Middlesbrough - creative arts and cutting edge technology
PUBLISHED: 15:20 14 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:10 05 April 2013
Middlesbrough is challenging its traditional image through a combination of the creative arts and cutting edge technology, as Chris Titley reports
Many words come to mind when you think of Middlesbrough. Industrial, steely, rugged and no-nonsense are among them. But what about artistic, creative, modern, even (whisper it) touchy-feely?
The fact is, for every truism about Middlesbrough being home to the heat and hammer of the steelworks, there is an equally valid argument
to crown it the arts capital of the north.
The two sometimes go hand-in-hand of course. What are the Dorman Long-built Tyne and Sydney Harbour Bridges if not vast, supremely practical works of public art? And some of Middlesbroughs more modern installations draw on its heritage as a steel town.
Take the Bottle Of Notes. This is genuinely monumental art a 35ft high tempered steel flask forged from the words of Captain Cooks journal and seemingly washed ashore by the River Tees. The first public sculpture in Britain by renowned artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, it was completed in 1993 a full five years ahead of the Angel Of The North.
On a similar scale and still cutting-edge eight years after it was built, Spectra-txt is an interactive work of genius.
Peter Freeman created the 33ft-high column of light 1,000 fibre-optic points shimmering in a mirrored stainless steel structure. And its rainbow can be altered by anyone with a mobile phone, simply by sending a text message. Text Boro for example, and it turns into the cherry red of the football team.
Completing an unofficial trilogy of giant steel sculptures is Temenos. Built in Middlehaven and finished in 2010, this 360ft-long, 2.7 million pole-and-ring design held together by steel wire was created by Anish Kapoor.
He is now more celebrated for designing an twisty observation tower for the London 2012 Olympics. Once again, Middlesbrough got there first. Temenos was expected to be the first of five Tees Valley Giants, but funding for the other four evaporated in the cold light of the age of austerity.
Nevertheless, these are examples of art which not only draw from
the industrial heritage of Middlesbrough, but help point the way to a new and uplifting future for the town. Perhaps the culmination of this project is mima the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. Costing 14 million, there were some who argued that better use could be made of that money in a town hit rocked by the decline in heavy industry. But
with thousands of schoolchildren visits and hundreds of events now under its belt, mima has now proved its worth to the town and the region.
This year, it launched the countrys biggest art competition, with an eye-widening 41,000 prize fund. Run in conjunction with the Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation, Love Where You Live spreads the notion of Teesside pride far and wide.
People often speak of regional pride, but through my time working with mima Ive seen it on another level, says Kate Brindley, director of the art gallery.
This competition allows mima to contribute not only to the artistic and cultural makeup of the area but to help people, through their art, give back to the people and places that make Teesside the place it is.
The philanthropic foundation put up the prize money, to be spread among schools, charities and community organisations.
We want to make a difference to the people of Middlesbrough and Teesside. This art competition is a celebration of what makes the region great and we want people to shout about why they love where they live, said foundation chairman Andy Preston.
Most importantly 41,000 is going to help charities, schools and local organisations on Teesside to help them become all they can be.
A display of the entries, all postcard-sized works of art, go on display at mima from February 23 to April 28, with the winners deciding which local good causes get the prize money.
Such artistic endeavour stands in sharp relief to the childhood experience of one of Middlesbroughs most celebrated artists, Mackenzie Thorpe.
When he was growing up in the town in the Sixties and Seventies, he
enjoyed the friendliness and street wit of his fellow residents but was frustrated by a world where the aesthetic attributes of art held little or no sway.
His only exposure to art, he said, was watching Rolf Harris on television.
So Mackenzie didnt hesitate when asked to support the postcard art contest. We have a proud and strong industrial heritage and identity, we are people who have endured hardships and survived, we are people who care about each other, and we are people who are creative and keep moving forward, he said.
Middlesbrough doesnt excel only in the visual arts, however. It is also an emerging leader in that most modern of creative industries, video games. Developer Double Eleven brought the international hit game LittleBigPlanet to the new PlayStation Vita console, and won Game of the Year at the industrys TIGA 2012 awards for its trouble.
February saw the return of Animex, the international festival of animation and computer games, at Teesside University. Meanwhile the universitys DigitalCity Innovation project, developing digital media technology companies in the Tees Valley, has nurtured many hi-tech start-ups creating iPhone games, Android apps and films.
It is based in the Boho Zone. Previously the St Hildas housing area, Boho is an ambitious regeneration modelled on the Soho areas in both New York and London. It even includes Bohouse an innovative development where the apartments include both living and working spaces, aimed at creatives who are self-employed.
For a town often linked to the heavy industries of the past, Middlesbrough has always had a futuristic feel. One of its most famous alumni, film-maker Sir Ridley Scott, said he based the visionary cityscape in his sci-fi classic Blade Runner on the bright lights and flickering flames of the areas ICI works.
Now cutting edge creativity and digital technologies are fast forwarding the town into another new and exciting era.