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Exhibition to showcase refugee artwork

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A new exhibition showcasing work by families alongside professional North East artists is to open in Blyth in September as part of an arts project for refugees who have recently resettled in South East Northumberland.

Open Door is a new arts project helping to create links with the refugee community. The group have been working with professional artists to create work and curate an exhibition which will be open to the public in September at Headway Arts in Blyth and St Nicholas’ Church in Cramlington.

The exhibition will feature artwork created by families reflecting on their personal memories and experiences of transition alongside three new commissions from artists Theresa Easton, Kay   Henderson and Sheila Biggs inspired by working with the Open Door group over the last 18 months. 

Since February 2018, Museums Northumberland: bait have been working with the resettlement team at Northumberland County Council to develop Open Door. The project has welcomed more than 60 people aged 1-65 years to fortnightly sessions in Cramlington and Blyth, working with six different artists across a wide range of art forms, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing and textiles.

Northumberland County Councillor John Riddle, cabinet member with responsibility for planning, housing and resilience said, “Northumberland County Council has recently resettled 39 refugee families who have experienced incomprehensible trauma and upset in their lives and have been displaced by conflict which has destroyed their homeland and their livelihoods.

“The refugees have been working hard to integrate with their local communities in Northumberland and the council has been supporting the families to engage in a wide range of community activities and pursue volunteering and employment opportunities. This creative arts project has been incredibly successful in bringing refugee families together to talk, share their experiences and develop friendships while creating some fantastic artwork which reflects their personal memories and experiences.”

Although the creative activities are what brings the group together, having an open and supportive environment for fun, socialising and eating are extremely important elements too. 

Jaziya Ibrahim is originally from Syria, and now lives in Blyth. She said, “We’ve been coming together as a family, me and my daughters. The activities are very good and encourage people to join in. I’ve met people I might not have otherwise met and we hope more local people will join the group. Lots of people have different skills here, so we can all learn something new.”

Moving to a new place can be very isolating and Home Office research* published in June this year shows that social connections and developing language skills can make a big difference.

Several members of the Open Door group have taken part in or volunteered on other local projects, and ten participants have gone on to take part in Active Citizens, a British Council training programme which supports people to set up and run their own social action projects. Open Door participants say taking part gives them an increased sense of well-being; in fact 72% of people who have taken part in the Museums Northumberland: bait programme overall since 2016 report an increased sense of well-being.

Rowan Brown, Chief Executive of Museums Northumberland said, “The Open Door project has been an integral part of settling refugees in south east Northumberland. It has been a joy to see a new community form through arts activities and I’d like to express my sincere thanks to all of our participants, who have bravely and enthusiastically experimented with everything from theatre to sculpture, and to the Northumberland County Council Resettlement Team who have provided crucial practical support and guidance. This work wouldn’t be possible without the generous financial support of Arts Council England and Northumberland County Council. Please join us at Headway Arts and St. Nicholas Church to enjoy the creative outputs of our new community.”

The exhibition will be at Headway Arts in Blyth from 19-20 September, and at St Nicholas Church in Cramlington 26-28 September. Entry is free. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/museumsnorthumberlandbait

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