Curator saying goodbye to The Customs House after decade of hard work

Esen Kaya with Dave Parker from the North East Maritime Trust.
Esen Kaya with Dave Parker from the North East Maritime Trust.

One of the driving forces behind the visual arts in South Tyneside is moving on.

Gallery curator Esen Kaya is leaving the Port of Tyne Gallery at The Customs House after more than 10 years in charge.

Esen has overseen more than 130 exhibitions at venue, in Mill Dam, South Shields - including the ground-breaking Casting Off: Coat for a Boat in 2014.

She said: “I came to The Customs House and very much wanted the gallery to be at the heart of the cultural calendar in the North East.”

The first exhibition she curated was called Drawing the New, featuring work from recent graduates from the region’s universities and

supporting emerging artists has been one of Essen’s passions throughout her time at the theatre.

Her final exhibitions are also related to drawing and form part of a region-wide arts and culture partnership involved 35 visual arts organisations called DRAWING, bringing her time at The Customs House full circle.

Esen said: “I have absolutely loved my job. I feel very proud to have represented The Customs House as a contemporary arts centre that aims to enable people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to access arts and culture.

“I have been fortunate to work with a broad range of artists and makers that are not only based in the region, but nationally and internationally.”

The exhibition she believes had the biggest impact during her time at The Customs House was Casting Off: Coat for a Boat, which attracted a whole new audience to the gallery and created knitting group The Materialistics.

The project saw a 20ft coble boat – and everything around it – covered in knitting, with over 350 people from all over the world donating items including knitted rocks, seagulls, lobster pots, compass, stopwatch and a plate of fish and chips.

Dave Parker and Alex Thirkettle, from the North East Maritime Trust, which was involved in the project, continue to volunteer at the gallery.

Ray Spencer MBE, executive director of The Customs House, said: “Esen has successfully engaged thousands of people in huge community projects, making our gallery one of the best attended in the north east.

“She leaves a huge legacy and also many excellent memories of some incredibly challenging and engaging exhibitions.”