by Rachel McDermott in Reviews

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