North East photographer selected as official artist for upcoming General Election

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Her unique artwork will be displayed at an exhibition on the Parliamentary Estate after the election.

A North East photographer has embarked on a mission to capture the mood of voters across the UK during the general election.

Joanne Coates has been chosen as Parliament’s official artist for the 2024 election campaign and has set off on a tour of the country that has already taken her to a key seat in our region, the prime minister’s Richmond constituency, and the far north of Scotland.

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She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that she wants to showcase the unheard, everyday stories of people across the nation at a “really important time in our history” – having jumped at the chance to clear her diary and hit the road after Rishi Sunak called the snap election.

After the July 4 poll, her unique artwork will then be displayed at an exhibition on the Parliamentary Estate.

Joanne, who lives on the Durham and North Yorkshire border, said: “When you see elections covered it can often focus on London, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow – important places with a big population density.

“But everyone else in the country has the same right to vote and the same votes are taking place everywhere.

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“You have people out campaigning everywhere and it is vital that they get covered wherever it may be.

“I am interested in the battlegrounds and there are lots of interesting stories out there – whether that is in the North East, the South West, in Scotland, etc.

“Hexham is one place that I put in my proposal and that I want to go to. It is going to be really interesting there, and it is such a big constituency.

“If you go to somewhere like Corbridge it can feel very different to Hexham, and then you have little villages like Wark. I feel like the North East is really unique in terms of the diversity within the region and all the different profiles of constituencies we have.”

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Joanne currently has an exhibition, Middle of Somewhere, on show at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead and was previously the artist in residence at The Maltings in Berwick.

As part of her chronicling of the general election, she is carrying a ballot box-style ‘honesty box’ with her – asking members of the public to anonymously contribute their thoughts on three key questions:

  • What does democracy mean to you? 
  • Why is voting important? 
  • Are general elections important? 

Submissions can be in the form of a few sentences, a poem, or even a drawing and she is inviting people to submit responses by email to [email protected].

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Discussing an early visit to the Northumberland town of Blyth, an area Labour is hoping to win back after losing to the Tories in 2019, Joanne said: “A lot of people were undecided and a lot of the comments I got from the public were about them not feeling heard. At the end of every day I check the responses I have had in the honesty box and a lot of the comments I am getting are from people who don’t feel listened to.

“It is exciting to go to different places – some have a lot of election activity going on and others have very little, so it is interesting to see the difference. 

“It is a real honour for me to be doing this, to be the artist who gets to record this moment in time. I do think this feels a bit different to other elections – maybe because it came as a bit of a surprise.”

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