Shortlist Toggle
News Eleven years of Culture. pt 5

The final instalment this week of a series by outgoing Great North Run Culture Director Beth Bate in which she recalls some of her most memorable moments of the last eleven years. Check back for earlier posts to see moments 1 - 8.

9. Children North East 

In 2012, Northumbrian Water, who sponsored our education and engagement programme In Motion, suggested we get in touch with a charity they were close to – Children North East. CNE work with families and young people who are living in poverty and some extremely tough situations. Their work is vital and when we met with them for the first time, we knew we wanted to work together. 

Every year we work with CNE on an arts project inspired by one of our commissions. Led by artist Paul Merrick and film-maker Hal Branson, the projects often involve drawing as a first step, with all kids given pencils and notebooks, encouraging observation and mark-making. The projects provide invaluable time to be creative, enjoy themselves, work as a group. Their artwork is exhibited always publicly – on hoardings, in the local library, as well as online  – an important step in building their confidence and sense of achievement. In 2014, one young boy told me his favourite part of the project was "drawing and feeling like I was good at something.” 

10. A new landscape

Working on Great North Run Culture for 11 years has meant that I’ve been lucky enough to work with dozens of artists and creative people, witnessing and helping manifest their creative ideas. How much mileage can you get out of 13.1 miles? A lot it would seem. 

The course of the Great North Run has become a source of great fascination to me. Many other significant running and IAAF gold label events, are hosted in capital and major cities. The London Marathon finishes in front of Buckingham Palace, the New York Marathon crosses all five boroughs and finishes in Central Park, the Berlin Marathon starts and finishes at Brandenberg Gate. What I like about the Great North Run is that it starts on Newcastle’s central motorway, makes its way across the Tyne Bridge, the only major architectural feature on the course, through suburban Gateshead and out to the coastal South Shields. Compared to its sporting rivals, this is a fairly humble landscape. I think it is all the better for it. The event is about ordinary people in familiar places doing an extraordinary thing.

Some of my favourite commissions have really explored this landscape and, despite its everyday familiarity – perhaps because of it, I see fascinating details and intriguing corners. Paul Smith’s music commission A Mind Full Of Nothing But Continue… is a great example of this, as he notices road signs, animals, shops, weather, the breath of runners. Reuben Henry and Karin Kihlberg’s The Order Of Things (pictured) focused in tight on the built infrastructure of the course, the hidden lives of bridges, pylons and roads. Tracer by Melanie Manchot not only took us to landmark buildings like the roof of the Sage Gateshead but also through allotments and across garage roofs. Everywhere I look at the course, I now see possibilities.

11. The runners, always the runners

Everyone says it’s the runners who make the Great North Run so great. And it’s the runners who have made so many of our commissions so fantastic too. Over the last 11 years, we’ve worked with all kinds of runners on our projects – from people taking part for the first time to season club runners, from fancy dress enthusiasts to elite international professionals. They all have a story to tell and I’ve been privileged to hear many of them, thanks to our commissions.

Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s Run For Me is a moving and witty portrait of dozens of participants, their stories gently unfolding over the hour long piece. David Blandy’s Run A Mile In My Shoes took us a little closer to understanding both our relationship to music and what motivates people when they’re training, with lip-synched singers sharing their running soundtracks. Amy Feneck and Laura Mansfield worked with Wallsend Harriers on The Streets Do Flow to show us they feel before and after training, how they move as a mass, what they remember about their landscape and physical sensations. 

Great North Run Culture commissions work inspired by the Great North Run but it is so much more than that. These are works of art about effort and success; about failure and pain; about our landscape and geography; about our heritage and shared history; about physical possibilities and limitations; about what it is to be human.


This site uses JavaScript to enhance operation. There may be cases in which content does not operate normally or pages cannot be displayed if JavaScript has been disabled. Please be sure to activate JavaScript when using this site.