‘It’s got grandeur’. ‘The view across the landscape is just epic’. ‘I feel as if the hills are hugging the city’. ‘Right there, as soon as you get there, you find two galleries’.
Are these the sort of things you’d say about arriving at your local train station?
Those were just some of the feelings which people relayed on arriving at Middlesbrough train station on the way to our Talk About Local unconference on Saturday.
Locals and visitors alike were keen to describe the place in those powerful terms during the first session which Emma from The Culture Vulture and I hosted to mark the start of a new programme of work we’re doing in the area titled, Talk About Art, Culture and Place.
In the stimulating environment of the gallery space at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (Mima), a group of us started a conversation pitched as ‘Help! 24 hours on Teesside with nothing but a mobile phone and a bit of cash’.
The challenge was to find things online and by being on the ground which would provide a weekend of culture across any or all parts of Teesside.
It’s very apparent there’s plenty of cultural activity in its widest sense (and not simply limited to art venues) going on across the region but visibility remains an issue.
It also remains easy to be side-tracked (as we were for a time on Saturday) by anger about the lack of funding, the difficulty of finding an inclusive identity for such a diverse region and the ever-present digital divide in terms of connectivity and affordability.
Those are challenges to be overcome, circumnavigated or tackled but there are also plenty of stories to be told, connections to be made and a whole host of cultural activities to be celebrated.
Over the next few months we look forward to discovering more and later this week will be able to finalise a series of workshops in venues from Darlington to the coast to start that journey.
The sessions will be very practical and look at different skills and tools to help people find their own voice and confidence online. If you’d like to be a part of it, please do get in touch – either by email, twitter or commenting below.
To paraphrase one of the participants on Saturday: “It’s too easy to spend the time looking at the mud, now it’s time to concentrate on the diamonds.”