Arts Council England

Merry Christmas

Roopa Panesar

Each year when I look back at the previous 12 months, I get a sense of awe at the achievements of our small (but mighty) team, and the wonderful artists, communities, volunteers and organisations GemArts has worked with. It’s also a time for me to consider how generous our donors, funders and audiences are, so thank you for supporting our work in so many ways.

Throughout 2017 we continued to do what we do best, showcasing the best and brightest artistic talent from the UK and abroad, championing creativity and diversity, and always ensuring artists received the support and profile they deserve. GemArts’ audiences were given access to unique cultural experiences, with people of all ages and backgrounds joining us in making exceptional music, dance and art, while developing new skills and building confidence along the way. Communities continue to face inequalities and challenges, but through our arts projects we have seen the people of the North East come together, to inspire and support each other, and celebrate diversity.

This year we strengthened relationships and developed new partnerships, increasing the reach and impact of GemArts work, for which we were recognised with awards and accolades. We’ve picked a few of our highlights from 2017, click on the red text to find out more about each, and I’m sure you will have your own favourites.

In February I will travel to London to collect my MBE for services to Arts and Culture – a huge honour and privilege! I personally feel this achievement recognises the collective efforts of everyone who has supported GemArts over the years. I am eternally grateful to you all.

On behalf of everyone at GemArts and GVEMSG, I would like to  thank you for your continued support, and wish you a very merry Christmas, and all the best for a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

Best wishes and see you in 2018.

Vikas Kumar, MBE
Director, GemArts

Gandharva_Choir 2

Masala Festival – Following a Journal Culture Arts Council Award win, our week-long festival returned in July. Thousands of people joined us for a mix and blend of the very finest South Asian arts and culture, enjoying live musicexhibitionscooking demosspecial festival menusfamily fun daysworkshopspoetry readingstheatrefilm screenings and lots more. The festival returns on the 16th July 2018 packed with even more exceptional art!

GemArts Riverside Ragas – Presented the best of raag based music, accompanying concerts with informative pre concert talks, masterclasses and demonstrations. 2017’s Riverside Ragas featured; Guiliano Modarelli (Routes), Kobini Ananth and Yarlinie Thanabalasingham (An Inner Voice)Baluji ShrivastavRoopa Panesar and Bhupinder ChaggarDebasmita Bhattacharya and Gurdain Rayatt, and we’ve an incredible line up for Spring Summer 2018.

God and Mortals – Our first collaboration with Sunderland Stages was a stunning performance by an ensemble of the country’s finest Odissi dancers and musicians, staged within the breath-taking setting of Sunderland Minster.

Health and Wellbeing – To help tackle social isolation we worked with Gateshead Carers BME groups to create “arrival and survival” a showcase of art work representing Identity and Isolation. Members of GVEMSG’s Feel Good Group were also extremely busy creating unique glass, sharing skills, developing support networks and using new creative and enterprise skills to raise more than £358 for their project, meaning more women will benefit from the support and activities on offer. Read the Feel Good Group’s blog here.

East by North East – Our Youth Music funded project offered music making opportunities to over 190 young people each week throughout 2017. Watching young participants grow in their musical skills and confidence has been a real highlight of this project, and this would not have been possible without the strong team of committed, talented and awe inspiring music leaders and partners we have on board. Here’s to another two years!

Dispersed Belongings – From Syria to Gateshead explored belonging among refugee-background Syrian young people living in Gateshead, in partnership with Durham University and Gateshead Council. Young people participated in workshops with professional visual artists and musicians, and produced works that reflected their ideas and experiences. The project culminated in an event at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, and a week-long exhibition in the Shipley Lounge as part of the national Platforma Festival.

GemArts Mini Melas – Between February and October we packed in a whopping FOUR Mini Melas, bringing free family arts activity to GatesheadNewcastleSouth Shields and Durham. In total over 1500 children and their families visited us at a Mini Mela in 2017, joining in arts activity from around the world, and some even completed Arts Award in a day (an incredible 101 young people achieved Arts Award through GemArts in 2017). Thanks to all the partners who provided a venue for or supported one of our Mini Melas this year.

 

Kathakali schools performance – 200 local primary school students had the unique opportunity to take part in workshops and watch the world renowned Kala Chethena Kathakali Company, perform in Gateshead. Pupils experienced the entrancing world of ancient Hindu storytelling through this sacred theatre art form with its striking visual imagery, ancient sign language, superb singing and movement.

Anti Hate Crime work – Continuing this award winning work with young people, pupils from Brandling Primary School, Gateshead worked on a creative writing project exploring the theme of “respect”, with artist Laura Degnan. Pupils developed reading and writing skills using creative storytelling techniques and film making. Members of Gateshead Muslim Centre young people’s group (age 6-15), used animation as a creative tool with artist Lesley anne Rose, discussing Hate Crime and how to report it. Learning story boarding and animation techniques, the young people created their very own animation which you can watch here.

Great North Run- Thanks to a grant we were able to purchase places in the GNR 2017. Not only did our runners (Anj, David, Jamie, Stuart and Tom) complete the worlds largest half marathon, they also totally smashed their fundraising targets, donating an impressive £2200 to our charity! All donations help GemArts deliver life enhancing arts projects, you can sign up to Run and Raise or simply contribute to GemArts here.
GemArts Spring Summer 2018 programme launches on Friday 19th January.
Follow this link www.gemarts.org to find out more. 

Images from top: Riverside Ragas Roopa Panesar by Anna Miller, The Gandharva Choir Masala Festival by Anna Miller, Mini Movers Masala Festival  by Anna Miller, Riverside Ragas Debasmita Bhattacharya by Anna Miller, Feel Good Group jewellery stall by Anna Miller,Gods and Mortals Sunderland Stages by Richard Kenworthy, From Syria to Gateshead My country is unforgettable by Mohamad, The Kala Chethena Kathakali CompanyRajasthan Heritage Brass Band Masala Festival by Anna Miller

 

Advertisements

GEMARTS EAST BY NORTH EAST PT2

East by North East is a Youth Music funded project led by GemArts, providing opportunities for young people from diverse communities to come together and make music.  The project has already enabled over 190 young people to develop and share their compositions and performance skills in a wide range of genres, while addressing issues relevant to their lives, developing life skills and achieving Arts Award.

In addition, GemArts has further diversified the workforce of music practitioners, and East by North East offers training and development to ensure that creativity and diversity is thriving in the North East!

To celebrate the project we’ve asked some of our music leaders to share their thoughts on East by North East, their own development, and the groups they worked with. Read on for our second blog post.

GemArts East by North East Blog by Izzy Finch, Music Leader 

In 2016 I became one of the musicians for the GemArts project East by North East (EbNE), working with young women aged 13-16 from the Czech and Roma communities in the West End of Newcastle. When we first began our weekly sessions at CHAT Trust, the group were shy and their conversational English was emerging. This meant that, without interpreters at the sessions, we initially found communication problematic with regard to expectations and outcomes for the project.

Over the course of the year, we began exploring different genres of music and the girls began singing. This developed into rapping and gradually evolved into writing their own material and performing locally in both their heritage language and in English. Some of the issues we encountered early on included communication barriers, low self-esteem, social and gender related tensions and even tensions between our project and the perceptions of the school the young women attended.

There was one session where one of the young women told me that she had fallen behind with homework and was struggling at school. Having recently discovered that she was unable to read or write I had wondered how she would be managing at school and if she was accessing support. We stayed behind and worked on some of her assignments and discussed things she could ask her teachers about. This was a significant moment for me, in helping me to appreciate how a safe, creative space enabled the development of BAMER women who joined our project completely unable or unwilling to engage with seemingly inaccessible tasks or assignments that demanded a grasp of English to writing and performing original material and developing their ability to articulate their hopes, fears and aspirations within the group. Without the support of interpreting staff, the two factors that played the most significant role in empowering the young women were trust and time. By the time the project drew to a close, all of the young people were demonstrating engagement and the ability to take creative risks.

17553924_10154549287012613_8637290395246012482_n[1]Young women take part in a session at CHAT Trust

Forming a band and attending regular rehearsal and workshops was challenging for the group at first as it required commitment, determination and practice. All the young women obtained their bronze Arts Award which was a huge achievement and for many, their first experience of achieving any form of accreditation.

17757355_10154549286992613_7043715450843202856_n[1]Young people at CHAT Trust achieve their Bronze Arts Awards

The final celebration event took place at Sage Gateshead, and was a vibrant celebration involving participants from a wide representation of heritage and culture across the EBNE projects in the city.

This project serves as a good example of how, as defined in The Creative Case for Diversity, “experimentation leads to changes.” In offering young people the chance to express themselves in an inclusive space, and by using this experience to initiate creativity and original compositions, we learned that all of the participants experienced feelings of enhanced self-esteem and of a future where they had skills and strengths they didn’t know existed. “ Now I know girls can rap just as good as the boys. I didn’t think I could write a song that would sound good. I’m always going to love performing now.” –  Vanessa

In 2005, I had been invited to join a refugee integration project based in Newcastle. Mongrel UK was issue-based music and theatre exploring concepts of identity, migration and social justice. I was a 13 year old participant, yet I felt was being nurtured and mentored by strong female role models. I feel I was one of the first people to experience the grassroots evolution from participant to practitioner. Many of my professional values were shaped at that time and I feel that I experienced first-hand what a positive impact involvement in projects like EBNE can have on a young person. I have this experience at the forefront of my practice with all of the groups I work with, particularly young BAMER women, with whom I have an affinity.

LTC Performance 1000px

Life Transformation Church band perform at EbNE celebration event at Sage Gateshead

It is clear that the experience of the young person is at the centre of the project when GemArts initiates a project like this one, but what isn’t that obvious on the surface is how the journey of arts practitioners is equally important. We are actively encouraged to reflect upon and document our own learning and journey. My learning and observations have been centred around the themes of culture, heritage, gender, perception and diversity. Although my musical knowledge and experience is clearly valued, there is a finer less tangible aspect to projects like EBNE that is centred around celebrating and promoting not only the diversity that exists within communities but also that within the practitioners who are matched to deliver the programmes.

Gem Arts partner musicians who have different but compatible strengths. Working relationships must evolve to make the most of competencies and skills we have between us and what this ultimately brings to the workforce is adaptive resilience. There have been occasions where I have felt that my co-workers have had a stronger skill set for a specific young person or circumstance, but there is always the opportunity for me to support and restore the balance within another situation.

I am so proud of the individual journeys of self-expression as well as the incredible creative outcomes that demonstrate how valuable projects like East by North East are. Beyond the creative and musical end products, we have opportunities to develop self-belief, affirmation of cultural identity and values and on a very basic level… happiness!

Gem Arts develop and build pride in identity in often marginalised groups within the North East. On a personal level, my involvement in this project has made me realise how passionate I feel about working with young women; confronting and challenging negative cultural stereotypes.

If you are interested in the project please contact GemArts – info@gemarts.org

Izzy Finch, EBNE Music Leader

Watch our East by North East 2017 film here

GemArts East by North East 2017 from GemArts on Vimeo.

 

Award win for GemArts Masala Festival

Masala Logo (Pink) Resized 600 px

Last night GemArts Masala Festival was named the winner of the Arts Council Award at The Journal Culture Awards. The full team (Vic, Alex, Jade and Sinead) attended the ceremony and were there to collect the beautiful award when Masala Festival was named winner at this year’s spectacular Journal Culture Awards inside Hexham Abbey.

GemArts Masala Festival Mini Mela Magic Fish crowd photo Anna Miller  Journal Culture Awards winner GemArts Masala Festival Monks of Majuli and students photo Anna Miller

This festival compliments and builds upon GemArts yearlong programme, to present a mix and blend of the finest South Asian Arts and Culture across the region over seven days. Speaking of the award Vikas Kumar, GemArts Director said “It’s fantastic for Masala Festival to be named winner of the Arts Council Award at the Culture Awards. This award helps GemArts celebrate the creative talents of artists from the region, across the UK, South Asia and beyond, and recognises the incredible support we receive from our participants, audiences, trustees, volunteers, sponsors, partners and local communities, to whom we are hugely grateful! It was a joy to collaborate, connect and celebrate with thousands of people from across the region at our first Masala Festival, and we can’t wait to do it all again between the 17th and 23rd July. We want to thank the Journal Culture Awards and Arts Council North for choosing us for this award, but also for their continued support and commitment to our work, and that of the other great nominees. We will continue to champion creativity and diversity at every level, supporting young and emerging artists, and offer people from all backgrounds and ages, community groups and schools, engaging opportunities to take part in our culturally rich and diverse arts offer.”

Last year Masala Festival offered a truly eclectic programme, spanning traditional and contemporary South Asian arts, including award winning poets, a curated evening of film shinning a light on South Asian LGBT lives, rare Sattriya dance by Monks from Majuli; Indian epics retold for children, Indian classical and Brass Band collaborations, World music jazz fusion bands, exhibitions exploring Turban culture, incredible workshops, talks and demonstrations, culminating with a spectacular family fun day on NewcastleGateshead Quayside.

GemArts is really excited for 2017 as this year’s Masala Festival (17th-23rd July) will be even more ambitious, and building on our award success we’re looking forward to collaborating with venue partners, places and spaces, commissioning new work and presenting internationally significant South Asian artists and art forms. The programme is packed with critically acclaimed award winning poets (Daljit Nagra), specially curated short film programmes (Changes), celebrations of Sikh music tradition and contributions to the First World War (Sacred Sounds), leading choirs from India (Gandharva Choir), innovative new theatre (No Dogs No Indians), Masala Festival takeovers (at Q Fest), Mini Mela family fun days, Indian storytelling for all ages (Henna), extremely talented musicians (Sarathy Korwar), South Asian film screenings, exhibitions, food events, fantastic workshops, talks, demos and lots more. Masala Festival offers a truly eclectic line up, spanning traditional, and contemporary South Asian arts forms from the regiona, across the UK and South Asia!

Sarathy Korway by Fabrice Bourgelle4 BANNER   Peter Chand image of storybooks BANNER IMG_0986 BANNER

GemArts’ year round programme offers audiences something truly unique, and in the 70th Year of India and Pakistan’s Independence, GemArts Masala Festival brings to the North East the spirit, spice and vibrancy synonymous with the Indian subcontinent, and now an important part of British culture.

Details of events and full programme coming soon, to find out more and keep up to date visit www.gemarts.org.

 

Finalist in The Journal Culture Awards

GemArts is a finalist in not one, but two categories of The Journal Culture Awards 2017. This year’s awards received a whopping 1400 nominations, and GemArts Masala Festival has made the final cut for the Arts Council Award, supported by Arts Council England: North, while the organisation is also shortlisted for their work in Trimfest 2016 for Best Event Durham.

    GemArts Masala Festival  600px GemArts Masala Festival Mini Mela Bollywood Dance procession photo Anna Miller

Both Masala Festival and Trimfest launched their inaugural festivals in 2016, so making the final three in the respective categories of these awards is a fantastic affirmation of the quality and success for everyone who contributed. A common theme for both was the celebration and profiling of diverse arts, something which GemArts and our parent charity have vast experience championing across the North East, and nationally. Our parent charity Gateshead Visible Ethnic Minorities Support Group also celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2017, and two potential awards would be a great way to mark this milestone.

Masala Festival, is a weeklong celebration of the very finest mix and blend of South Asian arts. It compliments and builds upon GemArts exemplar year round work, providing an exciting new arts festival for audiences in the north east, bringing South Asian arts to their doorstep. The long term vision of GemArts Director, Vikas Kumar, we were all blown away by the public reaction to the first Masala Festival in July 2016.  “We’re thrilled to be nominated by the Journal Culture Awards as this year we also celebrate the 25th anniversary of our charity, a major milestone.  GemArts has continuously championed the vibrant diverse arts scene, artists and communities within the North East, while bringing the very best national and international artists to the region. The success of Masala Festival, and making the final 3 in the Arts Council Award, is fantastic acknowledgment of the quality and breadth of South Asian arts and culture GemArts has produced and presented over the years, and we are hugely thankful to all our artists, partners, audiences, participants and volunteers for their exceptional support!”

Little Elephant GemArts Masala Festival launch photo Anna Miller GemArts Masala Festival Monks of Majuli and students photo Anna Miller

The 2016 Masala Festival programme included films screenings which explored South Asian LGBT lives, world music jazz fusion bands, big brass band and Indian music collaborations, award winning poets, photography exhibitions exploring Turban culture, rare and sacred Sattriya dance performances, workshops and masterclasses, the very popular GemArts Mini Mela family fun day and lots more, presenting traditional and contemporary South Asian identities. Working with a number of partners GemArts brought the Masala Festival programme to venues and spaces in Newcastle, Gateshead and out to the coast, and the plans for 2017 look even bigger and better.

Trimdon Parish Council wanted to present multicultural events and activities for the local community during October half-term, to bring people together to experience and learn about art and culture across the world, while celebrating Trimdon and the local area too.  GemArts was invited to help programme Trimfest 2016, sharing expertise working with communities and presenting the best diverse arts to North East audiences.

Trimfest Booklet Front Cover - with text IMG_6330

Catering for all ages, Trimfest featured an eclectic mix of music from Brass Bands to The Baghdaddies and Hannabiell&Midnight Blue, a diverse art family fun day, Indian storytelling, Bavarian beer night, the brilliant Home Fires production community and school workshops and lots more. Creating a brand new festival to celebrate art, music and culture from across the world, in a rural area of East Durham, was an ambitious and exciting undertaking for the Trimdon Parish Council. Everyone involved is thrilled that the efforts and high quality of the programme, both events and workshops, delivered over the 10 day festival, have been recognised in this prestigious nomination for Best Event Durham.

“Trimdon Parish Council is very pleased to be shortlisted for such a prestigious award, especially as this was the first time the Parish Council has been involved in such an ambitious festival. It is a great achievement to be finalists for Best Event Durham, and is wonderful recognition of the hard work undertaken by all of the partners, volunteers, residents and artists who made Trimfest 2016 such a memorable event, not to mention a great celebration of our collaboration with GemArts. This nomination will give everyone involved tremendous encouragement as we start our preparations to host Trimfest 2017 later this year”. Anne Delandre, Trimdon Parish Council Clerk.

GemArts is finalising plans for Masala Festival 2017, and in discussions with Trimdon Parish Council to continue work on Trimfest 2017. To keep up to date and find out more visit www.gemarts.org , if you can help support this years festival please consider making a donation here.

Merry Christmas and a look back at a great 2016

Merry Christmas

One of the things I enjoy most in December is looking back over the previous 12 months, being reminded of the wonderful artists, communities, volunteers and organisations GemArts has worked with, and the generous donors and funders who supported our work in so many ways this year.

In 2016 we continued to showcase the best and brightest talent across the arts, while championing creativity and diversity, and always ensuring our artists received the support and profile they deserved. GemArts’ audiences were given access to unique cultural experiences, with people of all ages and backgrounds given opportunities to enjoy and make exceptional music, dance and art, while developing new skills and building confidence along the way. In a year that made many people feel disconnected and alone, we brought people together, and showed what a fantastic and diverse community of people live in the North East.

This year we strengthened relationships and developed new partnerships, allowing GemArts’ performance programme and participatory projects to have further impact across the region and beyond, and our hate crime awareness raising work won us a national award. We’ve picked just a few of our highlights from 2016, and I’m sure you will have your own favourites.
 
On behalf of the GemArts team and GVEMSG, I would like to  thank you for your continued support, and wish you a very merry Christmas, and all the best for a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

Best wishes and see you in 2017.
 
Vikas Kumar

Director, GemArts

GemArts Masala Festival Mini Mela Magic Fish banners crowd photo Anna Miller Thank you Feel Good Group glass work  Image by Anna Miller.jpg

Masala Festival – Our brand new week-long festival launched in July, with a mix and blend of the very finest South Asian arts and culture. We couldn’t have done it without the fantastic artists, audiences, participants, volunteers, donors, funders and partners who helped ensure Masala Festival was a huge success. The festival returns on the 17th July 2017, more information coming soon!

Catalyst Evolve – A successful application to Arts Council England’s Catalyst Evolve fund saw us continue to lead a consortium with two Gateshead Arts charities (Equal Arts and The Lawnmowers). This also means we can match your generous donations £1 for £1! Help GemArts deliver life enhancing projects for disadvantaged communities by donating what you can here.

Health and Wellbeing: Feel Good Group – Our Women’s Group brings together women from diverse communities, and this year they have worked with glass artist Effie Burns. They have been busy developing new creative skills to create unique, high quality glass artworks, whilst sharing experiences and developing support networks to tackle isolation and improve health and wellbeing. The women raised a whopping £130 for their project at their first craft fair in December!  

East by North East – Throughout the year our Youth Music funded project offered music making opportunities to more than 130 young people each week. Young participants have really wowed us with their talent and dedication to the project. With new artists also joining the cohort, the last 12 months have truly strengthened the rich offer for music leaders and those they work with in Newcastle. 

Arun Ghosh workshops and performance – In April pupils from Roman Road Primary school were given the chance of a lifetime when they spent three days with international Jazz clarinettist Arun Ghosh, creating three new pieces which they performed at the opening of Sage Gateshead’s International Jazz Festival 2016. Mini Melas – Between February and October we packed in not one, not two but THREE Mini Melas, bringing free family arts activity to Gateshead, Newcastle and Durham. In total over 900 children and their families visited us at a Mini Mela in 2016, taking part in arts activity from all around the world.

WILD WOOL at The Late Shows – We were delighted to present a fantastic new co-commission with Apple Yang’s Appetite Dance Productions at the 10th Anniversary of The Late Shows in May. You can catch Apple Yang: WILD WOOL in all its glory at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in 2017.

Trimfest – Not content introducing one new festival last year, GemArts also helped bring a brand new festival offering to East Durham in October. Working with Trimdon Parish Council we brought exciting, culturally diverse performances and workshops to audiences in Trimdon. 

Khyal: Music and Imagination – We took our work with Durham University to a new level with this fantastic project, building on academic research into the ways in how we experience and imagine classical Indian performance, using insights to generate new kinds of engagement and creativity. A beautiful exhibition, on display in November, showcased the stunning new work created by artists and local school pupils, as well as an innovative new iPad app.

 

Sign up to GemArts’ monthly e-newsletter here to be the first to find out about our fantastic new Spring Summer 2017 season.

My week with GemArts Masala Festival

GemArts recently hosted a student placement, Liam Scarth, who helped during the planning, delivery and evaluation of GemArts Masala Festival in July 2016. Liam, a 2nd year BA Acting Community Theatre student at East 15 Drama School in Southend, identified GemArts as an organisation he would like to work with as part of a placement module within his degree course. Listing his main passions as teaching, working with younger people and bringing communities together, Liam was the perfect fit for a placement with GemArts, and he contributed a great deal to the team during an exciting and busy 3 weeks with us. Before completing his placement Liam wrote this great review of GemArts Masala Festival which we’re delighted to share with you.

Masala Logo (Pink) Resized 600 px

For one week Gateshead and Newcastle became a melting pot of cultural activity, as GemArts served up a delectable dish which they had been cooking up for some time. The festival recipe started with a good dollop of inspiring short film, next they poured in a hearty helping of musical artistry, a dash of perfectly palatable poetry, a sprinkle of elating exhibitions, a good handful of performance art, seasoned with wonderful workshops and topped off with a sensational finale. The temperature was set to that of an Indian summer, and then GemArts served up the mouth-watering Masala Festival to a culture-hungry public.

Masala Festival launched on the 11th July with ALIVE! a ground-breaking evening of short films curated by independent producer Bobby Tiwana. ALIVE! celebrated being South Asian and lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The beautifully selected, and composed films touched on universal themes such as that awkward first kiss, or the loss of childhood innocence, along with more individual experiences such as dealing with certain stigmas, and stories of hope. It had such a profound effect on people it raised heated debates in the Q and A. What is my identity? How do we find a place of belonging? Rousing speeches from the panel provided new ideas and thoughts for the audience to take home.

GemArts Masala Festival ALIVE post show ID BT photo Anna Miller Little Elephant GemArts Masala Festival launch photo Anna Miller

The festival barrelled on with two mind blowing musical performances; Manjula, a Leeds-based band mixing sounds from across the globe, and Shri Sriram with new project Just a Vibration, where Indian Ragas met British Brass Band. On subsequent nights these two groups had the power to transport you to new continents. One moment I was in a Newcastle or Gateshead venue, the next I was bathing in the heat of the sun, in a South Indian garden. Audiences sat humbled, soaking in the rich melodies.

Masala Festival also introduced us to the varied work of three prolific poets. Identity, politics and mythology; were our themes for the evening. Moniza Alvi, Amali Rodrigo and Arundhathi Subramaniam, although under the same publisher; BloodAxe Books, all had their own take on the themes. The audience came together to listen to poets describing vast journeys, spiritual awakenings, and cultural norms. With every word I understood a little more of countries over the water, and with every hour during the festival I grew fonder of our varied world.

There were also plenty of chances to get your hands into the mixing bowl and take part in Masala Festival yourself. Poet Arundhathi gave an enlightening workshop at Culture Lab before her reading. Artist Emma Sheridan worked with primary schools in the local area, introducing them to beautiful Indian visual arts. Emma inspired children in one school to create bright, colourful silk paintings based on the tale of The Magic Fish. These then filled the sky, on flags and banners, for the Mini Mela finale. Yoga sessions were available to those who wanted to embody the true spirit of South Asia, and DOGA (Yoga for you and wor pooch!) added a quirky extra. For the more energetic few, Bollywood Dance offered people the opportunity to get their booty on the dance floor, or Trinity Square floor!

GemArts Masala Festival silk painting in school photo Anna Miller GemArts Masala Festival Monks of Majuli and students photo Anna Miller

For a real taste of South Asia, Ury Restaurant’s cooking demonstrations shared Keralan cuisine secrets. For those who prefer to skip the cooking but enjoy the eating, Ury Restaurant also provided delicious food at the Mini Mela finale on the Sunday. No one missed out at this festival, all were catered for!

GemArts had yet more treats up their sleeve, as Turbanism a photography exhibition opened in Gateshead Central Library. Photographer Rehmat Rayatt travelled to Rajasthan to document the world of the Turban, and the unfortunate demise of the turban culture. The exhibition didn’t create a feeling of demise, as vibrant colours sprang from the frames, filling the gallery with majestic shades of orange, red, purple and yellow. Alongside the photographs, a selection of turbans sat patiently on display. Upstairs continued on a more personal storyline with images documenting her grandfathers’ love for photography and their family’s migration.

On Saturday Sage Gateshead became the host to India’s sacred arts as The Monks of Majuli, gave audience members a once in a life time opportunity. This was the Monks first visit to Britain, and Gateshead was their final stop on a month long tour. In the pre-show discussion, we were enlightened to Georgie Pope’s PhD work and the pilgrimage of the Monks to see their sacred Assamese tapestry in the British Museum. Drumming, dancing, singing, acting, costume were all elements of the performance offering. All audience members were truly awe stricken by the event. After giving a standing ovation, and wiping some joyful tears from their eyes, audience members left in bright chatter and all in agreement they had witnessed something truly special.

GemArts managed to top off this jam packed week very successfully. The Mini Mela brought the new Live Garden to life on the final Sunday of the festival. With the Newcastle Quayside Market bustling not far away it felt like the perfect day for Sunday celebrations with people from all backgrounds gathered in the sunshine. GemArts filled the garden with free arts activity for all ages, punters could choose from: face painting, henna art, Rangoli art, kite making, elephant model making, sculpture painting or to browse the wares of local jewellery makers. Indoor workshops offered a chance to find your rhythm with Dhol drumming, Bollywood Dance and mini movers classes. At 11am and 2:30pm the square exploded into bright colours and sound as the Dhol drum dropped a beat for local dancers to throw some Bollywood shapes. They were followed by a procession of banners, flags and sculptures held by the eager, paint covered hands of local bairns, all on their way to watch the performance of The Magic Fish. ATMA Dance Company adapted the story of Vishnu, where he comes to save the Earth from the demon No-Knowledge. With a powerful, invigorating and uplifting message, young and old alike went away with a spring in their step.

GemArts Masala Festival Mini Mela Bollywood Dance procession photo Anna Miller GemArts Masala Festival Mini Mela Magic Fish banners crowd photo Anna Miller

So there you have it, a mix and blend of the finest South Asian arts and culture squeezed into this review. GemArts Masala Festival served up a vision of South Asian culture today, and with plans for an even bigger and tastier celebration next year, to mark the 70th Anniversary of India’s Independence, I think we all better settle down, tuck in our napkins and get ready to chow down on some more wholesome worldly experiences.

Written by Liam Scarth, student Placement with GemArts between 4th July and 22nd July 2016

Images: GemArts Masala Festival credit Anna Miller