Excitement building for passionate event

There are only a few days before the BBC’s flagship Easter programme is broadcast from the region.

Two South Shields communities and others in Whitburn and Boldon have been working with artists to interpret themes based on the Stations of the Cross for the Great North Passion (GNP), which will be broadcast live on BBC One from Bents Park, South Shields, on Friday (April 18) from noon.

Singer and X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke will perform during the event, which is a retelling of Christ’s last hours, as will dancers, graffiti artists, a poet and a massed choir led by opera singer Graeme Danby.

The GNP is a joint collaboration between the BBC and The Cultural Spring, a £2m Arts Council funded project working in five South Tyneside wards and five in Sunderland. Shields projects for the Passion are being completed by poet Kate Fox at South Shields Community School and Biddick Hall-born photographer Garry Hunter at Chuter Ede. There is also a breakdancing project based at Boldon School, while schulptor Joseph Hillier has been working on a project at Souter Lighthouse in Whitburn.

Graeme Thompson, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media at the University of Sunderland, is chair of The Cultural Spring, whose partners are the university, the Customs House, South Shields and Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture Trust.

Graeme, who was brought up in Shields, said excitement was building for the Passion, and explained the wider role of The Cultural Spring: “The Great North Passion is a tremendous launch pad for The Cultural Spring. Our vision – to engage communities across South Tyneside and Sunderland in great art – is at the heart of the event we are producing with the BBC.

“Thanks to the support of Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places fund, we are embarking on a brilliant series of events to re-connect local communities with story-telling, performance and the power of art.

“Our team is working with ten wards connecting the North of Sunderland with the southern half of South Tyneside. And it is brilliant that for many of these residents, their first participation with an arts project will be captured live on BBC One on Good Friday with The Great North Passion.

“The tradition of people being able to tell stories and mark important events through music, poetry, painting and other art-forms is as old as time. But in recent years, art and literature has become distanced from some sections of society who have come to regard it as elitist, unaffordable and inaccessible.

“By working with local artists and others with national and international reputations, we are confident that local people will find relevance and pleasure in either producing or spectating at our events.

“Not all of the activities we have planned are as big or as high profile as the Passion. But in their own way, the films, books, artworks, exhibitions and performances that emerge from The Cultural Spring, will be equally distinctive and rooted in the geography and traditions of this unique corner of the North East.

“I’m extremely proud that the University of Sunderland is playing a lead role in The Cultural Spring alongside colleagues from The Customs House in South Shields and the Sunderland Music & Culture Trust. We were inspired by Grayson Perry’s Sunderland tapestries to move art and culture out of its undeserved elitist pigeonhole and back into the lives of the people. The Great North Passion is the first step of that journey.

“University colleagues Graeme Danby (Visiting Professor of Music) and Photography Professor Arabella Plouviez are among the University of Sunderland staff and students involved in the Passion project. It’s a great opportunity for the university to work with local communities and other artists to bring to life the epic story of the crucifixion.”

Each community project was given a shipping container to use, and these containers are now arriving at Bents Park to be added to more than 50 others to form a huge cross-shaped installation. Good Friday’s live broadcast will come from this ‘pop-up church,’ which will host a congregation of several thousand.