Tag Archives: a way out

Discovering Teessides Cultural Scene

Teesside has creativity and culture coming out of its ears. But it seems only a few people know about it. Just like many other great things happening in the region, it is hidden, underground and away from the main-stream. This is probably one of its greatest strengths but also its biggest weakness. The sector has this gritty grassroots edginess, a non-commercialised character and a group of passionate people connected to it, giving their all and usually living off less than a minimum wage just for the love of it. But these people are also often on their own, unknown, undiscovered, disconnected and disillusioned. Our artists live down dark alleys, in empty office blocks, in the back of old pubs or the corner of some quirky coffee shop.

Our artists live down dark alleys, in empty office blocks, in the back of old pubs or the corner of some quirky coffee shop.

Yes some of them make it to the what’s on guide of the Georgian Theatre or walls of Arc but for the most part they are hidden.

When I started my Teesside regeneration journey, I went first to the churches and then I went to the artists. I remember walking into a conversation in The Georgian Theatre organised by some cultural activists from Leeds. I was pleasantly surprised to find around 60 artists and cultural practitioners there, all passionate about our region, about culture and about creativity. For years they had been finding ways to exist and create and perform amongst the backdrop of recession, austerity and apathy.

I was excited about this underground world I had discovered and wanted to find a way to shine a light on it and to show them that Stockton loved them. I started a blog and social media movement called www.ilovestockton.me. Using on-line platforms, the idea was to celebrate the richness of our cultural and creative activities and get people talking about and engaging with it a little more. It began to take off; people started following us and liking and hashtagging us and a buzz began about our town. But in all honesty, there was too much to write about.

Currently there are so many activities happening that I could do with some help. Last month I discovered Keren & Bobbie, two Teesside Uni graduates students putting on art shows in unusual spaces. They’ve now opened up their own Gallery, ‘House of Blah Blah’ in Middlesbrough which launched its new exhibition last night. This month I met Laura from ‘Writers Block’ who supports writers to improve their craft and reconnected with Stephen Irving who is discovering new and emerging urban artists from around the region.


I know if the whole of Teesside gets behind our creatives, maybe we could really put these people and this place on the map. I’d like people to come with me on this journey of cultural discovery. Go visit an art gallery, book to see a play, buy some local art, take part in a poetry workshop. Use your facebook and twitter and instagram to big it up and maybe together we can make Teesside’s cultural light shine brighter.

What is in a name?

I remember in the early days of starting A Way Out, the charity I was a part of founding in 2002; we spent a long time working out what our name should be.  You see a name is important.  Without a name, you can’t register for a bank account, you can’t apply for funding, you can’t become a legal entity.  Your name is central to your brand, it becomes what you are known as, tells people who you are.  A Way Out was about providing a way out for women and young people from addiction, poverty and sexual exploitation; our name had to link to that.

It was also important in leading the charity to have the right “title”.  I needed my own name that gave me significance, a name or title that gets you through doors, gets funders or decision makers to meet you, gets you round tables, gets you invited to the right parties. Yes, there is a lot in a name. 

I didn’t realise when leaving A Way Out though, how difficult not having a name could be.  Ever since leaving A Way Out, people have wanted to know what I’m doing next.  I have started a new journey of place regeneration and community mobilisation, but for the moment, none of this is solid or formalised, it hasn’t got an agreed name and I haven’t got a title.  And that’s the problem.  You see, the world seems to want a solid thing, with a secure name.  It expects you to do something and to be something, and usually something of significance.  People want a nice neat box to put you in, something that says, “oh so that’s who you are” “so that’s what you do”. But without a name or a title, that is much more difficult. 

I am not sure if anyone heard my radio interview with John Foster last week.  You can listen on iplayer here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0217pwg for another few days I think (it’s 2 hrs in), but if anyone was listening, you will see how strongly this need for the tangible came across. “So what are you doing now?” was the question I was asked time and time again.  I tried to share about the journey I was on, the things I am getting involved with, the things that are capturing my heart, but he kept on questioning… “But what is it? What are you going to do next?” He wanted the solid. He wanted the box. And so in my interview, I gave him the something tangible that he was looking for.  I told him about my political hopes.  I had other beautiful stories I could have shared of communities coming together, local amenities being saved, festivals being planned, events being imagined, artists collaborating, movements beginning, ideas for area transformation being dreamed.  But instead, we talked about my journey into local politics.   I didn’t mind, I have lot’s to say on that subject too, but I found it interesting, that this was the path we took. 

All this, has now got me thinking though.  How far is the expectation to “be” and “do” something secure and significant, or to have a solid name or identity, actually affecting our society.  I wonder how many dreams are never dreamed or journeys never taken because the attachment to the solid is too strong or the expectation of the world around us, too great. I wonder how many people feel they are not good enough, because they are not doing enough, or being enough? 

I am really enjoying engaging more with artists at the moment, they seem to be the one group of people, who are finding an ability to stay in the “transient” and “fluid” spaces much longer than the rest of us, to create, to innovate, to imagine and to dream, without the expectation of going and being or doing something other than just being themselves.  I wonder what the world could look like, if a few more of us were allowed to live like this.  How many more new stories might emerge?  How many changes could we see, not just in society but in ourselves?  It’s an interesting question isn’t it but what are your thoughts? Are there expectations that are limiting us? Or is the solid and secure, the only way, really, in the end?