ORGANISERS of the Great Exhibition of the North in Newcastle and Gateshead have responded after acts pull out over BAE sponsorship.

Two acts have pulled out of the Great Exhibition in protest at its partnership with BAE Systems.

Leeds-based Commoners Choir, which describes itself as a singing newspaper, was due to team up with two other choirs (one in Stockton, one in Manchester) and create three walking, singing trails through Newcastle city centre as part of The Great Exhibition of the North.

The idea was for the choirs to sing three specially-commissioned pieces reflecting their ideas about ‘northernness’ on the afternoon of Saturday, June 23.

A choir spokesman said: "This performance, involving around 100 participants, will no longer happen. At the full programme announcement for the exhibition, which highlighted some of the fantastic events and performances, it became clear that one of the primary partners for the exhibition will be BAE Systems.

"This left us with no alternative but to pull out. There are plenty of researched and nuanced reasons for not wanting to make work that links to BAE which we won’t go into here, but suffice to say that we felt completely unhappy being represented alongside a corporation with a track record in supplying weaponry to countries waging war on their own people and boasting appalling human rights records."

BAE Systems is one of three Premier Partners for the Exhibition, alongside Virgin Trains East Coast and management consultancy Accenture.

The choir spokesman said the decision had not been taken lightly: "The commissioners we have been working with have been brilliant throughout, showing us enthusiasm and support. None of us are ever ideologically ‘pure’, and this is not about making judgements on how other people work (not least the many thousands of people working at BAE). But in this case, and in a time when weapons manufacturers (or in fact, their shareholders) benefit so heavily from civil wars, nuclear weapons proliferation and personal gun-use, we felt that as artists we couldn’t justify working under the shadow of BAE’s reputation."

Musician and radio presenter Nadine Shah announced on Twitter that she would not be playing the festival after discovering that BAE Systems is a sponsor.

Sir Gary Verity, chairman of the Great Exhibition of the North, said: “The Great Exhibition is a once in a lifetime-opportunity to bring together our region’s inventors, engineers, artists, designers and makers to celebrate the technological innovation, art, design and culture of the North. Delivering an event of this scale is only possible thanks to the support and participation of public and private sector organisations alike.

“Our collective focus, working with all of our funders, supporters and contributors, is to make the very most of this opportunity to change perceptions of the North of England and drive future growth and success. 

“Each of our sponsors makes an important contribution to helping us achieve this aim. BAE Systems employs more than 18,000 people in the North of England and is a world leader in engineering innovation, manufacturing and technology. BAE Systems is supporting the Great Exhibition of the North as part of its commitment to address the UK skills shortage by encouraging more youngpeople to consider science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers.

“Organisations such as Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Fund meanwhile, are supporting the delivery of our artistic content, including the walking trails and commissions, concerts and exhibitions at BALTIC and Sage Gateshead.”