Arts in The Word

As Arts and Heritage Officer for the Council I spend about half my working week in The Word, working on the ‘creative’ parts of the building.

The Word is already a special place and my work aims to make it extra special! Most of my time involves building the case for great art to take place in the venue, talking to artists, building partnerships and looking at ways to make something happen from nothing.

We’ve had a lot of support from Arts Council England, who have approved several ‘Grants for the Arts’ to help us deliver some of the projects you have read about, or, hopefully, have taken part in.  Things like the choir (Library Voices), parts of the main Pirates exhibition, our Writers in Residence, the WRITE Festival and many more projects have been supported by the Arts Council.

A great project to have been involved in has been Lost Dialect – collecting words and phrases that are only spoken about in the North East and are legacies of industry, immigration and where we sit in relation to the rest of Britain.

It’s been a pleasure to work alongside Tom Kelly, a writer, poet and all round good guy.  Tom’s ideas and contacts have provided the content for the exhibition. Lost Dialect is quite a simple idea – we want people to write down their favourite ‘Geordie’ word on a luggage tag.  I think ‘clarts’ is my favourite word of the moment!

To help people get in the mood for writing down their own favourite words, they can take part in a Dialect word quiz, listen to Benny Graham singing some well-known folk songs (like Blaydon Races, Herrin’s Heed or another of the 20 classics that Benny and his mate Chuck Fleming recorded for us) and examine information about the shipyards of the Tyne.

Visitors to The Word have really taken to the exhibition and seem to have had a lot of fun navigating the computer tablets which house the quiz, songs and images.

There are few more we things can do with ‘dialect’ before the exhibition closes in the first half of 2018 and we are having interesting discussions with Newcastle University and others about possible partnership working. But my favourite anecdote about the work so far is powerful and emotional. Someone about my age (I’m 55), brought their mother,  who suffers from dementia and is in a wheel chair, into The Word and into the Lost Dialect exhibition. On selecting one of the Benny Graham songs the woman started to sing along – something that amazed her son and which he was incredibly grateful for, as, like many sufferers of this horrible disease, she could remember things from a long time ago but not the recent past. She became very animated and happy during the course of the song – art can be a powerful and emotional thing.

I’ll leave it there for now and next time write about something more light-hearted!


Richard Barber, Arts & Heritage Officer