In late 2011, Navigator North – then a newly formed Middlesbrough based visual arts organisation, moved into an empty office block called Dundas House in the centre of Middlesbrough through a new partnership with East Street Arts in ‘meanwhile’ spaces for artists.
With an aim of using the space to support artists in developing their creative practice, Dundas House provided an opportunity to house project, exhibition and events spaces, as well as artists’ studios. Whilst getting to know the site we discovered a little known (to us anyway) piece of Middlesbrough heritage which sparked an ongoing interest and inspiration source, not only for offering support to artists but to the growing culture of Middlesbrough itself – Middlesbrough Winter Garden (MWG).
About the Dundas site
The Dundas site was previously home to the towns Winter Garden, founded by Lady Florence Bell in 1907, as an attempt to tackle one of the social problems which worried the Edwardian middle classes – the ‘improvident use of leisure time, by working class people’. The Winter Garden was in operation between 1907 and 1939. It stood on this site up until 1963, to then be replaced with a shopping arcade, car park and office block. The latter of which BT operated from until it became vacant and stood empty from 2006.
A significant piece of work for Navigator North to connect with Middlesbrough Winter Garden was the 2012/13 programme called Work & Play, which offered artists and audiences opportunities to consider what those basic principles might mean to us today. Middlesbrough Winter Garden was designed to provide a place of leisure for “the worker, his wife and friends”. It was at the time described as “one of the most hopeful social experiments now being tried in England”. This investigation looked at the use of space and how space can hold the resonance of social and work related activity of the past and present through the lens of culture and the arts.
Fast forward to today
With the interest in Middlesbrough Winter Garden and associated ideas being as relevant to culture today as they were in 1907, Navigator North continue to explore how it can take forward it’s vision to raise the profile of artists and creative practice in the region, thereby inspiring visual artists and creative communities to thrive.
Timeline of our projects connected to Middlesbrough Winter Garden
- 2011 – Navigator North moved into Dundas House and discovered the history of the site.
- 2012 – We began developing ideas and research into MWG.
- 2012 – Navigator North collaborate with Red Nile to host a Factory Night event at Dundas House, resulting in the opportunity for artists to apply for a £10,000 commission through Middlesbrough Council. Commissioned artist – Cath Keay, who creates a series of working bee hives inspired by iconic buildings in the area.
- 2012 – 2013 – ‘Work & Play’, an ACE funded, creative programme inspired by the social and work related history of MWG. This programme included opportunities for artists and audiences alike through artist residencies, workshops, exhibitions and production grants. We collaborated for the first time with partners, Festival of Thrift at the very first festival taking place in Darlington in 2013, bringing artists and their work to the event. We created our very own AV space in Middlesbrough, below Dundas House in Dundas Shopping Centre, screening a series of AV works loaned from MIMA (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art) inside a vacant shop unit.
- 2013 – Our first ever Open Studio event at Dundas House, which included roof top tours looking at MWG history as part of Middlesbrough Local History Month.
- 2015 – Research project with Tosh Warwick and celebrating MWG through an international Print Day in May working with artists Sara Cooper and Anna Cole and Middlesbrough Local History Month to offer talks and activities inside Dundas Shopping Centre.
- 2015 – Jessica Moore, an emerging artist on our professional development programme NICE, recreated and reimagined MWG through the medium of crochet in our Dundas House toilets to create a garden made entirely from wool. Shown as an installation as part of our Open Studios in this year Jess invited participants to be co-creators of the site-specific work through workshops and mail art.
- 2015 – Navigator North MWG projects shown as part of Localism exhibition at MIMA including discussion event and launch of the MWG research grant.
- 2016 – 2017 P.A Morbid, local writer and historian and Michele Allen, researcher and photographer produced further research via our MWG research grant. This resulted in public exhibitions and events hosted in Dundas Shopping Centre and the creation of The Middlesbrough Winter Garden Research Project Facebook page as a place for ongoing research.
- 2019 – Navigator North present ‘Rediscovering the Winter Garden’ during a ‘Leisure and Recreation History and Heritage Day’ Conference at Middlesbrough Town Hall, organised by Heritage Unlocked.
- 2019 – Navigator North bring artist Sara Cooper to MIMA (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art) as part of the Fragile Earth exhibition, where London based Wayward take inspiration from MWG for their commission to create a series of structures and portable gardening project across Tees Valley.
- 2020 – 2023 Navigator North lead on work as part of cultural programme activity for Middlesbrough’s High Street Heritage Action Zone, commissioning artists and working with communities to explore heritage through the arts, as part of Celebrating Hidden Middlesbrough.