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News Eleven years of Culture. pt 2

Each day this week, outgoing Great North Run Culture Director Beth Bate, recalls her favourite moments from the last 11 years.

3. 13.1 miles of photographs… and one world record - read more about this commission

Julian Germain was also amongst the first group of artists I met with I moved to Newcastle. We were both working on arts education projects through Creative Partnerships in Durham and Sunderland, and it was impossible not to be moved by his touching portraits of school children, an ongoing project. Having seen his Baltic exhibition, I invited him to make a proposal to Great North Run Culture and encouraged him to "think big”. Think big he did. 

Julian proposed that we create a 13.1 mile long exhibition of photographs, all snapshots that people had taken of the 2006 Great North Run. This attempt to see as many of the records that people had made of the event as possible was beautifully simple in concept.  It was however, incredible complex to execute with each of the photographs measuring 6”x4”, meaning 139,000 photographs had to be collected, printed, mounted, weatherproofed for outdoor display, and installed.

Collecting the photographs was a huge feat – these were the days before camera phones, Facebook  Instagram and Flickr. We gave hundreds of disposable cameras to school children along the route, the scouts on the water stations, event crew, journalists – even Brendan Foster and Steve Cram had one in the BBC commentary booth on the finish line. Calls out to the public were made in local press and we asked all runners to ask their friends and families for their shots. Printed photos and discs of images were sent to a PO box and, in a shift towards the hi-tech, it was even possible to upload a photo onto a website. (It took about 4 minutes for each photo to upload.) Marathon Photos, the official run photographers, donated thousands of their images of participants.

A dedicated team, led by Julian and the ever-inventive project manager Laura Harrington, worked for weeks to assemble all of the photographs on long strips of vinyl which were then shipped to be sealed in plastic before being installed in Saltwell Park. In feat of logic, Laura managed to map out the 13.1 mile long exhibition so every contributor would be able to find their photos. All of the school children, who had donated photographs and helped assemble their strips, could now find their own work in situ.

As a participatory work, it was truly astounding, and there was a gentle beauty in the long strips of photographs trailing through the rose bushes and across walls in the park. The Guinness Book Of Records announced that it was indeed the world’s longest photographic exhibition, a record that I suspect will remain for sometime.

4. David Almond

There are some artists that, when you work with them, you know are particularly special. I’ve been hugely lucky to work with incredible creative people, many of who have become friends. But the relationship we started with David Almond all the way back in 2007 has remained very significant. 

Internationally acclaimed author, and North East native, David wrote a moving story "Harry Miller’s Run” (read about it here) for our 2008 programme. After some time sitting in our archive, we’re delighted that this book will be published shortly, featuring sharp illustrations by Salvatore Rubbino.

The story captured the joy and the energy of the event, whilst looking back at the history of the course and of running in the region. Looking back, I can now see how this was the starter for our major 2014 project together, the GNR Million Opening Ceremony (read about the entire ceremony here). We introduced David to the ceremony’s Creative Director Bradley Hemmings and the poetic script for the largest arts event ever held on the Tyne was born. Tracing the history of the North East from the Big Bang through the millionth finish of the Great North Run, David’s words sizzled and soothed, electrified and inspired.

This script, known as And Let Us Run, became the basis for a whole series of schools’ drama and heritage workshops in 2015. It’s a symbol of David’s generous and inclusive way of working that he was open – in fact encouraging – pupils taking his work and making it their own, using his creativity as a springboard for their own. You can see this play performed for the final time on 8 October, click here to reserve tickets.

David’s renowned flair for words, love of language, and belief in the importance of storytelling, is amongst the best in the world. And his vocal support for the arts, education, literature and the North East, makes me admire him all the more. 

Click here to read part 1 of Beth's best moments or check back tomorrow for part 3!


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