Great Exhibition of the North - Town’s ‘real potential’ as cultural hub

editorial image

Art exhibitions, fashion shows and live performances in Halifax’s best-loved venues.

Those are just some of the things we can expect if Halifax’s bid to host the Great Exhibition of the North is successful.

The town’s bid to host the two-month multi-million pound celebration of the north is led by The Piece Hall and comes from a group of nationally significant cultural organisations based right here in Halifax.

It’s hoped that a grass roots approach means that those who have been involved in the cultural life of the town, and who know it best, are poised to realise the dream of placing Halifax firmly at the front of the regeneration and celebration of mill and market towns in the north.

The £5 million event, planned for summer 2018, will showcase the best of the north’s art, culture and design to national and international audiences.

It forms part of the Northern Powerhouse project and aims to bring a huge boost to the regional economy. As well as contributing £5 million to the exhibition itself, the Government will also create a £15 million legacy fund to attract further cultural investment.

Sam Mason,chief executive of The Piece Hall Trust, is helping lead the bid for Halifax to host the event.

He believes the town is well placed to provide a “great neutral showcase” of the north’s “great cities” as the town isn’t part of any rivalries that exist between major cities.

“If the Northern Powerhouse is going to work it can’t just be city-based. You have to pick up the market and mill towns and the redevelopment of those,” he said.

Anna Wiseman, director of Calderdale Cultural Destinations, added: “Calderdale is one of just ten places in the country to be awarded funding from the Arts Council’s Cultural Destinations programme and so has already been recognised as having real potential as a cultural hub.”

Halifax has already led the way in terms of renovating old mill buildings , conserving and revitalising the heritage that positioned the town at the centre of the Industrial Revolution, with the successful conversion of Dean Clough into a hub for creative industries.

Those leading the bid to host the Great Exhibition of the North would use the whole town as part of the exhibition, with existing cultural attractions used as venues and other heritage buildings renovated to be brought back into use.

If Halifax’s bid is successful, vast mill spaces at Dean Clough, former Sunday School Causey Hall and a huge railway shed which would double the size of Eureka, will be transformed into impressive exhibition galleries.

Exhibitions and displays will take place across the town and would link in with the four main strands binding the town’s bid together - The Innovation Revolution, Threads and Connections, A Cultural Compass and Northern Futures.

Dean Clough’s industry professionals will play an important part in inspiring visitors to learn more about design, technology, digital innovation and other creative careers through ‘open door’ events as part of the Northern Lights Exhibition.

The former mill’s permanent collection of contemporary northern art and sculpture will act as a starting point for a larger group of exhibitions, with existing galleries and outdoor spaces hosting sculpture and visual art.

And 15,000 square feet of vacant mill space on the top floor of the main Dean Clough building will house a huge exhibition, focusing on all aspects of visual design in the north, including graphic design, photography, digital art and interior design.

The courtyard space will also display sculpture, work by emerging artists and a curated selection of the very best of northern sculpture.

At Eureka, technology, engineering and maths will be at the forefront of the ‘Engineered by Design’ exhibition.

The aim is to provide an inspiring experience for families and young adults and the exhibition will be hosted in the newly restored Grade II listed Great Northern Shed.

It will combine the regeneration of a heritage building with cutting edge technology, design and engineering for the museum to bring the story of building to life for a new, young audience.

With a nod to the textile innovation of the past, the future of northern fashion and design will be showcased with catwalk shows, textile innovation and new manufacturing technology within the textile industries.

Part of the vast 60,000ft Piece Hall courtyard will be covered over to host The Great North Fashion Show.

It will bring the world’s fashion markets to the Great Exhibition of the North and showcase the work happening in our region.

Dr Alistair Knox, chairman of the Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry, said: “Halifax has a great textile heritage and the area continues to be a hub for the clothing industry, which is why we have our base here.

“The ASBCI is pleased to support Halifax’ bid to host the Great Exhibition of the North and we’ll help to engage our member companies in the fashion and design part of the exhibition.”

To draw on the long tradition of portrait painters living and working in the North of England, the Great North Face will be an exhibition of portraits featuring the people who have shaped, and continue to shape, this part of the world.

It’s hoped that through collaborating with regional and national galleries, a collection of historic and current portraits of northern cultural icons will be drawn together.

“Halifax Minster will be one of several wonderful heritage buildings used to display works of art in Halifax, forming a backdrop of beautiful architecture for visitors to experience and enjoy alongside the exhibits,” said Vicar of Halifax, Rev Canon Hilary Barber.

And to celebrate the north’s contribution to the performing arts, including music, theatre, dance and comedy, the Great North Show will showcase the best of this sphere in venues including the Piece Hall courtyard, Square Chapel Centre for the Arts and the Victoria Theatre. This will be an ever-changing part of the exhibition, with new shows every week.

In Yorkshire, Bradford, Harrogate and Sheffield have also thrown their hats into the ring to host the exhibition. Bradford is looking to its young, vibrant population to represent the best of the North.

Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council, is a member of the bid team looking to bring the exhibition to the city. She said: “We’re a very young city. Nearly 25 per cent of our population are under 16.

“We’re a very vibrant city [with] a big mixed art scene, and we’ve got a great city centre with the City Park there and the National Media Museum, who are participating in the bid. It’s a real opportunity for us to shine.”

In Harrogate, Sharon Canavar, chief executive of Harrogate International Festivals, is part of the town’s bid team. She believes the exhibition “would be a phenomenal opportunity for the town”, and says that it has already proven its mettle with the growth in arts and culture and also through sporting events.

“We’ve proved that we can hold these kind of events. We’ve got a fantastic venue and I think it would really put us on the map,” she said.

At the very last minute Sheffield also threw its hat in the ring. The city is positioning itself as a “gateway” to the North. Professor Vanessa Toulmin, chair of the bid consortium and Sheffield University’s public engagement director, says Sheffield’s offering is “unique, quirky and independent”.

Kim Streets, CEO of Museums Sheffield, which is part of the consortium, said: “There’s some great creative talent across the city region and across the North, so we’ve brought to the table some brilliant ideas. We’re really building on what’s already here.”

Sheffield says its Great Exhibition would reveal its pioneering contributions to everything from energy generation and low-carbon technologies to life sciences. The principal venue is Sheffield City Centre, with the city’s outer environs and city region partners providing satellite venues. Rival bids have also been submitted by Blackpool, Scunthorpe, St Helens, Whitehaven, and Newcastle and Gateshead.