• Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email

Tees Valley Combined Authority has launched a radical new programme for artists which could provide a groundbreaking model for other authorities, writes Charlie Kemp

A woman in a dressing gown standing on a table by a river bed
One of five Tees Valley Artists of the Year, Lisette Auton performs her work: Writing the Missing - A River Cycle, 2020

Rob Irish

In 2021, Tees Valley became the only Combined Authority to be included in Arts Council England’s (ACE) portfolio of Priority Places. You’re perhaps familiar with some of the defining criteria for this initiative, which seeks to direct more ACE resource to areas which have historically received lower levels of investment – where there’s clear socio-economic need but also, critically, a demonstrable cultural ambition reflected in leadership and policy. 

In Tees Valley, there is a collective effort to overcome the social and economic pressures on communities, fuelled by a determined ambition for long-term wellbeing and prosperity. A strengthened cultural landscape and creative economy is firmly part of the plan. 

Led by elected Mayor Ben Houchen since 2017, the Combined Authority’s role is to drive economic regeneration. Our focus is on creating jobs, supporting local business growth, developing regional skills and attracting inward investment.

The inclusion of culture in the Combined Authority’s founding strategies and subsequent investment plan was the result of years of local authority commitment to (and delivery of) cultural programmes, venues and festivals and a deeply rooted understanding of the value of these opportunities for local communities. But Combined Authority investment in the sector needs to be distinct from support offered by local authority and Arts Council colleagues.  

Addressing barriers for creatives

In line with our driving objectives, we aim to build sectoral resilience, sustainability and impact by focusing on the needs of cultural businesses and the creative workforce. Through our £20.5m Growth Programme for the Creative & Visitor Economies (part-funded through UKSPF), we are addressing head on the barriers to growth experienced by Tees Valley’s creatives for too long: lack of connectivity; unstable business models reliant on project grants which create unsustainable capacity challenges; limited opportunities for progression or leadership development; and a stifled talent pipeline. 

We’re also embracing the growing ambitions and shared aspirations that improved connectivity, capacity and leadership are revealing – notably a collective aspiration to create more content in region, unlocking benefits for local communities and placemaking AND growing export potential. 

We want to become an engine room of creative production – a place where artists and creative professionals feel supported, inspired and empowered and where their outputs shape the experience and possibility of place for all who live, work, study and visit here.  

Tees Valley Artists of the Year

At a time of unparalleled challenges for artists, we’ve sought to understand how our resources could most usefully be deployed to support our content creators. This Artists of the Year initiative draws on the learning of other places and programmes – such as the Basic Income for the Arts pilot in Ireland – while including elements of impactful models deployed through other interventions. For example, our Festivals Scale-Up Programme, which combines multi-year, tapered investment in organisational development with wraparound business support, training and peer learning. 

For one year, five exceptional artists - each at a pivotal career moment - will receive a holistic programme of tailored support. A bursary (equivalent to a year’s Real Living Wage income) will provide a supportive foundation and a development budget of £8,160 ensures they can invest in their growth, whether that be through collaboration with peers, acquiring materials or undertaking training.

Crucially, each artist will be supported by both regional and national mentors – leaders in their field offering invaluable guidance and access to networks. PR and marketing support will ensure that the stories and work of the artists reach new platforms and audiences, and a fundraising specialist will provide additional capacity to strengthen income generation and build compelling applications. Finally, the artists will have access to tailored skills development and wellbeing sessions. 

Critically, we are not merely funding a project. This multifaceted package is an investment in the artists themselves as professional entities and regional employers. We want them to build proud, sustainable and recognised creative careers from Tees Valley. 

What do we hope in return?

A stronger creative workforce, a louder Tees Valley voice in national and international cultural discourse, more commissions and opportunities for the local supply chain, levered inward funds from arm’s length bodies, a heightened sense of ambition and possibility and new models of working for regional freelancers. 

So, who are the five Artists of the Year 2024? Following extensive assessment and deliberation by a dedicated panel of leading regional sector organisations, we’re proud to support an exciting cohort.

-    Lisette Auton (author) is a disabled, neurodivergent, working-class artist working as a novelist, dramatist, activist, filmmaker and performer. 
-    Scott Turnbull (actor) has developed a distinctive, authentic and comedic style of theatre-making and live performance with a bit of illustration and animation thrown in for good measure! 
-    Claire A. Baker (textile artist), engages closely communities to develop her work and, through stitch, shares messages of love and legacy, heritage and hope. 
-    Andy Berriman (filmmaker) wants to tell authentic, funny, touching and illuminating stories that shine with the unique gritty, humour and heart of his Tees Valley homeland. 
-    Amelia Coburn (musician) was a finalist in the 2017 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards. Her distinctive sound has gained recognition and acclaim from pundits, broadcasters and publications alike. 

We can’t wait to see what the programme might help them to achieve. Tees Valley Combined Authority and our ‘village’ of cultural organisations and leaders will be doing all we can to make the year count. I hope you’ll join in cheering the artists on over the next 12 months. 

And if any this resonates and you want to connect with or be part of a region on a mission to become an incredible place to be professionally creative, do get in touch. 

Charlie Kemp is Head of Creative Place at Tees Valley Combined Authority.
@TeesValleyCA | @charliemkemp 

Link to Author(s): 
Headshot of Charlie Kemp