Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life

September 24, 2023

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” said Pablo Picasso. I imagine he meant art can transport us somewhere outside the humdrum and day-to-day. Or perhaps he meant art can bring new meaning and perspectives to our daily existence. Art shows us a new way to interpret our world.

Art comes in many forms. I love the magic and escapism of the cinema. For our first date, I took my wife, Caroline, to see Pulp Fiction. Not the most romantic movie, I grant you, but we’re still in love 28 years later. It goes to show you never can tell. When I saw the Tyneside Cinema was showing Tarantino’s classic as part of their ‘Big Screen Magic’ programme this summer, I knew we had to go.

“And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my popcorn!” Apologies to non-Pulp Fiction fans, who might be scratching their heads now.

Cinema can be pure escapism. Transporting us into a completely new world. Out in a galaxy far, far, away with alien creatures and mind-boggling technology. Sometimes, films can bring you back down to Earth with a jarring bump.

When Ken Loach first released Cathy Come Home – a 1966 BBC television play about Britain’s chronic housing shortage – many people thought it was a documentary. It was gritty, unflinching and hard-hitting. It’s impossible to watch the harrowing final scene, where Cathy has her children forcibly removed by Social Services, without being deeply affected. His subsequent films tell stories that feel very close to home. Whether the punitive benefits system of I, Daniel Blake or the inhumane working practices of Sorry We Missed You.

Ken’s latest film, The Old Oak, premiered in Durham and Newcastle last week. It tells the story of TJ Bannatyne, the landlord of a struggling pub in an ex-mining town. When Syrian refugees arrive, it causes tensions within the community. TJ strikes up a friendship with Yara, one of the refugees, and confronts the hostility from the locals – forging a new community along the way.

It’s the third consecutive feature film Ken has set and filmed in the North East, giving actors a start, and creating jobs behind the camera. He’s a true friend to the region. 500 people worked on The Old Oak. I’d urge you to go and see it, but caution that it may harm your political career if you’re seen in the same postcode as Ken Loach!

Cinema doesn’t have to be feature-length productions with huge budgets and crews. I recently watched a brilliant short film, Ill Fares the Land, by Patrick Ireland. It follows a young boy in an English coastal town, struggling with trauma, haunted by visions of mermaids and drifting toward the far-right ideology of his older brother. It’s showing at The Star and Shadow on Friday, as part of the North East International Film Festival. I recommend seeing it. The festival itself promises to be a great showcase of filmmaking talent from across the globe.

Arts and culture are often viewed as ‘nice to have’ but not essential. I disagree. I see the huge value artists and creatives bring to our communities and economy. Between 2011 and 2020 our creative industries grew by 68% – the fastest of any UK region – and today contribute more than £1 billion to the local economy annually, employing 46,000 people.

As part of our Cultural and Creative Zones initiative, the North of Tyne announced a £1.7million initiative last week to support our burgeoning scene of artists, musicians and filmmakers in Newcastle. And we are doing this right across the region. It’ll help keep our talented North East creatives here, instead of heading to London or Manchester to seek their fortunes. Who knows, the next Sam Fender, Andrea Riseborough or Ridley Scott could be right under our noses.

I’ve also signed off a further £2 million for our fantastic Cultural and Creative Investment Programme. Providing loans, equity, grants and support to hundreds of creative sector businesses and freelancers working in the North of Tyne area.

You can’t construct culture – it must grow organically – we’re just creating the conditions in which it can thrive.