The View's Clouded

Article excerpt

Byline: By David Whetstone

The cultural scene in the North-East is already booming - so would an elected regional assembly make any difference?

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Walk along Newcastle Quayside, or Gateshead Quays across the Tyne, and you can't fail to be impressed.

The Baltic, the Sage Gateshead, the Millennium Bridge and all the plush hotels and venues along the waterfront trumpet ambition and confidence.

Less than 20 years ago, when this area was largely dank and derelict, the message was different and depressing.

It has been a remarkable turnaround - a combinaton of local political will allied to vital funding from Europe, the lottery and the old Tyne & Wear Development Corporation.

Now, depending on the outcome of this autumn's referendum, there is the prospect of an elected regional assembly taking over significant powers in the field of arts and culture.

On the basis of the dramatic improvement of recent years, there is clearly an argument for saying: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Even without an elected regional assembly - and without the 2008 Capital of Culture title - great strides have been made. In the arts, in particular, the region has traditionally punched above its weight, winning more money from funding bodies than its population merits.

That, says Christopher Gordon, an expert on cultural policy, is down to the enthusiasm and ingenuity of key individuals rather than particular political structures.

"What has happened in culture in the region is that people have just got on with it - and that is a key message," said Mr Gordon.

Based in Winchester, Mr Gordon has been commissioned by Culture North East, the Government-funded regional cultural consortium, to deliver a paper on the pros and cons of the assembly issue.

By providing examples of what has happened in other European countries, he hopes to inform the debate about whether an elected regional assembly is the best way forward.

Under the Government's current plans, an assembly would oversee the work of the cultural consortium, which will in turn draw up a regional cultural strategy.

It would also have responsibility for funding arts attractions and museums that were "regional in character" and appoint some members of the lottery funding bodies' regional committees.

But one influential figure within the region's cultural sector said: "We are all looking for clarification at the moment about what it actually means.

"We know culture will be in there. An elected regional assembly will have responsibility for it but what is not clear is the extent of that responsibility and the funding that will back that up. …