AT first glance, the Team Valley Trading Estate is a world of vans and forklifts, grease-stained overalls and articulated lorries.
But a group of artists has settled in nicely here and is inviting everyone to a pre-Christmas open studios event on Friday.
Empty units on the trading estate’s Eleventh Avenue are a base for artists Corinne Lewis, Keith Murdoch, Sam Chorley and Terri Miles.
Their work will be on show – and for sale – on Friday along with that of eight other artists based at another Gateshead studio complex, near Matalan on the Tyne Bridge Retail Park.
It might seem incongruous, but it’s not. Far from seeking ivory towers, many artists these days operate as small businesses.
Corinne Lewis is well-known in the North East for her photography. She studied for a BA in contemporary photographic practice at Northumbria University in the late 1990s and did an MA in photography at Sunderland University.
She photographed the flowers of Saltwell Park and local residents for an exhibition in Saltwell Towers to mark its reopening after refurbishment.
Then during a residency at Newcastle University she started using a microscope, getting in close to the flowers and plants she photographed.
“I’m interested in natural structures,” says Corinne who has developed her Saltwell Park images as her photographic practice has grown.
In their latest manifestation, the photographs have been augmented with silver and gold leaf. “It gives them a more 3D feel,” she says.
As well as following her artistic instincts Corinne has set up a business, Powder Butterfly. Targeting the corporate gift market, she creates bespoke pendants, cufflinks and other artefacts.
Corinne previously occupied a building called The Shed on Gateshead High Street. It was an empty former bedding shop which Gateshead Council was happy to see occupied.
“It was good while it lasted but The Shed closed in May due to flood damage to the building and we weren’t sure where we going to go,” says Corinne.
At this point, a Leeds-based arts charity called East Street Arts was contacted by the council. The organisation has 20 years of experience in helping artists to develop their careers and find studio space in empty buildings.
East Street Arts has a good relationship with a group in Middlesbrough called Navigation North, whose artists occupy an old BT tower.
In Gateshead they took on the running of the empty units on the Team Valley and the Tyne Bridge Retail Park, paying the business rates to the council and collecting an affordable rent from tenants.
The landlords of the properties continue to advertise their availability so it’s a temporary solution but beneficial, providing artists with places to work and keeping empty buildings in use.
Vikki Chapman, of East Street Arts, says the organisation is working with the council and The Sage Gateshead to establish more permanent studios at Gateshead Old Town Hall.
Corinne says the Team Valley suits her perfectly. She has struck up some potentially-useful working relationships there.
“If you’re not familiar with it, the estate can seem a bit unfriendly. It has Sainsbury’s and the retail park but generally people don’t tend to think of coming out this way.
“But we have been talking to people who have their businesses here and bringing people out here, and I suppose that’s useful. I’m hoping we can hold events here.
“In terms of Gateshead Council’s involvement, they’ve always kept the door open for us and have been keen to help us in whatever way they can.”
Council chief executive Jane Robinson, formerly at Arts Council England, says: “We have a strong and growing creative sector in Gateshead. As a council we have always understood the importance of supporting creative industries and artists as the role they play in our communities is massive. They now play a major part in our economy and are a part of what makes Gateshead stand out from the crowd.
“This event will be a great opportunity for people to meet the Eleventh Avenue artists and see their work close up. There is something special about meeting the person who has created the work that you’re looking at.”
The Eleventh Avenue Open Studio Event takes place on Friday from 3.30-8pm. Head for units K35-37.