Arts project given £2.4m grant boost

Playwright Lee Hall at Woodhorn Museum in Ashington.
Playwright Lee Hall at Woodhorn Museum in Ashington.

a new £3m project is being hailed as one of the biggest boosts for art in south east Northumberland since the heyday of Ashington’s Pitmen Painters.

A consortium of arts and community organisations has landed a £2.4m grant from Arts Council England.

The money will help fund a £3m initiative that will see national and international artists working alongside those already based here over the next three years in the hope of inspiring a new wave of creativity.

The consortium – led by the Woodhorn Trust, based at Ashington’s Woodhorn Museum – includes Northumberland County Council, NHS North of Tyne and Northumberland College.

It is being backed by playwright Lee Hall, writer of the 2007 play The Pitmen Painters about the Ashington artists featured in Woodhorn’s collection.

Among the aims of the project is to increase the opportunities available to see or produce works of art.

Even more ambitiously, it will also seek to use art to improve health and wellbeing.

The Ashington-based consortium was just one of seven nationwide to land a grant.

Lee, best known for writing the film Billy Elliot, said: “I am absolutely delighted the Arts Council is backing this brilliant and inspirational project to bring art of the highest quality to the people of Ashington and south east Northumberland.

“The project is tremendously exciting and innovative.

“Instead of bringing people to the arts, it will bring art to the people, allowing residencies of excellent artists in many fields to work together with local people.

“It seems hugely fitting that the project was inspired by the work of the Ashington group of painters, ordinary working miners with no experience or education in the arts who created such an extraordinary body of work which is celebrated worldwide.”

Woodhorn Museum director Keith Merrin added: “We are delighted to be leading this project, which will bring huge benefits to communities and redefine the arts landscape in south east Northumberland.”

Alison Clark-Jenkins, north east regional director for Arts Council England, added: “I am thrilled that south east Northumberland is one of seven areas in England to receive Creative People and Places funding.

“This is a game-changer for the area, enabling the programme’s partners to work with national and international artists to deliver fresh and engaging projects to a localised area where it will make a huge difference.”

Neil Bradbury, cabinet member for culture at Northumberland County Council, said: “This is tremendous news for the county, particularly the south east of Northumberland.

“This investment from the Arts Council will make a massive difference to local people.”

Work on the development phase of the project will get under way in September.