Plans for Great Exhibition of the North taking shape

Caroline Parry, Issue 117/02, p11, 01.02.2017
Newcastle-Gateshead initiative seeks creative producers and calls on museums and galleries to suggest content for the exhibition programme. Caroline Parry reports
Plans for Newcastle-Gateshead’s Great Exhibition of the North in 2018 got under way in earnest last month with organisers poised to make a series of key appointments.

The team, led by destination marketing agency NewcastleGateshead Initiative, is close to recruiting a creative producer to lead the overall direction of the £5m exhibition programme, which will run from June to September.

Organisers are also recruiting a creative producer for the hub exhibition, to be held at the Great North Museum: Hancock, and a core team to help deliver the wider project, including an opening event. A brief is being developed to create a visual identity for the overall exhibition.

A call for proposals on possible content from museums, galleries and other organisations from across the north of England was due to go out at the end of January.

It is hoped announcements on key content can be made in the autumn.

Three walking tours, focusing on innovation, arts and design, will spread out from the Great North Museum: Hancock.

The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and Sage Gateshead live music venue will create an exhibition hub focusing on invention on the south bank of the Tyne.

New commissions

Other plans include new artistic, creative and scientific commissions, which will be chosen from across the region. There will also be a summer camp for families at Exhibition Park, and a learning programme.

All aspects of the exhibition will be free to visitors.

Carol Bell, the culture and major events director at NewcastleGateshead Initiative, says: “We want the exhibition to be inclusive, as well as challenging and provoking. We want people to have a great time while learning new things about the north and what it’s achieved and is still doing.”

She says “advanced conversations” with the Science Museum are taking place about bringing Stephenson’s Rocket, the early steam locomotive, back to its birthplace. It is hoped it will appear as part of the “innovation route”, which will run to the west of the city.

Bell says the team has had lots of support from the wider museum and galleries sector, in terms of potential loans for the exhibition.

Iain Watson, the director of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, a key bid partner, says initial plans for the exhibition at the Great North Museum: Hancock revolve around “creating disruption”.

He adds: “We want to put stunning objects in to interrupt what is already there to create a cooler and more contemplative space. We want amazing objects from the north, both historic and looking into the future.

It has always been a powerful region and we want to showcase that.”

Digital opportunities

Conversations have also started with organisations in other areas of the north of England about digital opportunities to help expand the exhibition’s reach outside of Newcastle-Gateshead.

“We think our work with other regions will mainly be through digital, but there is some potential for physical link-ups,” says Bell.

Alex Bird, the sector development officer at Museum Development North West, says he is keen to get as many small and independent museums and galleries involved as possible.

“There has been no formal sit down so far, but we are keen to get involved in whatever way we can,” he says. “We are open to doing as much as we can without diluting the message.”

The Newcastle-Gateshead team is also working on plans to match the £5m funding it will receive from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It is identifying possible sources, including corporate sponsors.

“Corporate sponsorship is a challenge in the north, but we hope to encourage it with this exhibition, and that it will continue into the future as part of the legacy,” says Bell.