Exhibition: Great Exhibition of the North - Idea of North

This week I returned to Newcastle for a meeting with some of the organisers of the Great Exhibition of the North - an 80 day exhibition taking place from 22nd June to 9th September across Newcastle and Gateshead supported by HM Government and Arts Council England. The organisers have described the event as 'an exhibition that celebrates great art and culture, design and innovations. It is free to attend and tells the inspiring story of the North of England and how its innovators, businesses, artists and designers have shaped our present and are inspiring our future.'

Despite its obvious economic benefits, some academics I have spoken to and have expressed opinions on social media (see article by John Tomaney, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at UCL and Visiting Professor at Newcastle University here) think that the event is a drop in the ocean in terms of funding. The £5m spent on the festival is tiny in comparison to the £110m new arts venue being built in Manchester with significant funding from government and the Arts Council. Unsurprisingly, £5m would pay for 1/100th of the cost of a Crossrail platform at Tottenham Court Road.

I can understand where this view comes from as it is similar to the views being expressed on topics such as City-Region deals and the implementation of Metro-Mayors - localities in these regions are starting from zero so they will try their best to secure any funding whatsoever so of course they would want to bid for this event to bring in extra cash. The difficulty is, when it is compared to the amounts being spent in the capital, it really is pennies and comes back to the topic of funding for 'national interest'. If the 'national' is actually London, then the economic benefits of say Crossrail really won't benefit any other economy than London.

Although I am looking forward to seeing how the numerous events for GETNorth pan out over the coming months when I am resident in Newcastle again, the fact that we are still having events aimed at cultural regeneration and changing perceptions of the North in 2018 is astonishing.


Tom Ardron