Welcome to Culture Durham’s new website

Photograph of Tony Harrington

Welcome to Culture Durham’s first blog post on its new website. I’m Tony Harrington, Chair of Culture Durham, and along with others involved in the cultural sector across County Durham, I will be contributing to the blog, as we present and celebrate the cultural landscape of this remarkable county.

There is no doubt that 2022 will bring more covid challenges. The resilience of organisations and practitioners will continue to be tested. Culture Durham and its partners will keep lobbying on behalf of the sector, and it is heartening that many organisations large and small across the county have been recipients of Culture Recovery Fund grants.  The support available to artists and freelance creative practitioners has been more challenging though some grants have been available via Arts Council England, and some creative practitioners have been eligible for elements of the government support packages.

A major achievement of 2021 was Durham being selected as one of the final eight applicants for UK City of Culture 2025.  The next stage of the bidding process closes early February, and we will find out in March if Durham has made the shortlist of the three.  The bid has been pulled together through collaborative working and consultation. Contributions have been made by organisations large and small, and by individual practitioners and artists. Whatever happens, it is clear the county has huge ambition, energy, and potential which we will endeavour to achieve.

There were some stunning events and projects across the county in 2021, with the sector being incredibly resourceful and creative as it put together programming in a way that provided fabulous opportunities for audiences whilst keeping people safe.  2022 promises to deliver more imaginative work with many of the things to look forward to highlighted in this article on This is Durham’s website which can be seen here.  The ever evolving events programme across the whole county can be seen on the What’s On section of This is Durham’s website which can be seen here.

The culture offer in County Durham is diverse, designed to meet the needs to a wide range of audiences.  Equally important is participation through formal learning and engagement programmes, and grass roots activity across the county.

In my day job as Director of the Forge, a participatory arts commissioning and producing organisation, I see how taking part in a creative process can change lives.  The Forge works primarily with children and young people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to be inspired by arts and culture. There is a wealth of evidence that shows how participation in the arts encourages self-expression; builds confidence; supports wellbeing, health and happiness; and develops critical thinking and cognitive skills. It has an impact on all aspects of a child or young person’s broader education and life chances.

There is a lot of talk about levelling up.  In the cultural sector that means ensuring access for all to the arts. We, as a sector are doing amazing things in County Durham, but there is more we can do, if we have the necessary resources.  The county spends less, employs fewer people, has a smaller freelance workforce in the creative industries than many other parts of the country. At the same time social deprivation is higher than many other parts of the country.  Increasing participation and access to culture is part of the solution.  Culture Durham provides a collective voice for us all, as we strive for greater investment in the arts.

The All Party Parliamentary Group Northern Culture recently published its report on what northern culture needs to rebuild, balance and recover.  The full report can be read here.

Culture Durham will be supporting and feeding into the refresh of the North East Culture Partnership’s Case for Culture that sets out the strategic priorities specifically for our region. More information can be found here. You can contribute directly by taking part in a survey which can be found here.

We look forward to what this year will bring, which hopefully will include good news of our county-wide bid being shortlisted for City of Culture 2025.  In the meantime, I have absolutely no doubt we will continue to do the best we can for our communities and audiences.  In amongst our busy lives, we need to do all we can to ensure that we, those who are wholly committed to our work within the creative industries, look after our own well-being, supporting each other as we provide benefit for those we serve.

If there is something you are involved with or are creating and would like to contribute to the Culture Durham blog, please get in touch by contacting Jane Hedges, the partnership coordinator.