This April, the NewBridge Project on New Bridge St West, one of the largest organisations in Newcastle’s Creative Quarter and home to over 80 artists, will re-locate.
Notice has been given by developers to leave the space that they have occupied for eight years. They will be moving to a new building in the city centre, but this looks to be part of a larger trend of developments making Newcastle less hospitable to artists and independent business. Norham House is owned by the Reuben Brothers, number 60 in Forbes’ 2016 list for the richest people alive, and is managed by GVA, one of the largest property management companies in the UK.
How artists moved into an area owned and managed by such money-oriented entities is a mixture of the financial crisis, when there was no money in property or its development, and artistic need. The artists got a cheap space to work in and the landlords got an 80% tax break from the council for housing not-for-profits. However, circumstances have changed, the economy is no longer in recession, so landlords don’t need what’s called ‘meanwhile’ occupants because the people they’ve been waiting for, the people with money, have arrived.
Art often has a questionable relationship with finance. Ethics of scarcity due to artists’ deaths and corruption within institutions to do with appreciation and incestuous back-scratching being some of them. But in this specific case the moral relationship is decidedly clear.
Officially endorsed projects like The Baltic and its top-down organisation is not enough by itself to create environments that are conducive to creative growth. The Baltic should exist, large bureaucratic institutions are good at doing big things for wide audiences (and for a place that doesn’t have a permanent collection, it does well playing to its strengths by promoting strong and exciting emerging artists). But The Baltic is a place that you exhibit, not a place that you develop, and places for development are needed for larger institutions to exist. The Baltic itself understands this with their studios and project space in the Baltic 39.
The Director of the NewBridge Project, Charlotte Gregory, highlighted this need in an interview for this article: ‘It was very hard, being a more emerging, early career artist to access, to find those networks, to find those more affordable spaces and have those opportunities. NewBridge grew out of a desire to create that.’ NewBridge and the developers both grew from demand and opportunity, what separates them is their contribution to the city. New student housing and office space is common, the artists in the Creative Quarter are the cultural core of Newcastle.
The forces pushing NewBridge out and the ones slowly eroding the character of the city through gated, private student accommodation are of the same kind. Without personal and political will to challenge them, they will go as far as they can for profit. That is not what makes a city great, it makes it hollow.