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'Angel' reaches 20 years

It felt as if the ‘Angel’ was a herald for change

FOR 20 years, it has taken the North East of England under its wings. On the night of 14 February 1998 the Angel of the North was transported to its hilltop site next to the A1 and East Coast train line. Since then it has been seen by an estimated 495 million passers-by and visited by 2.25 million people.

Antony Gormley’s 20m-high sculpture was installed by Gateshead Council as part of a reclamation scheme at a former colliery bath house.

Martin Gannon, leader of the council, says: ‘The Angel of the North is now an international landmark and has brought benefits to Gateshead and the wider region in terms of regeneration, jobs and pride. But the true yardstick of its suc­cess is that the people who matter most – the public – have taken the sculpture to their hearts.’

One of the locals who appreciates the work is Sandy Duff, a street artist who helps run the Arches, a music, dance and visual arts education project for young people at the Sage Gateshead live music venue.

He remembers the first time he saw this ‘huge celestial being interrupt the view’.

‘I was proud to have such an important piece of work in my humble hometown,’ he says. ‘It felt as if the Angel was a her­ald for change, which is what it turned out to be for Gateshead.’

He says that the young people he works with also have a strong affection for it.

‘On a field trip to the Angel, I caught a young lad tagging the base with his name. When I began to reprimand him, he said: “I wanted to put my name there cos I love it.” I asked him why he loved it, and he told me that he didn’t expect ever to leave the North East, but he knew that people from all over the world came to see the Angel. He hoped they would see his name, it would stick in their minds and then it would go with them when they travelled back home.

‘It was hard to stay cross with him, but we did clean off the graffiti.’

Different people take different mes­sages from any work of art. Sandy says: ‘For me, the Angel represents security and warmth. Whenever I return home, I am greeted by the Angel facing down the A1, arms open, waiting for the return of its prodigal children.’

If the Angel seems, as Sandy says, a ‘herald for change’, then it is following in the footsteps of the angels on the pages of the book in which they bring messages of events that will change the world.

In the Bible, angels take news of freedom to people in slavery and give desperate people the hope to go on. And it is an angel who announces ‘good news that will cause great joy for all the people’ – the birth of ‘a Saviour’ (Luke 2:10, 11 New International Version).

It was good news because that Saviour, Jesus, brought an assurance that when we have taken wrong turns in life and failed to be who we should be, God is waiting to welcome back real ‘prodigals’ – all of us – with open arms.

It’s a message that has stood the test of time. If we take God’s offer of for­giveness to heart, it changes our view of everything.

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