What The Cultural Spring Means To Me

By Freelance photographic artist Jo Howell

I was lucky enough to have started working with The Cultural Spring during their first year. There was a call out for projects that used direct participation to involve the public in the arts. I pitched my Look & Inspire pinhole photography project, and won £3500 in funding that went with some other funding I had received from Sunderland City Council. The project was a great success and ended up running for 3 years with funding from other organisations as well.

I remember the very first interview was with a panel including Rebecca Ball and Emma Horsman. I was a little bit nervous because this was the first time I had ever had to pitch to a panel to gain funding for a project. I passed round the book I had made and a series of postcards that were created by The Art Studio in Sunderland. I had worked with The Art Studio for a few years and they were a fantastic support by encouraging and supporting me to create my own projects. They were a perfect group to begin working with. They were very creative, and motivated and helped to kick start a real love affair of mine for alternative processes in photography.

After that initial success I continued to work with The Cultural Spring as a photography workshop leader. I developed 2 photography courses that I delivered across the last 3 years creating a lovely community of amateur photographers. This has carried on into this year, and we have adjusted the format so that it is a Photography Club rather than a set course.

I have also worked as a commercial photographer for The Cultural Spring on a couple of occasions. I have taken part in 3 exhibitions that were directly thanks to Cultural Spring.

Last year I applied for their largest commission yet, and won! Opportunities like this are like hen’s teeth in the North East. I was shocked, and proud, to have beaten off National competition for the commission. I worked for 6 months last year developing and delivering WearExperimenting with NEPN (North East Photography Network) and The Cultural Spring. It was a fantastic experience to work at this level. The support I received from the commissioners was exemplary. They were always on hand for administrative, legal, and general support. There is literally no way that I could have achieved the ambition and scale of the project without the sound unwavering support I received. The coffees and meetings, getting through swathes of health and safety, and the last minute running around for chalk boards. These kinds of commissioners are so important to the North. I really can’t sing their praises enough.

I worked with over 1,200 people as workshop participants during WearExperimenting; and the final artworks took over corporate advertising space in the Bridges Shopping Centre. It was shown on digital billboards over the two bridges in Sunderland which was seen by an approximate foot fall of around 200,000 people. (I know. Amazing right?!)

This has been a great experience for networking and portfolio building. Proving that a local working class artist can create and deliver a high standard quality art event. My proudest achievements to date have been because of The Cultural Spring’s unwavering support. With the growing network of brilliant organisations and charities I was building in Sunderland, I got to really spread my wings and work with thousands of people in Sunderland. We’ve built cameras, learned about photography, art and science. We’ve taken over corporate advertising space, had exhibitions of our amazing artistic collaborations. We’ve even gotten our knuckles wrapped off the police for sticking cameras to lamp posts! We’ve done festivals together and used microscopes and even a darkroom tent which went down a treat.

So, Sunderland and the rest of the North East, what shall we do next?