24 Sep 2009

NEOS: "AN outstanding success and well worth all the effort" was the view of all who participated locally in the 2009 North East Open Studios event which concluded on Monday.

NEOS, a not-for-profit organisation, was established in 2003 with the dual purpose of providing a platform for practitioners in arts and crafts and an opportunity for them to interact face-to-face with the public and the growth of support for the initiative since then has shown an almost insatiable thirst for the arts in the North-East.

Surely nowhere was this more clearly demonstrated than in Johnshaven and Benholm during the 10-day run. Local artists have, needless to say, taken part before but this year was a bit different, special even, because, in a model of team work, they all came together to devise a strategy and, with fifteen participants displaying in ten different venues such co-operation could not have been easy. Meetings with the NEOS steering committee were followed by regular get-togethers and the effectiveness of the planning was clear as, daily, visitors were frequently to be seen following the NEOS trail, yellow maps in hand (along with bright banner a master stroke) as they sought out the next port of call. While not all who took part kept an accurate count of callers, there was general agreement that there was on average around 50 a day and with more than double this number at the week ends when the harbour area and adjoining streets were filled with cars the organisers estimate that over 900 stepped over their welcoming doorsteps.

Local residents were, of course, amongst them but others came from much further afield while some, who live not so very far away, were visiting Johnshaven for the first time and the feed back from the artists, designers and crafts’ people who took part was that, not only did the visitors appreciate the talent which was on display but they were very much taken by the strong sense of community which was so evident during their walk around the village.

A late addition to the event was the idea of the Friends of Johnshaven Primary School to have Café Days, serving soup, teas, coffees and cakes on the two Saturdays. This, too proved to be extremely successful with, once expenses have been paid, the Friends likely to benefit by around £500.

Locals and visitors alike welcomed the opportunity of enjoying a morning coffee, snack lunch or afternoon tea and, in expressing the appreciation of the Friends to all who gave their support, Karelia Wright had a special word of thanks to Macphie of Glenbervie for their generous donation of cakes.

As well as those most directly involved , communities such as Benholm and Johnshaven need the annual stimulus of events such as the North East Open Studios and the Fish Festival especially when the sun shines as it did for at least for nine of the ten days. By bringing in visitors everyone benefits be they business people or local organisations. Certainly there is a limit to what a small population can organise but last week was an excellent example of what can be achieved through good planning, presentation and publicity. What’s next?