Financial cuts but some great art events in the North East
via Journal Live
DAVID WHETSTONE, Arts & Entertainment Editor, on a year of financial cuts and artistic triumphs
CUTS, cuts, cuts... the key word of 2011 wormed its way into every facet of North East life, including the arts.
The funding landscape changed dramatically because Arts Council England, in common with other quangos, was given 30% less money to distribute.
Rather than allocate smaller subsidies to all regularly funded clients, the Arts Council chose a reduced group of National Portfolio Organisations for continued support - to a lesser or greater degree than previously.
Most of these organisations responded with relief, a few - such as Middlesbrough's Mima art gallery and The Maltings Theatre & Arts Centre in Berwick - with jubilation. Some organisations were told their funding would be cut completely from April 2012. Several of these, such as Northumberland Theatre Company, currently touring Hansel and Gretel to the parts most professional theatre doesn't reach, and Newcastle's Side Gallery, a rare showcase for documentary photography, are fighting for their lives.
The consolation, that organisations denied continued funding would still be eligible to bid for one-off grants, was tempered by the fact that those blessed with NPO status can also bid. Only next spring will we see if the cuts of this year have proved fatal.
On the bright side, there have been some great art events to look back on and no sign that public support has nosedived. Redundancy, or the threat of it, hung over many of us in 2011 and will continue to do so. Assailed by the tut-tutting of a government complaining about past profligacy, we dutifully tighten our belts - and then they wonder why the economy has stalled.
In the arts, however, it was rather more boom than bust. SMG (Newcastle), which runs the Metro Radio Arena, Tyne Theatre and Playhouse Whitley Bay, reported its 10th best-year-yet in succession. The Evolution music festival on the banks of the Tyne proved another big draw in the spring. Towards the end of the year Durham's Lumiere festival again brought people flocking.
When the Turner Prize - hosted for only the second time outside London - opened at Gateshead's Baltic, there were queues over the Millennium Bridge.
In September, the Theatre Royal reopened after a £5m refurbishment designed to replicate the original glorious vision of architect Frank Matcham.
We will all have our favourite moments of 2011. Here are a few of mine: Seeing the first amateur production of Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters at the People's Theatre. The Newcastle venue celebrated its centenary in 2011 with an ambitious programme of plays and a fabulous exhibition by Dave Barden, artist-in-residence for the year. Directed by Chris Heckels, Lee's former drama teacher at Benfield School, the production was a triumph.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Northern Stage was one of the best productions I've seen at the Newcastle theatre. A co-production between the Newcastle theatre company and Sheffield Theatres, it was intimate theatre on a grand scale and it drew fine performances from a classy cast of four.
The George Shaw exhibition at Baltic. Paintings, paintings, paintings as far as the eye could see. The Devon-based artist paints the drab, council estate landscape of his upbringing, giving nobility to that which is often taken for granted. George, who uses modeller's paints, was one of the most down-to-earth artists ever shortlisted for the Turner Prize.
Many thought he would win but he's certainly on the map now. In Mervyn Peake's anniversary year (he was born in 1911, died in 1968), a display of his illustrations opened at the Laing Art Gallery. It was a pleasure to interview his son, Sebastian, and see the illustrations he modelled for as a boy. Peake was a genius with pen and pencil. This exhibition runs until January 8.
The first opera in Wagner's Ring Cycle, Das Rheingold, which was performed by Opera North at The Sage Gateshead in a two-and-a-half-hour torrent of sound with a filmed backdrop. This is a four-year undertaking. The second opera in the cycle, Die Walküre, to last five-and-a-half hours, is due in 2012. That's a lot of music for your money.