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We Are Middlesbrough: From a town of industry to a city of culture?




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Mima – Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art – has been open for 12 years

Once known for steelmaking and chemical factories, Middlesbrough wants to reinvent itself, and is looking to arts and culture to help.

On Thursday, it hosted the north-east of England’s annual culture awards, run by two local papers; while it will be at the heart of the Tees Valley’s bid to be UK City of Culture in 2025. And this weekend, some of the world’s biggest pop stars will flock there for BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend.

Here, three artists from the town talk about why it deserves a better press, why being far from London provides artistic freedom, and why they are excavating its history and land – literally – for their creative projects.

Making Middlesbrough – the musical

One of acclaimed scriptwriter Ishy Din’s next projects is a stage musical about the fortunes of his home town, beginning when Middlesbrough rapidly expanded during the industrial revolution.

“Sometimes we get a hard time,” he says. “We’re consistently at the top of lists. Bad lists. Worst place to live. Worst place to be a girl. Health. Employment. Education. And I think that’s unfair.”

His musical, Iron and Steel, will show a different view. He’s creating it with actress and producer Victoria Gibson – daughter of Middlesbrough FC chairman Steve – as well as local folk group Cattle & Cane and singer-songwriter Alistair Griffin.

Having a creative career in Middlesbrough has its pros and cons, according to Din, who is also currently working on a play for the Royal Shakespeare Company and has written for Channel 4’s Ackley Bridge.

Living costs are cheaper than London – to where many people move to try to make their names. But he thinks his career would have progressed faster in the capital.

“There aren’t very many of us who have broken through, but in the town there are lots of people and lots of young artists striving to make the leap.”

He credits the council with putting faith in culture to help turn the the town’s fortunes around in the post-industrial age.

“We want to move forward. We want to celebrate the past but embrace the future. And culture is one of the things that will do it.”

  • BBC News – We Are Middlesbrough
  • From taxi driver to the people’s playwright

‘We have freedom to think here’

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Emily Hesse

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Emily Hesse (front) leading a walking performance titled No Silence Here

Emily Hesse hasn’t just taken inspiration from the Teesside landscape – she has taken the landscape for her art.

She excavated clay from the banks of the River Tees herself, and took a master’s degree in ceramics to learn what to do with it.

She used it in projects including New Linthorpe, for which she set up a community kiln and gave 1,000 members of the public a lump of clay, and taught them basic techniques.

“It’s a very ancient material,” she says. “It embodies and holds within it the experiences of communities and traumas and tragedies as well as what it must have been to have lived here at various points in time.”

For her parents’ generation, art wasn’t usually a career option in Middlesbrough. “Everybody was pretty much just sent into the steelworks, the industry, ICI.”

Hesse didn’t think art was a career option at first either, but when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 19, a consultant encouraged her to “go and have a life”.

“I’m still here and I’m still having a life.”

As well as a sculptor, she’s an author, performer and activist. She published a book last year – her take on being an artist in the north-east, and being sidelined by more visible artists and institutions.

She’s currently writing another book, making a film inspired by matriarchal communities, and organising a symposium for the 30th anniversary of a Middlesbrough exhibition titled Miners.

“Often I’m looking for moments to speak about a history that’s been marginalised,” Hesse says. “That’s the root of my work – however those moments appear.”

Middlesbrough’s lower living costs allow her to do things she couldn’t afford to in London, she says. Like have time to think. It also means she doesn’t need to sell her art.

“If you’re choosing to not produce a commodity, then you have to exist in a different way, and this is a great place to exist outside the capitalist structures of the art world,” she says.

“We know we’re making a sacrifice so we can have that time to think, so we can read a book, so we can produce work, so we can write books.

“We wouldn’t get that anywhere else, and that’s what this town can offer you.”

Keeping the ‘warmth’ and ‘comradeship’ alive

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David Myers/Mackenzie Thorpe

Mackenzie Thorpe is one of Middlesbrough’s most successful artistic exports – his colourful, affectionate paintings are owned by the Queen, JK Rowling and, apparently, Tom Hardy. He’s currently on a world tour to mark his 30 years as an artist.

He doesn’t live in Middlesbrough any more, but in April he returned to unveil a statue next to the famous Transporter Bridge – two children trying to spot their dad among the throng of men who would cross at the end of a shift.

It’s a tribute to Thorpe’s own father, and “a monument to the working man and the working woman”, he says.

Telling the story of the statue, he explains: “All these men come roaring over, and it’s, ‘Have you seen my dad? Where’s my dad? There he is! There he is!’

“And then he comes over and they grab hold of each hand and he turns round and says, ‘Let’s go home’. That warmth that goes through them is something that I really miss.”

Middlesbrough still informs “every aspect” of his work, he says. It’s work that is heavily tinged with nostalgia. If he’s painting children with his trademark flowers and giant hearts, he’s conjuring feelings from his own youth.

“In my mind, all I can see is these six-year-old kids running around the street with a busted ball. You think ‘they’ve got nowt’, but we had so much. We were totally happy. It’s looking back in such an affectionate way and wishing I still had that.”

He goes back regularly – but perhaps living elsewhere means it’s easier to draw inspiration from memories of an era when the “comradeship” he often mentions was fostered by the heavy industry the town was built upon.

“It’s because I constantly miss the place and miss what it means to me that keeps it fresh.”

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Naturalist and presenter David Bellamy dies at 86




David Bellamy at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2009Image copyright
Chris Jackson / Getty Images

Botanist and broadcaster David Bellamy has died aged 86, the Conservation Foundation he formed has said.

London-born Bellamy, who became a household name as a TV personality, scientist and conservationist, died on Wednesday, according to the foundation.

His colleague, David Shreeve, described him as a “larger-than-life character” who “inspired a whole generation”.

In later life Bellamy, who lived in County Durham, attracted criticism for dismissing global warming.

In 2004 he described it as “poppycock” – a stance which he later said cost him his TV career.

Bellamy worked in a sweet factory and as a plumber before embarking on his broadcasting career.

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Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan said Bellamy was a “brilliant naturalist, broadcaster & character”

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Media captionDavid Bellamy on the interview that started his career

His scientific career began when he got a job in the biology department of a technical college in Surrey, he told BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs programme in 1978.

It was there that he met his future wife, Rosemary.

But it was on a trip to Scotland where he discovered his love for plants, he told the programme.

“I got really turned on by plants and I found out that if somebody told me what a plant was, I just couldn’t forget it,” he said.

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PA Media

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David Bellamy takes a walk with his granddaughter Tilly, then aged four, around the Scottish Seabird Centre after unveiling a new remote wildlife camera in North Berwick in 2007

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PA Media

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The broadcaster stood, unsuccessfully, against the then prime minister John Major for the eurosceptic Referendum Party during the 1997 general election

He gained public recognition for his work as an environmental consultant over the Torrey Canyon oil spill, when a tanker was shipwrecked off the coast of Cornwall in 1967.

He went on to present programmes such as Don’t Ask Me, Bellamy On Botany, Bellamy’s Britain, Bellamy’s Europe and Bellamy’s Backyard Safari.

And in 1979 he won Bafta’s Richard Dimbleby Award, for best presenter of factual programmes.

His distinctive voice also inspired comedian Sir Lenny Henry’s catchphrase “grapple me grapenuts”.

BBC arts correspondent David Sillito described Bellamy as “the enthusiastic face of botany on television” for more than 30 years.

In 2003, he told BBC News that he was sceptical about mankind being responsible for rising temperatures and suggested that they might be part of the Earth’s natural cycles.

He said: “We have got to get this thing argued out in public properly and not just take one opinion.”

Ten years later, he told the Independent newspaper: “It (global warming) is not happening at all, but if you get the idea that people’s children will die because of CO2 they fall for it.”

‘Canny broadcaster”.

Well-known figures have paid tribute to Bellamy, including fellow naturalist and broadcaster Bill Oddie who described him as a “first-class naturalist, with boundless skills to convey his enthusiasm”.

Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan said Bellamy was a “brilliant naturalist, broadcaster and character”, in a tribute posted on Twitter.

Comedy writer and broadcaster Danny Baker, who described him as a “truly brilliant and canny broadcaster”.

The Walking Dead actor David Morrissey tweeted that Bellamy “cared about nature and our environment deeply.”

And former England footballer Stan Collymore called him a “childhood icon”, adding that he “learnt about botany and shrubs and trees as a kid because of this man’s love and infectious enthusiasm.”

Bellamy’s wife Rosemary died last year.

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Portrait of a Lady: Stolen Klimt mystery ‘solved’ by gardener in Italy




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Media captionThe recovered artwork was put on display by police

Nothing was heard of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of a Lady after it was stolen nearly 23 years ago from a modern art gallery in Piacenza, northern Italy.

There seemed little prospect of the masterpiece, valued at €60m (£50m; $66m), ever being found.

That was until a worker clearing ivy from the wall of the gallery where it was stolen stumbled on a metal panel.

Behind it lay a recess, within which was a black bag containing what appeared to be the missing painting.

Checks are still being carried out on the recovered work, which has been handed to police.

But gallery director Massimo Ferrari is confident the original has been found, because it has the same stamps and sealing wax on the back of the painting.

Police are investigating whether the thieves had left the painting hidden with the aim of removing it when worldwide media attention moved away from one of the most notorious art thefts in years.

Black bag of rubbish

The painting was stolen on 22 February 1997 from the Ricci-Oddi modern art gallery amid preparations for a special exhibition in Piacenza aimed at showing off Portrait of a Lady.

The frame of the painting was discarded on the roof of the building in an apparent attempt to show that thieves had broken in through the skylight. That was not the case as the skylight was too small for the painting to fit through.

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The painting was found inside this recess in a wall at the gallery

The worker who found the painting said initially he thought the black bag was just rubbish.

Gen Roberto Riccardi, head of the carabinieri unit for protecting cultural heritage, called for caution before the work is authenticated.

A group of experts will now use scientific and artistic analysis to work out if the painting is genuine and if it is has really spent the past 22 years in a hole in the wall.

Art critic Vittorio Sgarbi is already convinced. “Recovering the Portrait, an intense and lifelike work, is the best Christmas present,” he told Corriere della Sera.

An important painting

Portrait of a Lady was painted in 1916-17 by Viennese artist Gustav Klimt towards the end of his life.

  • Read more from Max Paradiso’s story: The mystery of the stolen Klimt

Klimt was part of a radical group of artists called the Secession and many of his works featured expressive and sexually evocative paintings of women.

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Media captionClaudia Maga describes her discovery

What was extraordinary about Portrait of a Lady was that, 10 months before it was stolen, art student Claudia Maga spotted that it had been painted over another Klimt painting, Portrait of a Young Lady, which had not been seen since 1912.

She managed to prove her theory by persuading the Piacenza gallery’s former director to have it X-rayed.

The original painting was of a young girl from Vienna who had died. Klimt had painted over the portrait when the girl died suddenly, to forget the pain of her death.

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Ed Sheeran named ‘artist of the decade’




Ed SheeranImage copyright
Getty Images

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Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You was the UK’s biggest single of the 2010s

Ed Sheeran has been named the UK’s artist of the decade by the Official Charts Company.

Sheeran achieved the milestone after a combined run of 12 number one singles and albums between 2010 and 2019 – more than any other artist.

He’s also had the most weeks (79) at number one in both the album and singles charts in this period.

Shape Of You was the biggest hit of the 2010s, spending 14 weeks at number one and selling more than 4.5m copies.

Sheeran thanked his followers for his success.

“Thank you to everyone who’s supported me over the past 10 years, especially my amazing fans. Here’s to the next 10!”

  • Spotify reveals decade’s most-streamed songs
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Shape Of You is one of three Sheeran singles in the top five end-of-the-decade list. Thinking Out Loud is at number three while Perfect is at number five.

Overall, Sheeran has spent 38 weeks at number one in the singles chart and sold 53.8m tracks. His songs have also been streamed 4.6 billion times in the UK alone.

In the albums chart, X is at number three followed by Divide at number four.

Top 10 singles of the decade

Martin Talbot, chief executive of the Official Charts Company, said Sheeran had “truly dominated” the decade.

“At the start of the decade, he was a little known, albeit highly-rated, young 18-year-old lad from Suffolk – but his catalogue of achievements since then are genuinely remarkable. Today, he is firmly established among the highest level of global music superstars,” Talbot added.

The star’s latest accolade comes a week after Spotify named him the UK’s most-streamed artist of the 2010s. Globally, only Drake achieved more plays.

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Getty Images

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Adele has the top two albums of the decade

The remainder of the top 10 biggest singles is dominated by male artists. They include Mark Ronson ft Bruno Mars at number two for Uptown Funk and Justin Bieber at number nine for Sorry.

Female singers only appear as featured artists – with Kyla cited for her collaboration with Drake on the track One Dance, and Jess Glynne for singing Clean Bandit’s Rather Be.

In the album charts, however, it’s Adele who comes out top, holding both the first and second positions with 21 and 25 respectively.

Top 10 albums of the decade

Her second album 21, released in 2011, has sold 5.17 million copies. It debuted at number one and spent 23 weeks at the top of the albums chart.

Her follow up 25 spent 13 weeks at the top and became the UK’s fastest-selling album to date, selling 800,307 copies in its first chart week in November 2015. And Adele’s debut album 19 from 2008 is the UK’s 13th biggest record of the 2010s.

The only other woman in the top 10 albums is Emeli Sande who comes in at eight for Our Version Of Events.

With the chart company’s data spanning an entire decade of sales, older releases tend to dominate the countdown.

The most recent album in the top 100 is the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman, which was released in December 2017.

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Atlantic Records

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Sheeran received a plaque in recognition of his chart domination

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