Finding Paths Across Waters

The theme of the Being Human Festival for 2017 is Lost and Found. Dr Vanessa Mongey, a Newcastle University Researcher, works on the links between the Caribbean and the North East and spoke to Dr Eve Forrest about the new exhibit she has co-curated in North Shields called ‘Paths Across Waters’ as part of the festival.

How does this exhibit link to themes of Lost and Found?

In the past the seas and oceans were highways and paths that brought many different cultures in contact with the North-East. This had a huge impact on the region, however most of that local history and memory has been lost– we want to change that with this exhibit.

Why is it based in North Shields?

North Shields was a main trading port into Tyneside and was a place where many West Indian Sailors were based; there were many boarding houses in the area. During World War II, Newcastle was advertised as a welcoming place by the (then) Colonial Office and the Ministry of Labour to West African migrants too. Our region it not often associated with the Caribbean and there is quite a large shared history that we want to explore.

Are there other ties to the North East and the Caribbean?

Yes there are many and not necessarily maritime themed! The publisher Bloodaxe Books based in the North-East has published work by British Caribbean authors since it began in 1978. So there has been that poetic and intellectual link in the region for a while too.

What can visitors expect from the exhibit?

Well I don’t want to give too much away! But we wanted to connect the exhibition to its surroundings in the Low Light Heritage Centre on North Shields Fish Quay. There is a live soundscape specifically designed for this exhibition by Professor John Bowers of Newcastle University; a film piece by artists James Davoll and Paul Gibson that will change according to the speed of the wind alongside images from the Imperial War Museum, the National Archives, and much more. There is also an oral history booth where we would like people to tell us about their experiences and memories. We want to find as many lost stories as possible in North Shields and in the rest of the region.

What other events are being held?

We have a workshop on the 23rd November about Caribbean cuisines led by Peggy Brunache from the University of Dundee around food and identity. There will also be a live performance of Garifuna music by Lindel Solis Zenon, a musician from Nicaragua on the 25th November. On the same day I will also be talking about the research behind the exhibit, telling people about the rich global history of the region. All the events are free so we would love to see as many people there as possible!

The exhibition is open Thursday 9 November – Saturday 25 November, 10:00am–5:00pm, at Old Low Light Heritage Centre, North Shields, with free entry from 17-25 November. For details on the workshops please see the Old Low Light website.

To find out more about other Being Human Festival events please go to:  https://beinghumanfestival.org/ or search Twitter using the hashtags #PathsWaters #BeingHuman17

Venue details can be found here: http://www.oldlowlight.co.uk/

Northern Bridge and Ecologies of Knowledge

Vital North Partnership Manager Rachel Pattinson writes about a recent event at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, discussing different approaches to collaborative working

Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books is a strategic partner to the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. In May, I joined staff from Newcastle University, Durham University and Queen’s University Belfast,as well as colleagues from Northern Bridge’s strategic partners, for Ecologies of Knowledge, a seminar held at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast.

The seminar was suggested by Sage Gateshead’s Dave Camlin. It gave us the chance to reflect on our time working together on Northern Bridge so far, and “to explore some of the tensions and opportunities inherent in collaborative approaches to the generation of new knowledge.”

Newcastle University's Professor Mike Rossington addresses the Northern Bridge Ecologies of Knowledge seminar. Image courtesy of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
Newcastle University’s Professor Mike Rossington addresses the Northern Bridge Ecologies of Knowledge seminar. Image courtesy of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

Of course, there are tensions; when you bring together any group of academic institutions, or cultural organisations, there is competition – for students, for audiences, for funding. And although learning is at the heart of what both universities and cultural venues do, the processes through which we generate knowledge are quite different. We speak different languages. We have different drivers. Working in collaboration requires negotiating all of these factors.

Another tension which formed a focus of conversation during the day was the inequality of engagement with the arts. The Warwick Commission’s Enriching Britain, Culture, Creative and Growth Report states that “the wealthiest, better educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the population forms the most culturally active segment of all”. How to reach those beyond that 8% is certainly a challenge.

But democratising culture and knowledge is becoming increasingly important in both the higher education and cultural sectors. The Research Excellence Framework emphasises the impact of research ‘beyond academia’; Arts Council England encourages the organisations they fund to reach more demographically diverse audiences.

Dave Camlin (Sage Gateshead) opens the seminar. Image courtesy of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
Dave Camlin (Sage Gateshead) opens the seminar. Image courtesy of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

From my experience of working on the Vital North Partnership between Newcastle University and Seven Stories, collaboration holds exciting opportunities. Partnership helps to make our activities more interesting and diverse. At the intersections between universities, cultural organisations and communities, we can draw on our collective expertise to create new kinds of shared knowledge. And with increasing pressure on arts budgets, we can pool our resources and become more efficient.

I explored the Vital North Partnership’s unique ecology at the seminar, giving a Pecha Kucha presentation. It was also interesting to reflect on what role Northern Bridge, as a Doctoral Training Partnership, has as part of our shared ecology. I think the ways in which universities and arts organisations collaborate is changing. We are asking different questions, and having new conversations. I work at this boundary – and I’m interested to see where we’re headed next.

For more information about the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Consortium, visit: http://www.northernbridge.ac.uk/

This post originally featured on Rachel’s blog, to find out more about the Vital North Partnership click here.