Friday 26 February 2010

Dark and true and tender is the North

Whether the North East forms part of a larger Northern identity has been the subject of much debate recently. Obviously this has resonance for Arts CouncilEngland as we (they!) get closer to implementing the new management structure. Alarm at power shifting is, I think, generally greater than it needs to be, but there's something interesting culturally about it.

The Journal newspaper have been running a campaign 'Case for the North East', which alongside many strong cases has included some rather odd and (to my mind) parochial statements suggesting there is no such thing as the North - it's 'a convenient line drawn on a civil servant's map' and 'the truth is we relate as much to London, Scotland and Europe as we do to the rest of the north'. Economically there may be some truth in that, but culturally I couldn't disagree more. (And whoever built Hadrian's Wall, or thought up the word Northumbria - North of the Humber? - might be with me.)

Of course the North East is as different from the North West as a Geordie accent is from Scouse, and both are different from Yorkshire. But then Tyneside is different from Teesside. They do though, have things in common - industrial and class heritage most particularly. The stereotypes of 'Northernness' cut across the country - and so do the positives. I think that's an interesting thing to explore - and the understanding of our variety and diversity that results a real inspiration.

Two things are happening at the moment that explore ideas of northerness is a more exciting sense than the Journal's campaign. (And don't get me wrong, I want resources and power to reside in the region - just not for almost charitable reasons.) Firstly Northern Stage (now run by that lovely southern lady Erica Whyman, or Why-Aye-man as she's known in Newcastle) is celebrating its 40th birthday with a major project exploring Northernness in a global context. And then The Civic in Barnsley are hosting Northern Futures, a competition for northern talent. I guess one can see the dangers here though, as even I thought they could have included some North Eastern names in their examples. (Or indeed more people who still lived in the North.)

(Of course, I would say all that, wouldn't I, having spent the first 22 years of my life in the NW, 5 in Yorkshire and the last 17 in the North East. I did spend a year in London Village, but that just reinforced my northerness.)

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