Work in both of these exhibitions. One for a good cause the other to shock.

Life has many paths all unknown to us. Each future can never be predicted; each life awaits fate’s strange desires; each god inside us craves the belief of control that simply is not there; such is the humans’ Achilles heal?

I start work on two portraits of my niece who tragically died recently aged 19.  I would not have done  these portraits had it not been for this dreadful event. I could not see, feel or know this. Now I work again…


Before I start this blog I would like to ask everyone to give a silent thought to all those innocent children, women and men in Syria being killed and maimed by British bombs; to those who have recently been flooded out of their homes in Cumbria, the Scottish Borders and the Tyne Valley and to every man and woman who will find themselves homeless and hungry this winter on the streets of the UK.  As, what I am about to argue may well be important, but in real terms pales into insignificance.

I would also like send out a huge thank you to all those family and friends who turned out in atrocious weather on the 3rd of December for the opening of my ‘self- financed’ audio/visual exhibition BLURRED at Three Tanners Bank. I would have also  liked to send a huge thank you to all the gallery owners, curators, lectures and dignitaries that I send personal hand written invites to as well as all the other organisations and publications I e-mailed, but I cannot, as not one turned up. Is this indicative of the North East Art world where one could argue that curators/managers/directors seem to have theirs head shoved so far up their arses that all they can see is shite, where nepotism (not in the direct relations sense of course) and arrogance abound?

As an educator as well as an artist with massive left wing tendencies who sees the swathing cuts to arts funding as a disaster for our society as a whole, I would like to be more charitable and positive and I have been racking my brains to find some ‘positive criticism’ about the work that most of these organisation show, but I cannot. And no matter what else these organisations do, whether it is excellent education engagement to lectures and conferences, it is the work on show that drives these subsidiary activities; without top quality art the rest is meaningless.  I am tired of people telling me that ‘art’ is a matter of opinion; it is not. I am tired of going to these galleries and seeing: found object regurgitated and made into badly made sculpture; collections of found objects paraded on plinths like museum exhibits and offered as art; collections of made and found objects exhibited in pseudo-museum type environments and offered as art; watching and listening to performance pieces that in any other arts medium would be laughed off stage; uninteresting painting; uninteresting drawing and in some cases bad painting and bad drawing; average video/film work… the list could go on and on.  My fear is if this is not addressed and those that commission and control such work forget to pull their heads out of their arses in time, the cuts will continue. If I were a Tory minister looking for easy targets, I would not look much further than the North East Art world.

Artists can create, make and intellectualise what they like, I do, that’s what exciting and interesting about working as an artist. Private gallery owners can also promote and parade what they like, as that is their prerogative. It is a shame that many seem to dupe the public into pedalling expensive ‘illustrative art’ as fine art, much of which is of very dubious quality, but that is not a new phenomenon, through the ages people have been sold all sorts of tat as quality goods.  However public funded bodies must do better, much better if they are to retain any sort of proper funding.

At the end of my opening a number of people came up to me and said that the exhibition was far better than anything that they had seen at the Baltic Mill in years; that it was atmospheric and poignant. Now you could argue that they were just being kind, and if they had only said it was ‘good’ and not compared it to work that has been shown at the Baltic Mill, I would fully agree, but that was not the case. So the question is…why would they say that? How can an artist who has only been making art seriously for three years after a sixteen year break construct an exhibition that in the mind of a wide cross section of people is better than anything that the Baltic Mill can produce?

I have attached a link to a ‘show case’ video of the exhibition, which in no way captures the full intensity of the work, but gives a good flavour of what was on show. Why not view it and make your own decision.

Finally, I would like to end this blog on a really positive note. At this years’ Lumiere festival in Durham, there was a video work by made Storybox and Durham Sixth Form Centre entitled ‘Precious’. It was rather hidden away in the grounds of the Sixth Form, which was a shame, as this piece of work was head and shoulders above anything else on show.  My wife and I stood and watched this for well over 15 minutes, and I personally could have watched longer. This, in my opinion, is the standard of work that the Baltic Mill should be continually showing. It should be bought and sited as the first exhibit in a permanent collection that the Baltic Mill should start now; a permanent collection is well overdue.

I have a personal benchmark for excellent work, which is – ‘I wish I had thought of that, I wish I had made that’…this benchmark is rarely passed with most of the work I view in the North East…maybe my standards are too high.

Show reel link for BLURRED exhibition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JohPmpQ6eg




Following on from my last blog…My final correspondence to Arts Council England.

Dear Keir Gill,

Many thanks for your reply of the 26th October 2015 outlining Arts Council England’s position concerning, avenues of compensation, freedom of information requests and grants for the arts.

I have to say, I did have to have a slight ironic chuckle to myself about Arts Council England’s ever so slightly patronising position, and its assumption that I have never applied for FOI or Grants for the arts before; both of which I have.

Let me tackle FOI first. In my experience this is the sequence of events that occur when an organisation does not want to reveal information:

  1. A letter requesting information is sent to the organisation
  2. A polite reply is sent from the organisation explaining the application has not been specific enough (as in your reply)
  3. A second letter full of more detailed and specific requests is sent to the organisation.
  4. A polite reply is sent explaining that this request is has been deemed a nuisance and the information will not be revealed
  5. A third letter is sent to the organisation outlining their responsibility in law and that they have six weeks to divulge the information or a letter of complaint will be sent to the FOI commissioner.
  6. The organisation does not reply in six weeks
  7. A letter is sent to the FOI commissioner with all the relevant correspondence.
  8. The organisation then reveals only part of the information….and so it goes on.

I will not be going down this line, as I really don’t think Arts Council England merits any more of my time than this reply.

Now, let me move onto Grants for the arts.  I have applied for such a grant; I spent two days filling the form in only to be rejected.  In my thirty years of working in all areas of education and support, the general idea with helping children and adults achieve goals is to make the work challenging, but where they can always succeed. However, the application form for the Grants for the arts is quite clearly designed to make the applicant fail. It is designed so that the applicant has to contact Arts Council England in order for that organisation to tell the applicant what they want to hear and see; if you don’t conform you don’t get the lolly! It’s my ball and if you don’t want to play by my rules, you don’t get to play.  But the point is, it’s not your ball, it is the taxpayer’s ball. It is my ball and I, as an artist, never get to play with it…only the chosen few. And who chooses?  The chosen few…

You also stated in your reply to my original letter that Arts Council England has ‘robust application processes’. I’m really not convinced by such a bold statement.  Let us look at the case of the Globe Gallery in Newcastle.  This is not a criticism of the gallery or anyone involved with it, but an example of how public money is wasted by organisations and governments because of whims of policy, taste and bureaucracy. (Empty ‘Sure Start’ buildings all over the country)

The original Globe Gallery had to close, I assume (information not given), because of lack of funding. Over twenty years the organisation had gained grants to create a state of the art three story art gallery which now stands empty.  One could ask: where were the ‘robust application processes’ over the years to allow such a situation to happen? One could suggest that the money would have been better used by simply putting it all in a bag and setting fire to it, KLF style.  It certainly would have been a far more forceful political and artistic statement.

I realise these comments are a matter of opinion, but do opinions matter? I think the book is still open on that one concerning Arts Council England.

I have attached an invite to my relocated exhibition, outside Arts Council England’s and the gallery systems grasp.  I look forward to your attendance.

Yours sincerely

Mark A. Carr  BA (hons) Fine Art, PGCE, MA (and general nuisance)

PS. Before I sent the original FOI request I posted a note on my desk, it read:

  • My FOI      request will be rejected because my application will not be specific      enough.

How right I was…that patronising smugness is catching!




I have been thinking about this blog for over a week and have decided to publish it.  As I outlined in my last posting, my exhibition, BLURRED, which was scheduled to be shown at the New Bridge Project in December, had to be cancelled  due to a double booking on their part.  (I still await any hard evidence that the other event was booked before mine; however, I think a trip to Venus is more likely to happen than any evidence arriving in the post.) So I decided to write to Arts Council England, as they fund the New Bridge Project, to see if there were any avenues of compensation. I also asked for financial information, through the FOI act, concerning a number of organisations funded by Arts Council England.  This is their reply in full:

Dear Mr Carr,

Thank you for your letters and for making us aware of your concerns.  I am sorry to hear that your experience with the NewBridge Project was not a positive one and we are grateful to you for having taken the time to share your concerns with us.

Though this cannot be handled using Arts Council’s published complaints procedures, as it refers to the actions of an external organisation which we fund, we still appreciate you giving us the opportunity to respond. We take all comments about an organisation in receipt of public funding seriously and I would like to reassure you that all your comments have been noted.

I feel that it is helpful to explain that while we may provide funding to an organisation, the organisation themselves are still fully responsible for every part of its business. We are not involved in the management of their day to day activity or responsible for any action an organisation takes, or fails to take. As such we are unable to intervene when there are concerns of this nature between an organisation and a third party.  There are also no avenues for pursuing compensation through Arts Council England.

I was also sorry to read that you feel the work you have seen in the galleries you have mentioned is mediocre. I therefore fully appreciate your acknowledgement that appreciation of art is a personal preference. Please be assured that we have robust application processes and assess applications on their artistic quality as part of our criteria. These are extremely competitive processes and we are confident that our application and post award procedures ensure excellent artistic experiences for people in England. I am sorry that you have not felt this.

I note that you intend to self-fund future exhibitions so you may be interested in our open funding programme Grants for the arts. It is common for us to fund individual artists to exhibit their work through this programme and I suggest that this is something you should look into. If you are interested then please let me know and I can put you in touch with somebody in my team who will be happy to help.

With regard to your Freedom of Information request we will need you to be more specific in the details you require. My suggestion to get the information you are looking for is to request all successful applications to Arts Council England for the organisations you have mentioned. These applications will detail everything you have asked for, we are unable to supply these without specific request from you. You can email this request to [email protected]

I am sorry that I can’t help you further with your complaint and I hope that you will consider Grants for the arts as a way forward for your work.

Best regards,

Keir Gill Complaints Manager, Customer Services National Support Centre – The Hive Arts Council England

My next blog will be my reply.



Last Thursday I took a short break to London to see the singer-songwriter, Grant Lee Phillips, at the Islington Assembly Hall.  In the early to mid-nineties he was the front-man and songwriter for the grunge/country three-piece outfit Grant Lee Buffalo that hailed from the west coast of America.  Back then I saw the band perform at the old Riverside venue. For those who don’t know the club, which has since sadly closed, it was a tight, low ceiling, sweaty death-trap with a great vibe where bands could play as loud as they liked. Grant Lee Buffalo were loud, super cool with Phillip’s  broken crystal voice cascading through the consummate raw rhythm section orchestrated by his super electrified 12 string guitar…great memories.  The band became quite big, playing to thousands of people, if not tens of thousands at festivals and outdoor gigs.

At the Islington Assembly Hall, a lovely old fashioned venue which is part of the classical fronted Islington Town Hall, I roughly counted 200 chairs that had been set out for the gig.  These were not all filled as Grant Lee Phillips walked out into the single white spotlight that cut through the pitch black stage to start his set; a bit of a come-down you could say compared to the dizzy heights of the mid-nineties.  As it was the last gig of his one man tour, he could have played a polite one hour set and left without as much as a nod and a wink. But that was not the case; he was the consummate professional, playing for well over an hour and a half, just him, his six string guitar and that sorrowful crystal voice.  Not only that, but after the gig he was in the foyer chatting to fans and signing autographs for some time.

So, when dealing with arts organisations, especially those that are funded by Arts Council England, I think that we all should expect a certain level of professionalism, similar to that which Grant Lee Phillips gave his audience last Thursday. Unfortunately, a recent encounter with the New Bridge Project, an arts organisation based in Newcastle upon Tyne, fell, in my opinion, somewhat short of what I would consider professional.

In July of this year I booked the Annex gallery space at the New Bridge Project for the three weeks prior to Christmas week. This, I was told last Wednesday, had been double booked by the staff at the project and I have been forced to cancel my exhibition, the cost of which I have yet to calculate.  In the last communication from the New Bridge Project, they apologised for the mistake, but stated that the other event could not be cancelled, as it was booked before mine. I have received no hard evidence that to show that this is the case, and  I found the staff unsympathetic and accusing, especially considering that the fault of this double booking lies solely with the New Bridge Project.

What was particularly galling was the New Bridge Project’s attitude towards my work; the conversations seemed to imply that it was somehow far less important than the other ‘Post card’ event.  I can assure you that have invested a large amount of time, effort and money to create a major audio/visual exhibition. This would not have been a ‘two-bit’ pop-up, thrown together, pinned to the wall effort.

If you have read my blog before you will know that in 2012 I returned to Newcastle to begin work as a full time artist after a sixteen year break. Since 2012 I have tried at various times to secure an exhibition to show my work in the north east, but in particular, Newcastle. I approached the following galleries, (which I believe have all had Arts Council funding at one time or another) as I felt that the spaces that these organisations offered were more suited to the work I was producing: the New Bridge Project, the Vane Gallery; the Globe Gallery, Baltic 39, the Newcastle Arts Centre, Northern Print and MIMA (Middlesbrough). I have also made enquires at some these organisations about the possibility of renting spaces. In the end, it was that avenue that I had to take, as not only was I unable to secure an exhibition for my work, but even an interview to discuss the possibility of an exhibition.

What is particularly frustrating about this (MIMA excluded, as I have not visited that gallery enough to make any reasonable judgement), is, except for the odd occasion, most of the work I have seen at these galleries is, in my world- travelled opinion, mediocre at best. This seems to place my work below such a bench mark, which may well be the case; but how can one really know without being able to exhibit?  Please go to my website to gage your own opinions: www.markcarrartist.com.

I have discussed this mediocrity with some fellow artists and one suggestion that was put forward for Newcastle’s malaise into mediocrity is the failure of the Baltic Mill to establish itself, as it promised, to be truly top quality venue for modern art. And, even though it has periodically put on some fabulous exhibitions, the overall quality of the work on display has been mediocre and simply not good enough to achieve its original goals. The lack of a permanent collection seems to exasperate this. This mediocrity, in my opinion, filters down to where the ordinary is accepted as good across many galleries in Newcastle and beyond.

I realise these statements may burn bridges, but in reality I have no bridges to burn, as it is quite evident that the only way I will ever be able to exhibit my work is to organise and fund it myself outside the gallery system.