Alan Davey said he wanted local authorities across Darlington, Stockton, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Hartlepool to unite and persuade the Local Enterprise Partnership, Tees Valley Unlimited, to place more importance on boosting creativity in the area.
“I want to re-establish a narrative about what culture can bring to the Tees Valley and the regeneration that would result from that, both in people terms and in economic growth," said Mr Davey, who was speaking on a visit home to the region.
“When I was growing up in Stockton you felt everything was happening in Newcastle, now there’s lots on the doorstep.
"My position is to get a head of steam around culture in the Tees Valley and get the Local Enterprise Partnership to realise that culture could be a great part of the offer to new regeneration."
The announcement of £1.5m of Arts Council funding to allow children’s theatre company Theatre Hullabaloo to build a specialist facility in Darlington aimed at youth audiences was hailed as a major boost for the town’s ambitions to revitalise its arts offering earlier this month.
Other local groups to secure Arts Council funding for the next three years included Tin Arts Ltd dance company based in Durham City (£244,000), Rural Arts North Yorkshire, based in Thirsk (£226,000) and Arc arts centre in Stockton (£918,000).
“When I was growing up in Stockton we had a theatre, the ABC, that was either going to be turned into a concert hall or a bingo hall – the council chose bingo," Mr Davey said.
“I was petitioning on the streets and I was saying ‘they only do things for old people’ but it’s not like that now.
"We have a tendency to undersell ourselves here but it could be a cultural giant. There are some really good facilities already here, it’s making the most of them.
"All the things are in place for something good to happen but there is a feeling that possibilities have not been realised yet.”
Linda Edworthy, director of strategy and policy at Tees Valley Unlimited, said: “We recognise the role of arts and culture in supporting economic growth in Tees Valley, indeed 4,000 people work in culture, arts and heritage in Tees Valley on top of around 200 digital companies in the area.
“Several arts and digital companies have already taken advantage of the Tees Valley Jobs and Skills investment scheme which like many of the schemes and support we deliver are open to companies in the sector.”