So what happens when something that you have been day dreaming of for years and years suddenly starts to become real?
This is the question that I’m asking myself right now. For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to run an art gallery and cafe. Somewhere to promote art for all. Then in 2012 the amazing Arts Centre in Darlington closed, despite it’s huge popularity, and I was heartbroken.
Darlington Arts Centre was an intrinsic part of who I am. It opened in 1981, the year my parents divorced. We moved to Durham, but Dad stayed here. He began to pursue his passion in photography more seriously and was one of the founder members of Darlington Media Group, based for the next 30 years at the back of the Arts Centre. We spent our weekends there with Dad. I took up photography to spend more time in the Darkrooms with him. I even took my degree in photography, but sadly Dad passed away just 6 months before I graduated. Dad had remarried… Jackie, now Jackie Maddison, who was also involved with the Arts Centre in a big way, running the Community Carnival in Darlington from the start until her death just a few years ago.
So yes, a central Arts Centre in our town is very important to me. I have seen the beneficial effects that art and creativity has on people’s health and wellbeing. When the old one closed I felt a burning passion to find a suitable place to replace it. And now I have…
Back in May 2019 I received a call from a friend asking if I’d like to join him on a tour of the old Marks and Spencer building in the centre of town. At this point the property had been empty for about 6 months. I was curious and jumped at the chance, really just for a look around. Later, Jason told me that there was a chance to rent the building to use as a gallery /art space. We looked around the vast empty building like kids loose in a sweet shop, both our faces lighting up with the endless potential of the place.
A month later we were told the building had been sold. Game over. But I didn’t stop believing. The building was just perfect for an arts and community centre for Darlington. It is positioned on all bus routes, on the inner ring road, big car parks opposite and just 10 minutes walk from the railway station. Both of them! The space itself would be perfect as a pop up space until funding could be sourced to buy and renovate it. The for sale sign still remained up on the building.
In mid September I ran into Emma again, the woman who I had been working with regarding M&S. She told me that it hadn’t been sold, and was still available. They were working on the lease if I was still interested…. YES!!!!
So after a few long weeks of messages, I found out for sure that we have secured the building on 31st October. Halloween! We should get the keys some time in early December. I posted on the Cornerstone Arts Facebook page midday on Monday 4th November. I had posted there before with some interest… 50 or 60 likes, but Monday’s post went crazy. I think it has reached over half the population of Darlington, or the equivalent!
The love and support for this project has been overwhelming, as has the number of people enquiring to use the place. All in just a week. If I ever thought there may only be a limited need for this I certainly don’t now. I have been contacted by so many amazing, creative people. It is going to be a real honour working with you all. This place, Cornerstone Arts, is not for me. It is for the town. For every single creative person here. For everyone who was ever told they couldn’t draw, or weren’t good enough, Cornerstone is for you, to come along, and follow you dream. I followed mine, and look what’s happened!
Cornerstone Arts… Not just any Arts Centre, this will be the M&S Arts Centre!!