INTERVIEW: North East Emerging Artist Award | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Chantal Herbert and Dami Fawehinmi

At first glance, Seaton Delaval Hall’s grand Georgian architecture and sweeping grounds make it seem more like a relic of the past than a hub of contemporary art. It seems odd that this sombre manor house could be the home of the North East Emerging Artist Award: but for seasoned curator Matthew Jarratt, it is the ideal setting.

Previously, I helped to set up a prize for emerging sculptors at Cheeseburn Sculpture Gardens in Northumberland.” Explains Matthew. “After that closed, I received funding to do something similar in a new venue. Seaton Delaval Hall has a unique reputation, not just as a National Trust property, but as a place with a rich history of theatre patronage and a team that is always keen to host contemporary art.”

The house has proved to be a bountiful source of inspiration for local artists. Now in its second year, the award is a springboard for some of the region’s most promising practitioners: entrants are tasked with pulling together a detailed proposal for a piece or performance inspired by the house, its former inhabitants and its heritage. The resulting projects span a huge range of topics and disciplines, as showcased perfectly by the upcoming exhibition of last year’s winners, which launches in various areas across the estate on Wednesday 17th May. 

What we want is to give emerging artists the opportunity to develop their ideas, as well as the support they need to put these ideas into practice

The show is set to feature a trio of works, including a razor-sharp commentary on decolonisation and ‘taking up space’ from Chantal Herbert and collaborator Dami Fawehinmi; a whimsical (and interactive!) celebration of Seaton Delaval’s architecture by Edmond Salter; and a visceral performance piece that will see dancer Maria Isidora hurtle through centuries of history and memory at the manor. 

Before immersing yourself in last year’s winners though, Matthew encourages visitors to have their say on this year’s entrants. Until Sunday 14th May, visitors to Seaton Delaval Hall can take a trip to the preposterously ornate stables to view the eight shortlisted proposals and vote for their favourite. “There are three people, including myself, on the judging panel, but the visitors are like a fourth judge!” Matthew says. “Public engagement is really important: we wouldn’t choose a winner that the visitors hadn’t really loved.”

Looking at this year’s shortlist, the choice won’t be an easy one. Some of the pieces, like Richard Eyers’ Everyone and Jacob Goff’s Many Hands, are inspired by the hall as we know it today: a gorgeous heritage site powered by a legion of dedicated volunteers. Other projects, like The Keelmans Strike 1719 by Anabelle Blackett, delve into the rich (and sometimes dark) history of the Delaval family and their impact on the community around them. For the nature lovers among us, there is even a proposal that draws focus on the house’s most fascinating occupants – the bats that have roosted in the roof of Seaton Delaval Hall since it was destroyed by a fire in 1822. 

Whether they are selected or not, the opportunities presented by the award mean that these eight artists are certain to go far – for curator Matthew, that’s what it’s all about. “Projects like this are really important for artists at the start of their career.” He says. “What we want is to give emerging artists the opportunity to develop their ideas, as well as the support they need to put these ideas into practice.”

The North East Emerging Artist Award is at Seaton Delaval Hall from Wednesday 17th May-Sunday 11th June.

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