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Creativity to empty shop on Blyth high street

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Posted 27.06.2013

An empty shop in Blyth has been brought back to life by a local arts organisation and revealed its new shop frontage design, installed by Signs Express (Newcastle), on Thursday 27th June at 3pm.

Russell Hollamby (centre left background) with Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell (centre background), Stephen Pritchard (dot to dot) and illustrator Daniel Weatheritt (right front)

Russell Hollamby (centre left background) with Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell (centre background), Stephen Pritchard (dot to dot) and illustrator Daniel Weatheritt (right front)

Blyth high street's new addition with a popup shop

Blyth high street's new addition with a popup shop

Local MP Ronnie Campbell officially opened the Old-New Curiosity Shop and its unique new shop window art exhibition designed by award-winning local illustrator Daniel Weatheritt together with local young people.

The shop, previously an ex-travel agent, has been transformed by new not-for-profit North East artist network and social enterprise dot to dot active arts CIC who were able to convince national and local funders and partners to support this unique pop-up art space where everyone can express their creativity, tell their stories and see their own art works exhibited. 

It is an essential community project as Signs Express (Newcastle) owner Russell Hollamby explains; “With the pressure of reduced government funding for arts and culture and our local high streets hit hard with closures of both local and national stores, this initiative breathes life and creativity into the area. The vivid full colour graphics adorn the windows and an interesting fascia design will stop passers-by in their tracks. It is quite a change from the long closed and run down shop front which was their view before. We just had to be involved in such an important development for our local community and were happy to back the popup shop with our sponsorship.”

He continued, “It is a perfect example of what local organisations are striving to achieve for the benefit of their local communities and I hope it encourages more participation from the local authorities. With news reports indicating that the funding put aside for regeneration of town high street areas is not yet being fully utilised, we hope the publicity surrounding this project will encourage more interaction with landlords and authorities to promote the benefits of these activities in towns such as Blyth.”

“For a limited budget, run down areas of town centres can be transformed, which not only promotes intrigue and use of the unused empty spaces which would otherwise fall into disrepair but can also help prevent vandalism and antisocial behaviour as local residents feel more involved in the community. Our signage solutions instantly brighten and excite and are ideal for popup shop initiatives.”

Following the opening, the Old-New Curiosity Shop will be open every week throughout the summer with drop-in workshops by eight other experienced and challenging local participatory artists including Journal Culture Award winning Mariam Rezaei, Yvette Hawkins and Tess Denman-Cleaver.

Each artist will offer their own creative skills to local people who can then channel their own stories, ideas, hopes and fears to create a series of new art works that will be displayed inside the new space for everyone to see.

As the weeks go by, the new art works will fill the Old-New Curiosity Shop with images, sculptures, film, words, sounds, illustrations, found objects, marks, maps and music to make a place where everyone in Blyth can create a unique snapshot of life in the town in 2013. The finale to the workshops will be a participatory performance piece that responds to all of the ideas and art works created by local people and the other artists.

dot to dot active arts CIC have a fresh way of helping local people take part in exciting and cutting edge arts activities. They are facilitators not leaders: people who help other people explore their creativity. They know that people who do not normally visit art galleries or other cultural venues are much more likely to pop into a ‘shop’ on their local high street, wonder what has filled the window of that empty shop and ask why strangely familiar yet slightly disconnected sounds slip from that once shuttered doorway. This is what Old-New Curiosity Shop hopes to be able to help the people of Blyth explore.

Director, Stephen Pritchard, explains: ‘The art created in our sessions is not ours. It belongs to the people we work with. We see taking part in art as one part of a different way of seeing and experiencing our high streets as places designed by local people for local people where creativity and participation sit alongside economic, community and environmental needs.’

The project is supported by funding from Arts Council England, Queens Hall Arts, Blyth Valley Arts and Leisure and Northumberland County Council and by sponsorship from Signs Express Newcastle North. Accessing the shop would not have been possible without the passionate support of Blyth Town Team Town Centre Manager, Malcolm Hutchinson, and the kind cooperation of the landlord.

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