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We asked north east cultural leaders, what does the future hold?

Now is the time to support culture

Jane Robinson, Co-chair North East Culture Partnership and Dean of Engagement and Place at Newcastle University

The cultural sector makes a huge contribution to the region, not just economically, but also in terms of our sense of place, identity and our wider well-being.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact, with many organisations struggling to survive and individual livelihoods put at risk. At the same time, we have seen many examples of incredible ingenuity, creativity and generosity to adapt to the current restrictions and provide access to cultural experiences to everyone. The cultural sector will play a key role in our recovery – economically and socially, so we need to support it now.

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Recovery & Creativity

Jill Cole, Board Member of North East Culture Partnership and Director at Northern Heartlands

Throughout the long weeks of lockdown, creativity has been something of a light shining in the darkness: from socially distanced street parties to online choirs and from balcony opera to the rather glorious ‘Lockdown Les Mis’; across the world, we’ve been turning to arts, culture and creativity to keep us sane.

As we emerge from lockdown into another liminal realm of uncertainty, how can the sector continue to provide support and sustenance whilst seeking to re-invent its own economic models and business plans? It’s clear that for some time we probably won’t be measuring success in terms of numbers through the doors of our theatres, museums, galleries and arenas.

But what we do have (through initiatives such as the Great Place Scheme and Creative People and Places and through the remarkable outreach work that has been undertaken by many of our venues of late) is an understanding of place – the physical contexts into which people will be slowly emerging – and connection with the communities who inhabit those places.

We also have a small army of independent artists and organisations across the North East; people for whom ‘uncertainty’ is familiar territory but who trust in the creative process, embracing the unknown and making something – music, art, theatre, carnival – that was not there before.

No one is going to be rushing to travel far. No one is going to have much money. And many people will be dealing with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues as a result of the unnaturalness of lockdown and economic devastation.

But one of the things this crisis has demonstrated is the importance of immediate community and the uplifting feeling that creativity can engender.

We will be able to offer much to our communities on their doorsteps as we slowly start to recover – using artists to work locally and intimately with small numbers of people where they live. Helping to transform places and spaces, helping to ease the frustration of social distancing and gradually helping people to feel more human again.

And it’s worth reflecting that small amounts of investment for independent artists and for outreach programmes to work locally with small numbers of people will certainly chime with the NHS’s recent Strategy for Community Adult Mental Health and the rolling out of their strategic ‘Right Care, Right Place’ initiative.

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Looking to the future

Claire Malcolm, Board Member of North East Culture Partnership and CEO at New Writing North

The cultural organisations and artists of the North East have always played a leading role in shaping a vision for the region, building communities, creating our communal spirit and in bringing us together. We will need them to return to strength to help with the rebuilding that we will need to do – of our people and our region.

Although theatre and galleries will be closed for a while, they are all working hard to return their offers to the public. Meanwhile many are spearheading imaginative and innovative ways of engaging with audiences online in new ways.

The North East Culture Partnership has done a great deal to bring the sector together to think about the future and we will need to do this even more now.

Our New Narratives for the North East project will help to shape new thinking about the future of the region and position artists to play their part in imagining what will happen next.

Read more: Claire Malcolm discusses in more detail how New Writing North are looking to the future.

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Addressing the emotional impact

Ros Rigby, Case4Culture Chair, North East Culture Partnership

The region’s cultural sector across the arts and heritage is integral to the region’s sense of place, and in the past few decades has presented a positive image of post-industrial regeneration via a number of iconic projects.

It is now playing a key role in helping people deal with the emotional impact of lockdown.

Looking forward, the North East Culture Partnership is in a unique position to mobilise the whole sector to work closely with other regional bodies on a joint approach to recovery post-COVID-19 lockdown.

We can bring our experience in Arts and Health to support our population in dealing with the long-term impact of the crisis, highlight the work of our artists in interpreting and presenting their own and others’ experiences, and showcase the creative ways that the sector has exploited and extended the potential of digital technology to enable communication during this period.

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