Artists bring disused Middlesbrough town centre office block back to life

The Northern Echo: Nicola Parkin and Vicky Holbrough from Navigator North with artist Paul Murray Nicola Parkin and Vicky Holbrough from Navigator North with artist Paul Murray

A DISUSED office block has been transformed into a haven for young artists.

Former eight-storey BT call centre Dundas House, which towers over the Dundas Arcade shopping centre in Middlesbrough town centre and has been disused since 2006, is now home to a creative artists programme.

Called Next Steps in Creative Experience (NICE), the programme encourages young artists across Teesside and displays their work.

The idea came from Leeds-based Navigator North founders Vicky Holbrough and Nicola Parkin and costs about £25,000 to run, thanks to grants from the Arts Council and various donors across the Tees Valley.

Ms Holbrough, 37, an artist herself, said: “Young artists face particular problems in finding and affording studio space to develop their skills. And even though they might have talent, they are often not equipped to pursue a career which uses that talent.

“The problem of a lack of affordable studios has been solved by finding disused buildings like Dundas House, negotiating leases with the owners or landlords and creating so-called Pop Up or Meanwhile spaces.

Ms Parkin, 30, a designer, said: “A lot of the time they are happy that there is a presence on site. It’s better than it staying empty.”

The pair have also secured space for artists in former office blocks in Middlesbrough’s Riverside Park and in Thornaby.

One artist they have helped is Paul Murray, 25, from Stockton, who graduated from Leeds University in 2009 with a degree in Visual Communication.

He had worked part-time for Morrisons since 2005 and went back there after finishing his studies.

He is now also working part-time at the Cleveland College of Art and Design, and getting paid work as an artist.

Mr Murray said NICE gave him the confidence he previously lacked: “I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in arts but didn’t know how to do it. When we started none of us called ourselves artists: we made art but we weren’t artists. Now I am confident to call myself an artist.”

Navigator North has also received money from the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art for a ‘work and play’ programme to help youngsters engage with art.

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