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  • Writer's pictureClaire Venus

A Timeline - 3 years of the Culture Northumberland project

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

The Culture Northumberland project was set up by freelancers Claire Venus and Jason Thompson at the start of the world-wide pandemic in March 2020.

Supported by Wendy Scott at Northumberland County Council, we created aims, objectives, a brand and made a website and social media presence.

Our purpose;

Connecting, amplifying, and advocating for the cultural and creative sector across Northumberland.

Within our first month, we were connected to thousands of cultural freelancers, heritage and arts organisations across Northumberland and more widely. Right here in 2023 we are being supported by Alnwick Playhouse and Northumberland County Council to work on our sustainability plan. Here's a timeline of how we've got here;

Our Timeline 2020 -23

In 2020, we ran a series of online workshops and events to encourage those who work, live or want to work in Northumberland to open up abut their practise, frustrations, worries and processes.

In 2021, this work continued and we started our weekly blog allowing organisations, freelancers and venues to share more about the 'behind the scenes' of their process and practise. We also started a set of video podcasts on YouTube.

In 2022, we partnered with Creative UK and North East Cultural Freelancers to host an inspiration and challenge day to unlock a £40k pot of funding for freelancers and artists. The funding came from Creative UK via North of the Tyne Combined Authority and was match funded by Northumberland County Council.

Later that year, we ran workshop sessions funded by North East Cultural Freelancers for artists who wanted to look after their wellbeing and plan for the future. Artists used this funding to test new ways of working, develop their creative practise and collaborate in new ways with new people.

We followed this with setting up monthly pop up cultural co-working spaces in 3 venues. The spaces are self run and attended by up to twenty artists and freelancers each month in each venue.

Claire (our co-ordinator) has continued to mentor the artists and creatives who were successful in 2022 round of funding from Creative UK.

In October 2022, we organised the annual forum event for the Northumberland Strategic Culture Network at Seaton Delevall Hall and heard from a wide variety of speakers on the topic of freelance contribution and the strength of partnerships to the sector. Freelancers were paid to contribute towards a film sharing their practise and to attend the event.

2023 has seen us solidify a regular posting schedule across social media and our blog, partner with more cultural freelancers and organisations to better understand what they need to help sustain their practise and better understand the barriers to communication and audience development. We have used the first half of this year to research and develop information for an Arts Council Project Grant which will be submitted over summer.

The team

We are a small freelance team; Jason looks after the web side of things, Claire co-ordinates and drives partnerships and Beth looks after social media.

Current Projects

  • The info-graph above was created in response to sector confusion on how the networks fit/ sit together.

  • Our studio survey has been completed by over 50 freelancers/ artists/ studio owners so far. We plan to build a new web page of results and exchange/ space hire opportunities.

  • Our SWOT analysis of communications within Northumberland can be viewed and added to here.

  • Freelancer marketing strategists and content creators Jess Thomas-Harrison and Beth Wardell have created an online directory for creative freelancers which is growing each week.

  • Artist Trina Dalziel is using funding from the Rural Design Innovation Centre to produce a visual map of funding opportunities in for the sector. The page is in development here

  • Producer Maureen Lawrie held an event on 14 July for artists as part of her research funded by Creative UK in artists living in the Tyne Valley (west of the county).

  • Gallery owner Penny Morrison is creating a set of opportunities for artists to use their beach side huts in Alnmouth to enhance artistic practise.

  • Claire participated in research sessions for November Club's GROW development programme.

  • We publish a monthly round up of funding opportunities for artist/ creatives and organisations as well as further resources to help folks navigate the ever changing funding landscape.

  • Claire is working closely with the team at Berwick CCZ to better understand the opportunities for collaboration and joined up thinking to develop and sustain the sector over the course of the project.

  • You can request to have your work, profile, process or practise shared at any time -

Also this year;

  • Claire attended a round table discussion with Nicolas Serota (the chair of Arts Council England) and a diverse range of other cultural freelancers to unpack how freelancers are feeling in the current cultural climate. A blog will follow.

  • We are supporting the North East Culture Partnership to organise an event on Culture and Climate Change this month at Alnwick Garden.

Our impact and reach since 2020

  • We have published over 120 blogs reaching thousands of people online. Our blog us by far the busiest and most visited part of our website.

  • Our webinar; ~"If not now, then when..." reached over 500 people.

  • Our busy facebook group (Artists and Creatives Northumberland) has 330 members (artists, makers, writers and creatives) and growing. We host monthly profile raising threads and share funding and other opportunities.

  • Our social media reaches over 4000 followers each week (across facebook and twitter). Posts are re-shared from partners or set up to share news/ events.

  • Our newsletter has 400 sign ups and we email our subscribers every other month with news and updates from the sector.

  • Our website reaches over 600 people across the world each month raising the profile of culture, heritage and creativity in Northumberland.

  • Last year, we had on average15 people reading our website on tablets, 252 on phones and 177 on desktop.

Over to you...

What would you like to see next at the Culture Northumberland project?

Testimonials for our work

“I’m thrilled that Culture Northumberland is so supportive of artists and creative people in Northumberland and that they are actively putting in place things that will really help artists grow their businesses, develop connections and increase knowledge. An example is the new monthly round-up post of funding opportunities on the Culture Northumberland blog - something there was a clear need for and Claire has quickly actioned on - hopefully it will become a go-to place to find these opportunities - saving artists days' of time and duplication of time searching for opportunities.

Another example was the co-mentoring event in November at the Alnwick playhouse. I was reluctant to attend wondering if it would just take me away from “getting on with stuff”. It was a great to spent time with other creative practitioners and I met several people I’d only met once or twice before and we had all come from quite distant places so it was lovely to spend a morning together building connections. Northumberland is so rural arranged events are a great way to initiated connections that can then grow naturally but would otherwise possibly not happen.

Claire was supportive, encouraging and informative when I received funding for Creative UK to do some research into visual artists and our knowledge and/or lack of knowledge around arts funding.

I feel she is someone I can reach out to and ask for suggestions on who to contact as she has such a wide knowledge of organisations and individuals in Northumberland connected with the arts. Though she has a tight work schedule she is always incredibly generous with her sharing of information.”

Trina Dalziel, freelance illustrator, Northumberland

"Claire and I have worked together for the last four years bringing two of our North East based projects together to maximise reach, participation and connection. Our combined project work bringing the North East Cultural Freelancers CIC and the Culture Northumberland Project together has seen;

- Regular events and activity both in person and online listening to and supporting cultural freelancers post pandemic

- Over £90k of investment into the cultural sector for freelancers and their project ideas.

- Around £6k of direct support for freelancers to engage with training and networking

- Direct support for freelancers to secure funding and develop their business through information, advice and guidance, as well as mentoring and 1:1s

Claire has shifted her practise to work effortlessly online."

Leila D’aroville

Director, North East Cultural Freelancers CIC

"Culture Northumberland is a great initiative given how spread out the counties artists and creatives are (I think we forget just how big a county Northumberland is, 5th largest in the UK.

I think it would be great to have a rolling directory of exhibitions and cultural events that are happening so people have a centralised resource to keep track of.

I hear all the time that people find it really difficult to know what is going on, both from interested members of the public as well as other artists and creatives. Would be great to have a way for everyone to 'be in the know'!"

Luke McTaggart, artist

To the future - our project grant application and the focus of our future work in 23/24 will be across the following strands

In alignment with Arts Council England's 10-year strategy, we envision our project grant application and future work focusing on the following strategic strands:

1. Strengthening Hyper Local Artist Community Connections:

- We aim to foster collaboration among artists by offering three place-based opportunities in Berwick, Alnwick, and Cambois. Six artists will be paired up to work together in partner community venues, with their names specified in the application.

- Live art will be combined with illustrators such as Katie Doherty and Gillian O Mara, Esther Huss and Trina Dalziel, and Chloe Smith and Tania Willis.

- Additionally, we will facilitate partnerships between artists Jason Thompson, Daniel Weatheritt, and local participants to co-create new artworks in community centre settings, focusing on children, young people, young carers, and older people.

- Our emphasis lies in sharing the importance of research and development as a process to inform larger projects, fostering cultural capital.

- We plan to engage professional content creators and videographers to share daily updates on social media, connecting artists with hyper local supporters to enhance their work and influence future projects.

- A video 'showreel' celebrating the artists' work and their respective communities will be created and shared on their websites and the Culture Northumberland website, along with a graphic template for our community's use.

2. Empowering Cultural Freelancers through Online Network Meetings:

- We will host three 90-minute online network meetings for cultural, heritage, and creative freelancers, collaborating with Tyne and Wear Cultural Freelancers.

- The topics for these meetings will cover essential areas like creating affordable shared studio space, sharing practices with the public, digital diversification, income diversification, and an additional topic crowd-sourced and informed by Culture Northumberland's over 200 members.

3. Cultivating Creative and Cultural Inspiration Weekend:

- As part of the Alnwick Story Fest, Culture Northumberland will organise an in-person inspiration weekend in Alnwick.

- The town of Alnwick will serve as a backdrop for inspiration, fueling new works and testing pop-up gallery spaces, pop-up studios, and artist shops.

- We will facilitate a set of creative activities during the event, while cultural freelancers will have a dedicated co-working session.

- We plan to utilise at least four pop-up studio/participation venues, including Alnwick Playhouse, Alnwick Garden, unused buildings (empty shops), and Northumberland Hall.

- To enhance accessibility and understanding of the artists' locations, we will produce an interactive artist studio map for the website based on current research. Additionally, we will develop a toolkit on how to create pop-up studios using this model.

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