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Arts venue provides a bridge linking the past and future
Conceived as a way of accommodating some of the groups displaced by the closure of Darlington Arts Centre last year, the Bridge Centre for Visual Arts is going from strength to strength. Andy Walker visited a place described as one of Darlington’s hidden gems.
HOUSED in a former school, The Bridge is a more functional venue than 19th Century, red-brick building where the much-missed arts centre was based.
There’s plenty going on in the single-storey 1970s building - it’s bustling.
Bonnie Davies is project manager of Openart Studio, one of an ever-growing number of groups using the centre for a world of artistic and creative purposes.
Previously an arts centre stalwart, she has become a familiar face at The Bridge, since it opened in July last year.
Darlington Borough Council, which ran and ultimately closed the arts centre, still has a presence – as well as owning the Bridge building, in Hundens Lane, it provides funding for the Openart project, as does the NHS.
But there is a real community feel at The Bridge - there’s the sense that it’s the artists, rather than the officials, who are calling the shots.
Ms Davies said: “Here, artists have more say in how the place is managed and volunteers come in in their own time to help decorate and keep it clean and tidy.
“After the closure of the arts centre, some of the groups that used it found alternative venues, which is good because it means more people across Darlington can access activities on their doorstep.
“The Bridge is a smaller space, but it is not past its capacity, there are still areas for us to bring in new courses and we have three new tutors starting in September.”
Openart is aimed at anyone with an interest, regardless of age or ability and is free for the first eight weeks.
Other groups using The Bridge include the Community Art Project, which provides opportunities for people with learning disabilities.
Etching group Press Gang and calligraphy enthusiasts North East Scribes also hold regular meetings here and there are regular adult art courses in everything from ceramics to life-drawing and felt-making to photography.
With the council faced with having to make further deep cuts to its spending, what does the future hold for The Bridge?
There is the possibility of the centre’s users coming together to form a management committee which could raise funds to ensure its longevity.
Ms Davies said: “In uncertain times, nobody can ever guarantee anything, but the courses here are so popular and well-attended.
“I would hope that is taken into consideration when decisions are made.”
The Bridge is open from 9am to 9pm from Monday to Friday and from 9am to 5pm on Saturday. For more information, call 01325-244174.