I first heard of Globe Gallery in April 2011, reading in The Chronicle about the opening night at their new Blandford Square premises and the need for volunteers. At that time I had just started a short break from work in semi-retirement and was intrigued by the volunteering opportunity. I was someone who knew no-one who had worked or volunteered at an Art Gallery, knew no working artists or Art Students, never been to an opening night, never been to The Late Shows, never heard of the AV festival, never been to an Art Auction and never read The Crack. But I did enjoy visiting Art Galleries and finding street art, though I’ve only seen one Banksy. And as for contemporary art, well what’s that all about!!
So, the following evening I stood outside The Globe, not knowing anyone inside, wondering what a 56 year old Civil Engineer could offer as a volunteer ……… quite a bit as it turned out. After a brief discussion with a busy Rashida about her plans, or should I say vision as Rashida works on the evolving plan principle, to turn the former Bank into an Arts space I was persuaded by two ladies in Bowler hats, Julie and Helen, to sign for 4 hours volunteering. It would be 18 months later that I returned to work and 4.5 years later that I would have to stop volunteering due to work commitments.
I really should have read The Crack a lot earlier as The Globe opened my eyes to the vibrant Newcastle cultural scene full of incredibly talented creative people working hard making, or trying to make a living from their talents, despite the challenge of chronic underfunding. It made me realise the challenge ahead in converting that Bank, but also how The Globe had done so well to survive 16 years with their hard core of supporters and volunteers which I was about to join. It was wonderful to meet so many artists and help them show and perform their work. The team of volunteers, from all walks of life, many young art students from the local Universities, made a superb team who worked hard but also enjoyed life. A bonus was to work with my son Tom, studying music at Newcastle College, who volunteered in his spare time for the first 18 months and meet Darren who has a habit of still beating me at pool every time we meet.
The first 18 months was about converting the Bank into an Art Space, three stories plus a basement which included the bank vault. Knocking down walls, building walls, painting wall, moving and repainting walls to suit the next exhibition (are you sure you want this scarlet on the nice white walls Rashida?), ripping up floor tiles, scrubbing ceiling and still putting on exhibitions and workshops in the midst of all the conversion work, so many memorable days and nights. One of the many things I learnt was how to fill a skip. With Tom and Darren we had filled the skip for Rashida to come out and say ‘but that’s only half the rubbish, flatten all those boxes’ while emptying the skip. Rashida got her money’s worth from that skip, because of course all the rubbish did fit.
Exhibition opening nights were always a highlight and made all the conversion work worthwhile. Normally on the bar or the door, the one time I did my Mr Bean and stood in the first floor gallery space, I ended up buying the Ron Derham artwork I was standing next to looking at most of the night. I think I was starting to appreciate the many facets of Contemporary Art. It was quite rewarding at one Opening when a visitor commented that he had just been to a Gallery in New York who had spent thousands to get a similar concrete effect. All those hours up a scaffold scrubbing the ceiling back to bare concrete were suddenly worth it.
The annual Late Shows were always excellent nights when the Gallery was full, Yvette Hawkins’ paper folding workshop was probably the busiest I ever saw the Gallery. I’ll never forget the first time I saw one of Yvette’s folded Map pieces, donated for the fund-raising auction, it was incredible, I’m sure I actually said ‘Wow’. At the Auction on the Gallery first floor, I was ready to spend my £200 budget on a James Cooper piece, to my surprise I watched the bidding climb slowly to £55, I finally got the piece for £75 and went on to buy two more items for my budget.
I’ve mentioned the talented volunteers, but I must mention Lucy who gave a fascinating talk on Surrealism and the unconscious mind at one of the Gallery’s evening events. I learnt a lot from Lucy. It was with Lucy that I performed at The Baltic, reading On Kawara’s One Million Years as part of the 2012 AV Festival. Not something I would have done a year earlier.
I have to admit there were a lot of unusual moments volunteering at the Globe starting with my first task painting the floor one toilet walls gold!! Others included wheeling an 8 feet high pink blossom tree up Northumberland Street, fitting a 4metre wide cage through a 2 metre door and doing the white van man collection in Trusty Rusty (more rust than white paint), a forerunner of Tom’s #RusticleRoadtrips cars I am sure.
Globe is such an inclusive organisation working in communities and raising awareness of social issues through exhibitions, workshops and their website. My one regret is that I was only there 4.5 years of their 25 year history. Long may it continue.