Elephants, sambuca and sponsorship

It was David Byrne's 60th birthday yesterday. I would neither wholly trust nor envy anyone who has never asked themselves his most famous question: ‘My god, how did I get here?’ I had one of those moments, but pleasurable, the other evening as I looked down from a balcony at the arts and business folk of the North East gathered to celebrate the Sponsors Club’s 21st birthday. Below me the great and the good and the odd bald spot, ahead of me a baby elephant and the other stuffed animals of the Great North Museum, Hancock. Then I read a poem...

The poem was one of the '21 Ways of Looking at The Sponsors Club' I found to make up a small book which was given to attendees in their special Northern Print-made goody bags. Director, Adam Lopardo had asked me to look at the achievements of the Sponsors Club over its first 21 years. (The Sponsors Club is the North East's typically independent arts and business agency, for many years affiliated but not fully part of A&B nationally, in case you were wondering.) After talking to lots of great folk, and looking through the files in Adam’s office, I decided no single approach quite captured everything, so mixed descriptive or analytical prose, some numbers (£869,815, 620 grants, for instance), some lists, some genuine pun-tastic headlines (‘brush with the arts is a stroke of kindness’?) plus some poetry in various forms – from a haiku called ‘The Way the Managing Director put it after the Meeting’ to a sonnet mainly comprised of the names of bridges in North East England. (For which much credit should go to Bridges on the Tyne a great resource listing them all, over all the rivers of the region.) There’s also one joke about myself hidden away in there.

Designers Sumo did a very grand job making each of the ‘ways of looking’ different visually, and Potts Printers printed it, so the book and the dinner exemplify something I said in the text: ‘scratch the surface now and the core culture of coming together to bring others in to support the arts through communal and fun work is still central’. There were plenty of old faces at the dinner, including an almost comprehensive accidental reunion of Northern Arts Management Team of 2000, some of whom are having to make ends meet by running things like Creative Scotland and Gateshead Council rather than being swashbuckling thinkers like myself. It was, however, one of the next generation of business supporters who pressed a sambuca into my hand late on, demanding I accept a shot because he’d enjoyed the poem so much. Why that’s never happened at one of my literary events, I simply can’t imagine...

(if you would like one of the limited edition pdf versions of the book, just drop me an email and I’ll send you one - no time right now to work out how to best put it up on the site.)


  1. This is all very jolly but what do you suggest we do in Merseyside when we've ended up with the arts council's toxic waste in the form of Sarah Fisher and Michael Eakin?


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