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News Eleven years of Culture. pt 4

Beth Bate, Director of Great North Run Culture for some 11 years, talks us though the most memorable moments of her time with the organisation. Check back over previous posts to see moments 1 through 6.

7. The new with the old

When commissioning new work every year, it can sometimes be easy to get caught up in the "new”. What haven’t we done before? Where haven’t we worked? Who haven’t we approached? Yet some of the work I’m most proud of has right back to the "old”, using archive material as the beginning point for creative exploration. 

We have a rich archive of moving and still images in the North East, with organisations like Amber and the North East Film Archive holding treasures from the last 150 years. Tal Rosner made brilliant use of some of this footage in the animated film he created for the Great North Run Million Opening Ceremony. We were able to present this work again this year as GNR Million Re:Work (read more here) which gave us the chance to focus on this important regional material. Juxtaposed alongside newly shot film and his graphic animations, the archive material was brought to life, singing from the screen.

In 2009 Vicki Bennett presented Parade (read more here), which was created from footage from the Great North Run’s own archives, with some new material she had shot at the event. Collaged images burst across screen, all accompanied by an avant-garde classical soundtrack. Vicki achieved exactly what we hope all of our commissions do – she showed us the Great North Run in an entirely new way.

8. Hundreds of volunteers (pictured)

Great North Run’s volunteers have always been key to our success, helping out at exhibitions, public events and schools projects. I love that our volunteer programme gives all sorts of people a chance to get involved in what we do.

For the Great North Run Million Opening Ceremony, we had to ask for something a little bit different however. We needed hundreds of volunteers to perform in the ceremony, to become the human, beating heart of the show. This would require them to give up weekends and evenings, to work with movement director Nathan Curry and a team of dance captains, to wear costumes, to appear on TV… We knew we were asking a lot from people.

We recruited over the summer weeks in 2014 and we waited nervously at our first volunteer briefing in August to see how many people who’d signed up would actually come… but come they did! Nearly 800 volunteers gave their time, energy and goodwill. There was a palpable buzz in the rehearsal rooms at Gateshead Stadium and I knew when I saw the commitment of people there that the event was going to be a success. Two nights before the event, David Almond and I watched another rehearsal at Gateshead Old Town Hall, welling up with pride, excitement and anticipation.

Over a year later, many of the volunteers are still in touch, they have a very active Facebook group, and there was even an anniversary flashmob on Northumberland Street on 4th September. Artistic Director Bradley Hemmings told the volunteers, "This will change your life.” He was right, and it changed mine too. 


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