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A MODERN art gallery on Tyneside has welcomed its five millionth visitor, just over a decade after it opened.

The landmark visitors to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead – Valerie and Anthony Spellman from Hartlepool – were met by gallery’s director Godfrey Worsdale and presented with Baltic merchandise, vouchers for its shop, afternoon tea at the Six Rooftop restaurant and a bottle of Champagne.

The gallery, which opened in 2002, celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, when it also cemented its position as one of the country’s top artistic venues by hosting the prestigious Turner Prize.

During that time, Baltic has presented 186 exhibitions featuring more than 350 artists from 52 countries.

The idea of Baltic began in 1991 when Northern Arts announced its ambition to achieve “major new capital facilities for the Contemporary Visual Arts in Central Tyneside.”

Construction began in 1998, with the south and north facades of the original 1950s building, a converted former flour mill on the south banks of the Tyne, retained.

A new structure consisting of six main floors and three mezzanines was built between the facades to create four galleries, artists’ studios, a cinema and lecture space, shop, a library and archive for the study of contemporary art.

A rooftop restaurant was also added. The gallery finally opened to the public in 2002.

The gallery, which was funded with a £33.4m grant from the Arts Council, has since featured exhibitions by the likes of Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Beryl Cook, Damien Hirst, Patti Smith and Yoko Ono.

Baltic has also opened a new gallery in Newcastle’s High Bridge, Baltic 39, and formed a partnership with Northumbria University. It has a number of high profile honorary patrons, including pop stars Bryan Ferry, Sting and Neil Tennant.

Chris Sabian is a portrait artist with http://www.kutefineart.com and owner of http://www.paragonprints.co.uk

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