Great Exhibition of the North opening event unveiled

Tuesday 16 January 2018

The start of the new year marks the official countdown to the biggest event in England in 2018 - Great Exhibition of the North (

Taking place in NewcastleGateshead from 22 June – 09 September 2018, details of the opening day celebrations have been revealed.

Visitors will have the chance to experience for the first time content exploring great northern art, design and innovation in the Great Exhibition Hubs and Trails. These venues and locations will remain open until dusk as audiences are drawn to the Quayside for a special evening event revealing major Great Exhibition of the North pieces.

The spectacular start to the 80-day Exhibition on 22 June will feature an 80m long water fountain in the River Tyne that will reach the height of the Tyne Bridge. The dramatic display has been specially commissioned for the Great Exhibition of the North and showcases the collaboration between industry and art that runs through the entire programme. Inspired by The Angel of the North, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2018, three newly commissioned music compositions will provide a soundtrack to the water fountain and each one will be premiered on the evening of 22 June.
An arrival film – a key piece of programming for anyone visiting the exhibition – will have its world premiere as part of the ‘Get North’ opening event where it will be projected at large scale at the Quayside.

Renowned writer, poet and playwright Lemn Sissay will also unveil a specially commissioned anthem for the North.

Sir Gary Verity, Chair of the Great Exhibition of the North, said: “Our ‘Get North’ opening event will set the tone for what is going to be an outstanding summer of amazing exhibits, inspired technology, vibrant street performance, cutting edge culture and magical experiences.

“We’ve brought together innovative Northern technologies and world-class artists and performers to showcase the best art and culture, design and innovation from right across the North of England.

“Perfect for all the family, Great Exhibition of the North will be the event to experience in 2018.”

Carol Bell, Executive Director of Great Exhibition of the North, said: “The Great Exhibition of the North will open in the afternoon of Friday 22 June and we’re celebrating this landmark moment with a special evening event that will see the premiere of some exciting parts of the Great Exhibition programme.

“Following the opening event, the water sculpture, arrival film and anthem for the North will be available to enjoy every day during the Exhibition.”

Set against the backdrop of NewcastleGateshead’s iconic quayside with its seven bridges spanning the River Tyne, the water fountain display will be seen for the first time as part of the opening event.

Morecambe-based Water Sculptures Ltd have created the 80m long water fountain display. The internationally renowned company has developed large-scale water effects for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, 2011 Lumiere in Durham, London 2012 Olympic opening and Paralympics closing ceremonies, 2015 First European Games in Baku and 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku.

William Elliot, Technical Director at Water Sculptures said: “The River Tyne and quayside is such a focal point in NewcastleGateshead, the fountain will really bring it to life during the Great Exhibition.”


Another highlight of the ‘Get North’ opening event will be the first public performance of an anthem for the North - a new piece of poetry by award-winning writer and broadcaster Lemn Sissay.


Lemn Sissay said: “The Exhibition will shine a light on the difference the North is making to the world today and tomorrow. I am proud to be invited to create a new anthem for the North which will sit at the heart of the opening of the Exhibition. I am proud of the North. We name the unnamed, we count the invisible, we make change. We make a difference.”

The Great Exhibition of the North arrival film will be screened at the quayside as part of the celebrations. Telling the inspiring story of the North, the film will also be shown throughout the Exhibition at Hub venues Great North Museum, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Sage Gateshead.

After the opening event, the water sculpture will run several times a day throughout Great Exhibition of the North with visitors able to download the new compositions from and select their preferred musical accompaniment.

During its evening performances the fountain will also include a special LED lighting display, choreographed and synchronised to the commissioned music.

Carol Bell continued: “The word is out, NewcastleGateshead is the place to be in 2018. Fresh from being named the top place to visit in the world in 2018 by Rough Guide, we’re delighted to announce details of what will be a spectacular start to Great Exhibition of the North.”

David Horne, Managing Director of Virgin Trains on its east coast route, said: “Thousands of people are expected to make the journey to NewcastleGateshead to enjoy the opening event of Great Exhibition of the North.

“As Premier Travel Partner of the Great Exhibition, we look forward to bringing people to the city and being part of this once in a lifetime event.”

The full 80-day Great Exhibition of the North programme will be unveiled in early 2018.




Great Exhibition of the North takes place from Friday 22 June to Sunday 9 September 2018. Three walking trails focussing on arts and culture, design and innovation will showcase exciting ideas from across Northern England.

The free, family-friendly exhibition will feature a display of iconic Northern objects including John Lennon’s Record Plant piano and the spacesuit worn by the first Briton in space, Sheffield-born Helen Sharman.

Stephenson’s iconic Rocket will return to its birthplace in Newcastle upon Tyne and 2017 Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid will present an exhibition of new work at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

The Exhibition will also highlight the North’s strengths in key sectors, including digital, health innovation and energy, as well as profiling great Northern innovations such as Graphene, which was discovered by scientists working at the University of Manchester in 2004.

The Great Exhibition of the North is expected to engage an audience of three million people and bring a £184 million boost to the North East, showing how cultural investment can benefit and inspire entire communities.

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Notes to editors

About the Great Exhibition of the North 2018


  • The Great Exhibition of the North will showcase the incredible creative, cultural and design sectors across the whole of the North. It was first announced by Government in April 2016 and a competition was launched to secure £5m of government funding for a two-month exhibition.
  • In October 2016, NewcastleGateshead was selected to host the Great Exhibition of The North; NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI) led the bid and is the lead delivery partner for the Exhibition, working closely with colleagues at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, BALTIC, Sage Gateshead, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and a project board chaired by Sir Gary Verity.
  • The NewcastleGateshead programme for the Great Exhibition of the North 2018 will span 80 days, opening over the weekend of the 22 June 2018. It will celebrate innovation and creativity across Northern England and will help boost investment and tourism, while leaving a lasting cultural and economic legacy.
  • Ambitious plans will use the whole destination as the stage, with a newly commissioned creative programme taking place in a range of venues and outdoor spaces across NewcastleGateshead.
  • Three trails will be created, focusing on arts, design and innovation that will inspire and be inspired by a major exhibition hub at the Great North Museum: Hancock (curated by our partners at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums); major new work commissioned by BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Sage Gateshead.
  • Other important elements of The Great Exhibition of the North 2018 include inspiring opening and closing events, an entertaining and informative summer camp at Exhibition Park for families (part of an extensive learning and engagement programme) and a Business Expo.
  • The Great Exhibition will also be encouraging schools to get involved, with content available on the website from January, with schools able to both download teaching resources and upload their responses. The focus of these resources will be tailored to different Key Stages, and will provide content linked to the North and themes of the Exhibition. Schools will be able to follow up work developed in the classroom by booking a tailored visit to the Exhibition during the final four weeks of the summer term.
  • The Great Exhibition of the North will provide a range of exciting volunteer opportunities for individuals, groups and businesses. A team of over 1,000 volunteers will welcome visitors to NewcastleGateshead, interpreting themes of exhibition, lead school groups and provide event support at special one of occasions. Volunteers will be offered a unique training opportunity provide tools and skills to fulfil roles as well as being invited to exclusive previews, social gatherings and celebration events. Applications will open in the new year, training will be 15 hours between February to June and commit to 40 hours from 22nd June to 9th September 2018
  • The Great Exhibition of the North is supported by Premier Partners, Virgin Trains.
  • Funding has also been secured via Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence, Heritage Lottery Fund Grant and Innovate UK.
  • Womble Bond Dickinson and Ward Hadaway are proud partners of Great Exhibition of the North.
  • Newcastle Airport and Reece Foundation are supporting partners of Great Exhibition of the North.
  • NewcastleGateshead Initiative is a destination management and marketing agency; a public-private partnership supported by Gateshead and Newcastle City Councils, working with around 170 private sector partner organisations. Its mission is to inspire people to visit, and to live, learn work and invest in NewcastleGateshead and the wider region.
  • United by seven bridges across a spectacular riverscape, Newcastle (a city on the north bank of the River Tyne) and Gateshead (a town on the south bank) form a single, diverse and extremely vibrant visitor destination. World-class culture, vibrant nightlife, award-winning dining, inspiring heritage, fantastic shopping and acclaimed architecture are combined here like nowhere else, by the famous Geordie spirit which is symbolised by Antony Gormley’s iconic Angel of the North as it welcomes travellers to the area.

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VisitBritain Media Team

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