2011 will be remembered in the region as a spectacular success for the visual arts.
At the end of November, Artichoke brought to Durham the second LUMIERE, a sensational festival of light featuring work by internationally acclaimed artists.
Over 150,000 people took to the streets to enjoy the 35 artworks that ranged from large-scale projections like Crown of Light which saw the Lindisfarne Gospels projected onto Durham Cathedral, to neons, to installations like I Love Durham,the giant snowdome that transformed the Market Place into a playground and Splash the most amazing illuminated waterfall off Ove Arup’s Kingsgate Bridge. Neons by Tracy Emin and Ron Hasledon adorned buildings in the city.
LUMIERE 2011 also included Lux Scientia, a collaboration with light festivals in Poland and Estonia, as well as four pieces created by artists from the North East.
There is now no doubt that a biennial festival of this kind has the potential to compete with the likes of the Venice Biennale and to endorse the region firmly on the international map of the visual arts.
In the same week of the Lumiere the winner of the Turner Prize was announced at BALTIC, the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Gateshead which had shown the works of the four shortlisted finalists, Karla Black, Martin Boyce, Hilary Lloyd, George Shaw from the end of October 2011.
This the first time the Turner Prize had been exhibited outside of London independently of the TATE.
Martin Boyce from Glasgow was very much a deserved winner with his atmospheric sculptural installations which feel very architectonic referencing design and the use of space rather like those works by Victor Pasmore and Alexander Calder.
(Of course Pasmore’s Pavilion at Peterlee in the north east has just been immaculately restored and well worth a visit).
Remarkable visitor numbers have been witnessed at BALTIC. At just over the half way stage there had been 110,000 people through the doors compared to a total of 55,000 visitors to the 2010 Turner Prize at TATE Britain!
None of these numbers surprise Alan J Smith OBE, the Founding Chairman of BALTIC. Ten years ago many would never believe such stellar attractions would appear in the region. Well, maybe those disbelievers were from outside the region and had not considered that whilst the 20C reputation of north east England may well have been built on coal mining, steelworks and shipbuilding the fact is that the indigenous culture of the region is founded very much on the arts through the ABC of Christianity – all three inspirational Saints, Aidan Bede and Cuthbert hailing from Northumbria – and that this tradition still courses through the veins of its people contributing massively to the regional DNA.