Tees

We Are Middlesbrough: More to Middlesbrough than parmos

Art Image copyright Kev Howard
Image caption Bobby described the art scene in Middlesbrough as "weird, wonderful and developing"

Often associated with the parmo or heavy industry, Middlesbrough is keen to change its image.

Bobby Benjamin, co-owner of gallery Pineapple Black, thinks the grassroots art scene will play a vital role in the town's regeneration.

Despite the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (Mima) being around since 2007, he thinks people are "intimidated" by galleries.

His gallery sits on the site of a former New Look in the town centre.

Image copyright Kev Howard
Image caption Pineapple Black, The Auxiliary and Hun featured on an arts trail through town

Pineapple Black is a big, open space with white walls and a shop front allowing the public to look in from the street. This openness is central to its ethos.

"Like, a lot of people go into a traditional, white wall gallery and side-step around quietly, and you know, whisper to their friend and then leave and discuss it outside.

"Which was always kind of the opposite of what I wanted to do," Bobby said.

Image copyright Kev Howard
Image caption Bobby wants to create a fun, more relaxed atmosphere at his shows

"I always think if people think they can go to your exhibition and get drunk and pull, maybe then they'll keep coming back again and again.

"It's just about showing people that an exhibition can be other things outside of what they've maybe seen at the Tate or Mima."

Bobby, 36, wants visitors to have fun at Pineapple Black and to engage with art "without the risk of feeling stupid about it".

"Middlesbrough's a working class town and I wouldn't say it's specifically a working class gallery, but it's something that's inclusive of people from all backgrounds, I hope.

Image copyright Kev Howard
Image caption Bobby wants to break down the "barriers" to art in Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough, and the wider Teesside area, is known worldwide for its historical industrial capabilities. But in more recent times it's been the decline of those industries that has made headlines.

Bobby said: "I think the perception of Middlesbrough from down south is that we're kind of this industrial wasteland and we still live here in the shadow of the industry.

"We've had to think on our feet as a society up here. I think what is interesting is what the town has become.

"There's so much going on here beyond a parmo whatever people normally associate with Middlesbrough."

Image copyright Kev Howard
Image caption The gallery attracts everyone from school children to pensioners

He added: "While we are a proud people, proud of the town, proud of its heritage, we are also the town's abandoned children.

"There are a generation of people here for whom the pathway isn't paved. Our fathers didn't work at the steel works. The flame has flickered and faded.

"People are rolling up their sleeves and starting grassroots projects. It's building and I think people are realising the arts, this is our future."

Image copyright Kev Howard
Image caption The Auxiliary warehouse is one of Middlesbrough's newest galleries

Bobby believes the town is open to change because people on Teesside are supportive of each other.

"So I think people are realising art isn't the enemy," he said.

"I think people are often shocked when they see how diverse and vibrant the town's art scene is.

"The arts have become integral to the town's modern day identity and I am proud and excited to be a key part of that."

Image copyright Kev Howard
Image caption Pineapple Black brings international artists to Teesside while also celebrating talent from the region

Pictures taken at Pineapple Black and The Auxiliary as part of the Creative Factory Art Trail.

This video was created as part of We Are Middlesbrough - a BBC project with people of the town to tell the stories that matter to them.

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