Newcastle City Council Artist Residencies 2019/2020- Chapter Four: Over The Rainbow in the West End

Each year, Newcastle City Council's Arts Team construct up to five residencies for five months to rejoice in the cultural heritage of our city's diverse makeup. Professional artists are chosen for each locality to commence their project, linking with community-based partners and residents who may not have access to exceptional artistic opportunities.

Using the lead's expertise, the art produced holds aesthetic appeal with integrity, but that is merely the sail that tops a boat of newfound skills, friendship and purpose. A legacy shines through as, after the celebratory events, participants often continue their cultural voyage when the project has formally ended. Northern Stars filmmaker Alex Ayre captured the projects visually for others to understand the cause.

Comfort, frivolity, profoundness; music weaves through our lives, enriching our soul, bringing the exact thing we need at the exact time, sometimes more than any other art form available; it is a thing of splendour. Another string to its bow, so to speak, is its capacity to transcend language and communication barriers to build cross-cultural bridges. Musical residences in the past have captivated youngsters from the new East European community, gave voice to women through the SHE Choir and offered common ground to children with disabilities and their non-disabled peers.

Music is also the mirror of society, showcasing all the vibrant cultural mixes the West End of Newcastle contains. Often referred to as Newcastle's rainbow neighbourhood, Over the Rainbow aimed to honour diversity, question perceptions and involve BME families to produce a song of integration. The scope was great with Greening Wingrove & Arthur’s Hill CIC, Elswick Ward, Nunsmoor Centre Trust, Riverside Community Health Project, Angelou Centre, West End Women and Girls Centre and Children North East Young People's Service all responding and enthused about the proposal.

Three effervesce, sonically skilled artists led the way: Nicolas Lewis, Georgia May Turnbull and Patrick Villiers-Stuart. The brief to make something fun, original and unique was a draw for the bunch as Nicolas tells the camera,

"The idea of working with all those different groups in the west end and piecing something together and getting them all to collaborate; I really like that. I love a good collaboration, and this seemed like, potentially, a mega collaboration!"

Centres in the locality became hosting spaces where mini music-making workshops tested the water and ignited curiosity about the cause. The video questions young people, with that refreshing honesty that children possess, claim that they were not quite sure what to make of it at first, but as they found their groove, the sound kept flowing. It proved to be a safe place where they could write down feelings of not always fitting in and how to treat others kindly; they were expressing; they were heard.

A renowned relaxing technique helped the ladies at The Angelou Centre to feel calm. Student Valerria Savina and Georgia provided plasticine to play with as it frees the mind from a daunted state, letting people sing freely. Slowly but surely, the West End Anthem was taking shape and metamorphosed to Just Be Me. All groups inputted their share, rendering the composition a truly cooperative effort. In a warming evening light that the footage catches, a sharing session brought different religions and ages together in harmony, the joy on their faces clear to see.

A young participant thinks of progress:

"Before I was not really a good person; I was naughty and not good. But I come to these sessions and learnt all this stuff about people then I am a good person, I think."

Often, the media tends to highlight the locality only when there are negative stories to report. However, the entire video here can be viewed as up-lifting evidence of how, when we all pull together creatively, we enable social stability and unity and fuel ambition. It is crystal clear: a little bit of music, kindness and love goes a long, long way.

Visit Newcastle City Council webpage for the videos

Article by Beverley Knight