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Community Engagement – #OurNorth

In this blog we take a look at #OurNorth, which was a season long programme of exhibitions, pop-up events and community engagement celebrating the culture and creativity of the North. This was in response to the themes present in our major Autumn exhibition North: Fashioning Identity.

Our first #OurNorth event was True North: The State of The Arts in the North, a public discussion about support structures for practicing artists in the North of England. Speakers included Helen Pheby (Yorkshire Sculpture Park), Dr Vanessa Corby (York St John’s University) and artists Liz West and Kid Acne. The following event was the North: Fashioning Identity Curator’s Talk with Lou Stoppard and Adam Murray. Over 250 students from around the region attended these talks.

In the opening week of North: Fashioning Identity, we saw over 600 Further and Higher Education students engage with the exhibition and associated talks. They came from Barnsley College, Huddersfield University, Leeds Beckett, Leeds College of Art and Rotherham College, with additional visits in Autumn from Sheffield Hallam and Northumbria University and was a result of the long-term development of relationships with course leaders from each establishment. The Gallery team has continued to develop those relationships throughout 2020, in preparation for our Autumn programme and the exhibition Body Beautiful: Diversity on the Catwalk.

September ended with our Northern Soul All-Dayer, with over 200 dancers, drinkers and ravers attending, which was a fantastic turnout for what was a first-time event.

In October we programmed the screening of two classic Barry Hines / Ken Loach collaborations in Elsecar, Looks & Smiles, which was preceded by a talk with Sheffield University lecturer and Barry Hines Archive manager David Forest; and The Price of Coal Part 1, which was followed by live music from local musicians inspired by local mining heritage. Both events were extremely popular and marked the start of a brilliant partnership with the Futurist Community Cinema in Elsecar.

Throughout the Autumn, the Barnsley Spoken Word Collective were commissioned to write, record and perform a new collection of work on the theme of #OurNorth. The group recorded their poems throughout August and September, with the album being launched with a performance at Rockingham Centre Hoyland in November. Two of the poems were made into short films. You can view ‘Northern Roots’ by Jane Sharp here and ‘Coming Home’ by Jo Brooke here.

In November we hosted two different live music performances. The first was by a collective of Barnsley musicians and their project [retreat], an audio/visual experience, encompassing field recordings, live brass, percussion, synths and spoken word, which comments on current political situations in the North of England. The launch of the project was at The Old School House in Barnsley.

Also in November was Song for the North, in which three local songwriters Scott Doonican, Serious Sam Barrett and Tom Jackson performed in a songwriter’s circle and shared their own versions of what could be considered contemporary Northern folk songs; each inspired by life, love, loss and laughs in the North.

To end the season, folk musician Serious Sam Barrett and dancer choreographer Keira Martin had developed a serious of workshops for primary Schools exploring traditional Northern folk song and dance and their uses in the different industries associated with towns in the North of England.

These workshops have been postponed because of the Covid-19 crisis. However, Sam Barrett graciously filmed a 20 workshops taster, while in isolation at home. This has since been sent to the schools originally scheduled to take part in the workshops. In turn they have emailed the workshop to children being homeschooled and have also used it in lessons for children of ‘key workers’, with some children recording themselves singing along to the workshop.

You can view Sam’s workshop here.

#OurNorth and the overarching theme of celebrating Northern culture was a usual tool for engaging local audiences and students for the first time. The theme of Northern heritage is useful for tapping into those audiences interested in local heritage and history, and quite a few of this programme’s events did this.

Using themes throughout a season allows for more opportunities for both our Visual Art and Performance programme to work collaboratively, and for the community to be involved in that process. In Autumn/Winter 2020/2021, our programme will explore themes of Diversity, Disability Pride and look at the representation of different underrepresented groups within the arts. Our community engagement will also reflect these themes in the events programmed and the communities we engaged with.

*Our Community Engagement programme is fully funded by The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation

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