The great North Museum Hancock will be one of the main hubs for the Great Exhibition of the North

Newcastle-Gateshead wins bid to host Great Exhibition of the North

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 11.10.2016
Museums to play key role in £5m exhibition programme
Newcastle-Gateshead has been announced as the host of the Great Exhibition of the North, seeing off rival bids from Blackpool, Bradford and Sheffield.

Designed to emulate the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, the exhibition will take place over the summer of 2018 and aims to showcase the creativity, culture and innovation of the north of England.

The UK government is contributing £5m to the exhibition and a further £15m towards a legacy fund to attract further cultural investment to northern England.

Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (Twam), a key bid partner, will feature prominently in the exhibition programme. The Great North Museum: Hancock will be one of three hubs that will act as anchor points for a wide range of exhibition activities, while Twam’s other museums will be included on three themed walking circuits focused on arts, design and innovation.

The culture secretary Karen Bradley on Newcastle-Gateshead's winning bid

The other two exhibition hubs will be located at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and the Sage Gateshead. The exhibition, which will run for 77 days, takes "the blazing world - the fires of invention" as its theme.

Plans for the event include a series of new artistic, creative and scientific commissions, a summer camp for families at Exhibition Park in Newcastle’s city centre, and an extensive learning programme. Virtual reality technology will be developed to enable access for those who can’t visit the exhibition sites. 

Twam’s director Iain Watson said the bid partners were “manic, ecstatic and excited” at the news that Newcastle-Gateshead had been awarded the exhibition.

“We knew we’d done an excellent bid but we didn’t know how well the others had done – there was some really strong competition. Our bid brings together the cultural, business and the university sectors in a really integrated way – there’s a real sense of connectedness and I think that’s why it succeeded.”

Watson said that Twam’s pioneering work on the concept of a “dispersed exhibition” – the model for the Great Exhibition of the North - may also have worked in the bid’s favour. “The ‘dispersed exhibition’ model is something we’ve been doing for a while with the National Portrait Gallery, and that work has been quite influential,” he said.

Twam and the other bid partners, which include the Baltic, Sage Gateshead, the North East Culture Partnership and the NewcastleGateshead Initiative, are now looking to work with organisations from across the north of England to develop the exhibition programme.

England's culture secretary Karen Bradley said: “This cultural investment will bring enormous benefits to the region, including regeneration, increased tourism and cultural engagement. Congratulations to Newcastle-Gateshead on their successful bid - I’m excited to see what summer 2018 will bring.”

The Great Exhibition of the North was a key plank of the former chancellor George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse project, which aimed to devolve power and transform northern cities into a worldwide hub for technology and innovation. In spite of uncertainty over the project's future following the post-Brexit change in leadership, ministers have said the new administration remains committed to it.