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News Eleven years of Culture. pt 1

Since I announced my departure as Director of Great North Run Culture, I have been touched how many people have been in touch with me about their favourite commissions from the last 11 years and the moments they remember most. Since starting working with the Great North Run on our first Moving Image Commission in 2004, our programme has become of the major commissioning arts organisations in the North East. 

These are 11 of my chosen moments from the last 11 years:

1. My first Great North Run

My very first Great North Run in 2005 was something of a shock to the system. I had never been to a sporting event on that scale – teenage swimming galas and Welsh village rugby matches just don’t pull these kinds of numbers. Over 50,000 people stood on the start line, a line that is in fact a mile long, with many thousands more lining the course to watch and cheer. Outside of trips to Glastonbury, I had never seen so many people collected in one place. It was breathtaking. 

I was due to meet Helen, Brendan Foster’s PA, who informed me in a hurried phone call that she was under the gantry with Mark Wallinger and Jane and Louise Wilson, our guests that year. I knew very well what Wallinger and the Wilsons looked like but I had to admit that I had no idea what a gantry was. And so began my steep sports learning curve. 

2. Drawing with Graham Dolphin - click here to read more about this commission

Our first commissions in 2005 were initiated by Brendan and the board at the Great North Run, which I helped present as our first culture programme. When I was asked to put together my own progarmme for the following year, I was drawn to one of the first artists I’d met when I moved to Newcastle. Graham Dolphin was at the time perhaps best known for his tiny, obsessively neat passages of text, etched onto records, record covers and magazines and I’d greatly admired his work in shows at BALTIC and mima. I then discovered Graham and his partner Sarah had run the Great North Run together and this piqued my interest.

I was by this point already tired of hearing people talk about sport and art as different worlds, as two camps that would never get on. I run (not very fast, through Heaton Park) and I’m a card-carrying culture lover. I had refused to believe that I was the only one. To discover that an artist whose work I was so interested in had also actually done the Great North Run was too good an opportunity to miss.

We commissioned Graham to create a drawing called 20,593 Lines, 20,593 Steps, 13.1 Miles and it remains one of my favourite piece of work. Painstakingly calculating the number of steps he had taken to complete the event, Graham then drew each step as a line, creating rows of lines that snake across the page. Each mile drawn, he switched to a darker shade of pencil so that by the end of the drawing, the lines are heavy and dark, showing his slow and determined final steps in the race.

It’s a very minimal and peaceful work that draws you in closer, pulling your mind towards the steadiness of runners’ steps. You can’t escape the physical undertaking of the drawing and, in turn, of the Great North Run itself. 

Check back tomorrow for part 2!


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