Newcastle City Council Artist Residencies 2019/2020- Chapter Three: Viva Las Cruddas in Cruddas Park

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.

Here's the thing: there is simply no age limit on fun, enjoyment and a jolly good laugh; nourishment for the soul. And there is not a logical reason why art needs to be earnest at all times. Organisation Search declared their 40th anniversary of becoming a constituted charity in the west of Newcastle upon Tyne two years ago. They work tirelessly to decrease social isolation and loneliness through numerous inviting activities and offer a listening ear and individual support.

A new friendship group formed that enjoy each other's company at the socially conscious hub, Oasis Cafe. From consultation, it was recognised that this older generation desired new opportunities- particularly photography and music- to diversify into new territories. From the core collective fondly naming themselves the Rat Pack, this developed into the project's working title of The Flat Pack: breathing new life into locations.

Visual and performance artist Karen Underhill is a storyteller at heart who created the thoughtful piece Wings of the Community, where many a selfie seeker has posed within. The video reveals that the members favoured the classic track Viva Las Vegas. It made sense for this to transpire into the theme of Viva Las Cruddas. Karen and student Merlyn Bradshaw facilitated sessions where the crafting of stars, mosaics, plant plots and neon signage occurred. The inviting environment marked the beginning of their tale.

With the near-deserted shopping centre as their blank canvas, it was calling out for animation and vitality; it had lost its pizazz and needed the gang to help find it again. So, following this, the creation of Vegas-style masks topped the jazzy garments of spangled spectacles and neon wigs for pop-up photo shoots.

A turn in the footage introduces local star Tony: an Elvis fanatic who accepted the duty of performing a reworded Viva Las Cruddas. By now, the wider community were on board, aided by Tony's promotion in the area. As the merry bunch twirl, prance and sing, the joy on their faces add colour to the surroundings.

"If you go and mix with some people, even if it's just for half an hour, a cup of tea and a chat, it makes you feel good rather than isolation on your own, which is bad for your health and bad for your mental health,” Tony says succinctly.

Near the end, the group selected positive affirmations, such as I am a thing of beauty and Stardust is within us, that they displayed in all their glory around Cruddas Park in the hope that the vinyl words on walls spread their newfound confidence. Again, these brightly coloured wonders have lit a match of pride in the area. Karen thinks affectionately of her time and concludes,

"This residency has shown what is possible and what can be developed in a forgotten space. We were able to nurture talented locals and grow skills. We made a positive impact on the local community. They are keen to develop this creative hub and have expressed an interest to continue with future sessions and events."

Visit Newcastle City Council webpage for the videos

Article by Beverley Knight