Organisations across North East England launch ambitious strategy for the future of the contemporary visual arts in the region

George Vasey, Curator installing Cornelia Baltes, Turner, 2015 at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland. Photo: Colin Davison.

George Vasey, Curator installing Cornelia Baltes, Turner, 2015 at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland. Photo: Colin Davison.

This afternoon NE CVAN, a network of leading arts professionals from North East England, came together to launch a 10-year strategic vision for contemporary visual arts in the region.

Following Tuesday’s announcement that Newcastle-Gateshead will host the Great Exhibition of the North in 2018, the strategy outlines a series of initiatives that will cement North East England’s international reputation as a centre for excellence in the visual arts.

The full strategy document, Untitled: A Strategic Plan for Visual Arts in North East England can be read here.

The event was led by BALTIC’s Sarah Munro, who spoke about the international profile and
ambition of visual arts in the North East. Sarah was joined by locally based artists Louise Wilson and Matt Stokes who discussed developing their careers in the region and shifting public perceptions of art in North East England.

Stretching north from Teesside up to the border of Scotland, and out to England’s northernmost town Berwick, the North East is known for its vibrant, distinctive and growing visual arts offering. The strategy aims to build upon this by identifying areas of untapped potential, in order to raise the profile of the region’s international reputation as a vibrant centre of excellence for the visual arts.

The strategy has been created through consultation with members of the NE CVAN, a network of over sixty organisations and dedicated individuals who are delivering contemporary visual art across the North East. It lays out a series of ambitious priorities including securing investment to create major sculpture production facilities by 2025, following on from a long industrial tradition in the area, and the development of a new International Visual Arts Festival by 2019, building on a tradition of leading contemporary festivals including the Tyne International, which was the UK’s first visual arts biennial, International Print Biennale and AV Festival.

The announcement coincides with the 20-year anniversary of the UK Year of the Visual Arts in the North East, which saw more than three thousand exhibitions, events, commissions and residencies take place across the region. Led by a consortium of public and private organisations, the programme marked a major shift in the perception of the visual arts amongst local people. It also showcased the scale and quality of visual arts within the region to a national and international audience.

Since then there has been considerable capital investment creating the National Glass Centre in Sunderland (1998), BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead (2002) and Middlesborough Institute of Modern Art (2007). There has also been a consistent increase in
independent arts organisations, new forms of artists’ support and artists’ facilities across the
region. Nonetheless, as last year’s Case for Culture led by the North East Culture Partnership
(NECP) acknowledged, there are still gaps in provision and places, which require further
investment. The NE CVAN strategy takes a lead for the visual arts within the wider Case for
ambitions, unifying the sector behind a series of collective priorities.

”If we are going to create something amazing, we can only do it collectively. Whether
large or small, volunteer-led or funded, we need to work together. If we can imagine
that future collectively, we work out the steps to get there.” - Sarah Munro, Director, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

The strategy is structured around a key set of priorities that have been identified as critical to
the sector’s success:

  • Provision - To improve sustainability, organisational growth and resilience within the sector.
  • Progression - To increase the potential for individuals to secure employment and develop successful careers nationally and internationally.
  • Profile - To raise the international profile of the visual arts sector in the North East.
  • Participation - To increase current levels of engagement and reflect the diverse communities the sector serves.
  • Political - To propose art as a driver for social change.

The strategy’s activities over the next decade will include:


  • Investment will be secured to create major sculpture production facilities by 2025, building on the strong history of making embedded in the region’s culture and psyche.
  • A plan will be put in place to lobby for secure studio provision and live/work facilities for artists.
  • A critical friend initiative will be established connecting individuals and organisations within the network.
  • A Business Forum will be created by the network to help the sector engage with business and international trade opportunities

By improving sustainability, organisational growth and stability within the sector, the network will build a strong infrastructure that can support and nurture new and existing talent in the region.


  • A professional practice toolkit will be developed by a-n for final year students entering the sector.
  • A new cultural leadership programme will be devised by the network.
  • Residencies and fellowships for artists, curators and writers will be developed within the network membership.
  • Working in partnership with schools, Further and Higher Education and workplaces the network will support individuals at different stages of their careers to develop successful careers nationally and internationally within the visual arts sector and ultimately generate the next generation of artists and cultural leaders.


  • A new International Visual Arts Festival on Tyneside will be created by 2019.
  • New contemporary collections will be developed by the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland and the National Glass Centre through investment totalling £100K.
  • Internationally ambitious visual arts programming will be developed to support bids for the UK City of Culture in Sunderland (2021) and Teeside (2025)
  • An online Art Map will be developed by the sector to encourage locals and visitors to explore the diverse visual arts offering in the area.
  • Through strategic press profiling and collaborative networking with tourism boards, ambassador networks and cultural organisations, NE CVAN will further raise the profile of contemporary visual arts in the North East on a regional, national and international scale.


  • Major community engagement initiatives across the North East will be delivered from within the sector, for example Destination Apollo, an intergenerational programme, which will celebrate creativity and culture in the East Durham community.

Through innovative public programmes NE CVAN will increase the sector’s current levels of
audience engagement and engage new and hard-to-reach audiences to better reflect the diverse communities it serves. The visual arts sector will also collate, share and evaluate audience data in order to fully understand its audiences and inform its work.


  • Major longitudinal university-led research will be used to measure the sector’s impact regionally.
  • Sector representation will be ensured on the All Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design in Education

Believing in the intrinsic value of arts and culture to individuals and society, NE CVAN will work to ensure art is integral within schools and the public realm. The NE CVAN will also set in place
frameworks to demonstrate and measure the public value of the sector socially, economically and politically, and ultimately place the visual arts at the forefront of public policy agenda.

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Darren Henley, Chief Executive, Arts Council England said: 'The North East has a long
tradition of producing influential artists and ambitious contemporary art programmes. It has some of the country's finest galleries and a buzzing grassroots scene. We’re keen to ensure that this area’s creativity continues to take its rightful place on the national and international stage. Through our work with artists and arts organisations from across the area and our
continued investment in the North East Contemporary Visual Arts Network and also in the North East Cultural Partnership, we aim to enable this creativity to continue to flourish.'

Frances Morris, Director, Tate Modern said: 'I am delighted to endorse UNTITLED: A Strategic
Plan for Visual Arts in the North East. It’s international ambition raises the bar within the visual
arts and shows real leadership in bringing together artists and arts organisations to work
collaboratively to vision a future collectively.'

Sarah Munro, Director, BALTIC Centre Contemporary Art said: 'Untitled: A Strategic Plan for
the Visual Arts in North East England represents a dynamic call to action by the visual arts sector in the region to galvanise their ambitions and determine their future collectively. A region, with a rich history of international visual arts activity, we are all very much looking forward to new opportunities to collaborate with our partners in the North East to realise our collective vision.'

Godfrey Worsdale OBE, Director, Henry Moore Foundation said: 'The North East of
England's remoteness from the metropolitan centre affords it time and space, and its willingness - as a region - to look internationally ensures its critical engagement. This is an encouragingcontext for artists and institutions alike. The confidence and belief that created BALTIC, mima and the many other large public expressions of support is balanced by the radical challenge to the system that organisations like Locus + and Workplace have so effectively demonstrated.

Louise Wilson, Artist said: 'Having worked as part of a collaborative artist duo with my sister
Jane Wilson since 1991, I’m now based between Newcastle and London. During that time I’ve
seen the landscape of contemporary art change considerably and so it is fantastic news to hear
of the announcement for The Great Exhibition of the North 2018 earlier this week and to play a
part today in launching Untitled, a Strategic Plan for Visual Arts in the North East. It is a powerful testament to the strength and resilience of the creative industries in this region
that BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Laing Art Gallery, Hatton Gallery, mima, Northumbria University, Newcastle University , BALTIC 39 and all of the galleries and artist-led organisations based here still continue to thrive and play such a vital part in the cultural and educational life of the North East.

John Mowbray OBE, Co Chairman, North East Cultural Partnership, High Sheriff of Tyne &
Wear 2016/17 said: 'The North East Cultural Partnership supports UNTITLED: A Strategic Plan
for Visual arts in North East England. Last year, the Case for Culture was launched in the region
and nationally, outlining our vision for culture over the next fifteen years with a call to action to all to help the region meet our ambitions. The visual arts has risen to that challenge, with a exciting vision for the future that will contribute greatly to the aspirations of the Case for Culture and most importantly the North East’s international reach and profile.'