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!!
At the beginning of the year, I asked everyone if there was anything that they would like to have a go at during 2018. An art or craft that they’d never tried but that could be tried here in the group. In the past we’ve tried oil pastels and brusho. Top of the list for this year was Fimo polymer clay.
Today was the day! Armed with a selection to 10 different colours of the classic professional fimo (black, white, chocolate, yellow, red, green, blue, purple, magenta and teal) small ceramic tiles to work on, a sharp knife, an embossing tool to shape any fiddly bits and some over-sized knitting needles to use as rolling pins, we had a basic kit to get started.
A serious amount of time was spent looking through Pinterest and googling “fimo animals” for inspiration. Then we had too much inspiration! Sometimes having the world at your finger tips is not a good thing. But finally choices were made and creatures began to take shape.
Fimo is very easy to use. It’s like plasticise for adults. It is easy to mould once it is warm, and colours are easy to mix together. You can even find ‘recipes’ online telling you how to mix certain colours! Once you have finished, simply bake your creation in a domestic oven, on a baking sheet for 30 minutes at 100•c 230•f and allow to cool.
The only limit is your imagination!
Occasionally at our Wednesday Arts Cafè we discover that there is something that we’d all like to have a go at. After watching the recent BBC Four series MAKE Craft Britain, making rag rugs,specifically Hooky Rugs, was one such thing! Every region has it’s own variation in the rag rug. Here in the North East, we have two traditional types – the Clippy rug, where short scraps of fabric are doubled over, pulled through a hessian backing and knotted, and the Hooky rug, where a long length of scrap fabric is pulled up multiple times through the hessian backing to form looks with a big, oversized hook. Hence the name.
I ordered myself a hook and some hessian from a wonderful family company in Cornwall, http://www.makings.co.uk who send out useful instruction leaflets with their hooks! My thinking was that if I could do it, then it would be easy to show those interested in the Arts Cafè. And I was amazed at just how easy it was! Here is my finished chair pad…
This week at the Arts Cafè, now that more hooks had arrived, several people had a go at Hooky rugs, a thing they’d wanted to do for years but never had the chance before. One of our members, Tegan, documented the whole process in her blog, A Sky Full Of Stories. Definitely worth a read!