When you gather prominent names in northern, nay British, art to discuss the virtues of creating, selling and showing work in the uppermost counties of England, there’s every chance all kinds of historic, regional neuroses and parochialism will bubble to the surface and battle lines be drawn with the capital.

The ‘Things we can do in the North…’ event, hosted by the Corridor 8 journal to celebrate the launch of a bound edition of their third issue, had all of that and more. A panel, chaired by Maria Balshaw, Director of the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery, discussed what being based in the north meant to them and their productivity, popularity and, in some cases, profitability.

“Large institutions in the north can take risks that you can’t take in London,” Balshaw said, speaking in the Whitworth’s galleries. “For me, bringing an artist like Marina Abramovic here [to the Whitworth, for the 2009 Manchester International Festival] was a no brainer, and there was actually nobody to stop me. Only when I go to London do I realise that if I’d tried to do it there, there would probably have been someone to stop me.”

In a candid criticism of the capital and its galleries, Balshaw said that “the pressure of tourism makes for pedestrian choices”, outlining the regions as a place where risks can be taken without the glare of a critical arts media. Friends in the south may have argued with that point, but Balshaw’s suggestions that the north is blessed with the space and freedom to use arts as a regenerative force is surely inarguable, whilst having unintended poignancy following the sobering news of Newcastle City Council’s arts cuts in the days prior.

Kerry Harker, Co-Director of Project Space Leeds (PSL), gave a positive indication of how the north’s abundant, yet redundant, industrial heartlands continue to give artists space to live and work, with greater local authority backing than on Tyneside. Dovetailing with fellow speaker and artist Ian Rawlinson’s reminder that the regions give artists nothing if not low rents, Harker outlined the vision for the reimagining of the defunct Tetley’s Brewery in Leeds after being secured for a nominal rent of £1 a year.

As a makeweight for their landlord, Carlsberg, building a monstrous car park, PSL will be afforded the luxury of premises and green space as a new home for the arts in Leeds. But, recreation aside, how can career-minded artists live, work and survive in the regions? “For all the cheap rent we enjoy, we have to use that money to travel,” said Rawlinson, coming shortly after Workplace Gallery’s Paul Moss outlined his efforts to gain access to collectors for his artists, Marcus Coates and Laura Lancaster, by travelling to art fairs in Miami, New York and beyond. (A new exhibition by Coates opens tonight at the gallery).

One audience member saw the silver lining of internationalism and the north’s ability to bypass London in order to be part of an international exchange, as being rather more tarnished. Northern Art Prize-winning artist Pavel Büchler, a recent recipient of a £50,000 Paul Hamlyn Award, suggested that home-grown, emerging talent, as well as international stars, should be prioritised by major northern institutions, in order to secure a better future for northern artists.

“We export bananas and import computers,” he said, and as uncompromising as it may have been controversial, his comment stunned, and amused, the room. In the absence of any firm conclusion about what it means to operate in the vibrant expanse of the north as an artist or gallery, Büchler’s tongue-in-cheek jibes at the star-chasing, major galleries made the debate memorable at least.