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Art is a Necessity Not a Luxury

As our inaugural entry to our News and Views page, I wanted to write something serious. What more apt than to try and explain the slogan on our home page. 

Art is a necessity not a luxury.

When Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North was installed in 1998, there was huge resistance to the sculpture and many people didn’t want it. The area was going through a period of massive change at the time, the ship building industry had closed and mining was in decline, unemployment was rife. There would have been many worried families with lost incomes, communities tearing apart as people left in search of work and without a doubt, depression would have played a part. The future would have looked bleak and uncertain, not dissimilar to the current times we are living in with Brexit, terrorism and the rise of politically unstable movements in the US and around the world.  Art is usually the last consideration on most people’s minds during times like these. Certainly, when the 20-meter tall sculpture with a wing span of 54 meters was installed on Birtley hill in Gateshead in February, most people in the area said the £800,000 of predominantly lottery money could have been better spent elsewhere. 

The steel from which the angel is made symbolises both the mining and the ship building industrial past of the area and the form, the angel itself, is associated with protection and hope. When Newcastle United fans put an oversized Alan Shearer football shirt on the statue in May the following year, the simple act of apparent ‘vandalism’ was in fact an act of acceptance. Now, almost 20 years later, it is considered a landmark of the north; a symbol of home, of comfort and security and beyond that, of hope, not only for Tyne and Wear but for people and communities all over the world. Councillor Jonathan Wallace, who was vehemently opposed to the Angel’s installation back in 1998, now admits that it is part of the North’s identity and pledged his support and protection of the sculpture should it ever be threatened. These are the sentiments of a man protecting his family and embody fundamental keystone principles of our culture both past and present. Is this what the Angel of the North stands for now? A benevolent witness to the past, the present and the future, a symbol of our flawed existence and perhaps the continuity of life itself.

Art doesn’t need to be beautiful to be important. In any case, what is beauty other than an idea? Allowing ourselves to find that is so important, especially when it is shared. Art is that sharing and reminds us that we are not alone, that we are part of something greater. 


Installing "Angle of the North"
Anthony Gormley's sculpture Angle of the North

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