Newcastle art gallery The Biscuit Factory celebrates its 10th anniversary

PUBLISHED: 17:09 23 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:26 20 February 2013

Exhibition by international filmmaker Anthony Stern

Exhibition by international filmmaker Anthony Stern

As Newcastle art gallery The Biscuit Factory celebrates its 10th anniversary, Ruth Addicott looks at the impact it has had on the city

When North East entrepreneur Ramy Zack decided to renovate a former biscuit factory, he didnt expect it to attract 800,000 visitors and become one of the largest art galleries in Newcastle.

As it celebrates its 10th anniversary, The Biscuit Factory has become one of the most successful art projects the city has seen, providing a platform for local as well as international artists such as Damien Hirst, Elizabeth Blackadder and Beryl Cook.

A keen art lover, Ramy came up with the idea after discovering there was a shortage of artists studios and originally planned to build studios with a small gallery at the front. He set aside 200,000, but the gallery became so big, it eventually took over, costing him close to 1m.

People kept telling me there was a demand for art in the region and I saw the opportunity to provide that supply, he says. Id never run an art gallery, I just had a gut feeling it would work. Its completely different to anything the art world has ever seen in Europe.

Its not just the size and scale and cross section of work that has made it a success, it has also made art accessible to people in Newcastle. Visitors can pick up a handmade piece for a couple of pounds or invest in a collection piece worth 25,000.

It always used to be intimidating going into an art gallery. There was always a middle aged type with dyed blond hair and gold half rimmed glasses sitting in the corner looking up at you saying, can I help you?. Here you can just walk in and browse, its like a department store for art, Ramy added.

The Biscuit Factory has featured more than 2,500 artists since it opened. Along with local talent such as Alexander Millar and Malcolm Teasdale, whose current exhibition was inspired by the North East and memories of his coal-mining uncles, the gallery has featured artists such as Lizzie Rowe, who painted her way through a transgender transformation.

Another exhibition that turned heads was by painter Emma Tooth, who put a modern twist on classical Biblical scenes, painting a girl in a hooded top and gold hoop earrings as the Virgin Mary.

We didnt want to be a parochial art space just showing pictures of the Tyne Bridge or The Angel, says gallery manager, Rachel Brown. We didnt want to dumb down or dilute our offering. We wanted to represent work of a national scale, not patronise and assume people dont want to see that kind of stuff.

The Biscuit Factory has also had an impact in regenerating Shieldfield and Ouseburn which had become derelict, having once been at the forefront of the industrial revolution on Tyneside.

Ramys ambition now is to create a colony of artists and 130 studios by 2014. The area already has a new lease of life with further studios at The Biscuit Tin and The Holy Biscuit a refurbished Methodist church which features pop up exhibitions, craft markets and art classes for the community.

People visit from all over the world, Ramy said. Im very proud of it.

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