Great Exhibition of the North: what designers should see

A three-month celebration of Northern culture, art and design is set to hit Newcastle and Gateshead this month – we round-up the events that you will want to get down to.

The Great Exhibition of the North was born out of a Government agenda to celebrate and increase art, design and innovation in the North of England, and boost local economies.

The term “Northern Powerhouse” was coined as the Government promised to invest heavily in a region outside of London and the South East, through skills, transport and culture.

£5 million has been pumped into the festival alone, with an extra £15 million going towards cultural investment and businesses in the North of England.

While investing in a new festival that celebrates culture in the North of the country seems well-meaning, some have been skeptical, finding the event series too all-encompassing and patronising.

Adam Rix, creative director at Music, previously said the Government should put the money into existing cultural events like the Manchester International Festival, while Wayne Hemingway said the Government should be focusing on keeping Northern libraries and museums open.

But whatever people’s thoughts are on the intentions of the event, from June to September, the Great Exhibition of the North will be showcasing Northern design in many forms, from crafts and ceramics through to gaming and virtual reality. Here’s a round-up of activities going on over the next three months.


Installation: 50 Northern Icons

What: The Manchester United football crest, Yorkshire tea packaging or the graphics for Liverpool’s infamous Cream nightclub? A painted mural by Sunderland-based artist Frank Styles will showcase 50 design classics of the North, as voted by the public. Split across categories of transport, architecture, culture and product/brand, anyone can nominate their favourite examples online, and the ones with most votes will be collated and turned into a painted montage on a wall opposite the Northern Design Centre in Gateshead.

When: 22 June – 9 September 2018.

Where: Northern Design Centre, Abbott’s Hill, Gateshead NE8 3DF.

Info: The installation is free to view. Submit your suggestions for the mural here.


Exhibition: Design, Innovate, Craft

What: Furniture, ceramics, jewellery, sculpture and prints will be on show at this new exhibition at Newcastle’s Biscuit Factory art gallery. The show will present a varied selection of contemporary craft and making from the North of England, and will be accompanied by a series of workshops and talks. The gallery, founded in 2002, is a former Victorian biscuit manufacturing warehouse, and still contains many of the original architectural features such as beams, brickwork and high ceilings. The basement also houses 25 creative work spaces.

When: 1 June – 26 August 2018.

Where: The Biscuit Factory, 16 Stoddart Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE2 1AN.

Info: Entry is free. For more information, head here.


Mini festival: 1UP North

What: Gamers, coders and budding digital designers will enjoy this part of the Great Exhibition of the North, which is everything arcade. Spread over two weeks, 1UP North will feature multiplayer games, competitions, workshops, hackathons, challenges and talks about careers in the gaming sector. From pixelated retro classics – think Pacman – through to virtual reality worlds, visitors will learn from exhibitors including high-street store Game, the BBC, and game developer Prey Interactive.

When: 2 – 15 July 2018.

Where: Northumbria University, 110 Middlesex Street, London E1 7HT.

Info: The festival is free but individual events are ticketed. For more information, head here.


Talk and workshop series: Emerging Tech

What: New technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, connected products and smart robotics are not only changing the way designers work but also how people live. A series of events will delve into new tech, with talks in the mornings aimed at businesses and how to use tech in industries such as health, transport and manufacturing, while afternoons will provide visitors with fun chances to try out tech first-hand. There will also be careers workshops on hand for young people interested in jobs in the sector.

When: 28 June – 6 September 2018.

Where: Northern Design Centre, Abbott’s Hill, Gateshead NE8 3DF.

Info: Entry is free but some events will be ticketed. For more information, head here.


Exhibition: Volunteers in Conflicts and Emergencies

What: What must it be like to be on the front-line in a health or migrant-related crisis? An interactive, walk-through exhibition will take visitors through the daily lives of volunteers working in conflict situations. Design elements such as uniforms and sanitation suits, equipment, and personal items like diaries will feature, as visitors learn about the responsibilities of aid workers in West Africa dealing with ebola, or those helping refugees cross country borders.

When: 22 June – 9 September 2018.

Where: Northumbria University Campus, 2 Ellison Place, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8ST.

Info: For more information, head here.


The Great Exhibition of the North takes place 22 June – 9 September 2018 across various locations in Newcastle and Gateshead. For more information, head here. To read about the festival’s visual identity, designed by studio Build last year, head here.

All images courtesy of The Great Exhibition of the North.

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