The rich vein of arts and culture running through Middlesbrough enhances every aspect of life.
The imposing modernist drama of mima art gallery casts its light across Centre Square. The gallery’s innovative approach to arts and the purpose a gallery should serve has helped redefine arts in Middlesbrough and put the town at the heart of North East England’s arts scene. The key phrase for the museum is ‘useful art’ and the belief that a museum can be a civic institution that promotes art as a tool for social change has seen a programme of events which puts the needs of the town and the townspeople at its centre.
The gallery’s commitment to exploring subjects that embrace and explore notions of cultural identity, based around race, gender and class and culture, also single it out for acclaim. Exhibitions are crowd sourced and mima works with local people, student groups, charities and through workshops to turn the institute into a storytelling machine for the town.
A recent exhibition, The Place is Here, presents work by over 20 black artists and collectives working in the UK during the 1980s and spans painting, film, photography and archival material from this pivotal decade in British culture and politics. mima also launched a furniture maker programme to train a group of local unemployed people and now sells their furniture designs in the gallery shop with a turnover of £60,000 a year.
Several museums and public spaces in the area celebrate local history and local heroes. The Dorman Museum celebrates Middlesbrough’s heritage through natural history and geology to social history and Victorian arts and craft. Similarly, the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, further afield in Whitby, offers a fascinating insight into the life of the eponymous seaman.
The beautiful reading rooms at Middlesbrough Central Library based in Centre Square are like an additional hallowed museum space, with wood-panelled walls, treasured manuscripts and a welcome sense of calm accessible to all.
Arts in the Community
The participatory arts organisation, Tees Valley Arts, makes an important contribution to making culture accessible. Based in Middlesbrough and working across the Tees Valley, it designs and manages bespoke creative activities, which are delivered by freelance artists. With an emphasis on creative participation it works with people of all abilities, ages and backgrounds.
The grassroots approach follows through to the appealing Gallery TS1 where local artists and craftspeople exhibit and sell their work. There is also a tessellating ethos at Platform Arts, a Tees Valley charity based in Middlesbrough Rail Station, which is committed to providing affordable studio space for professional artists and providing space for local artists to exhibit.