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February 12, 2010 / helengraham

Art on Tyneside Project

‘Art on Tyneside’: An Arts and Humanities Research Council Funded project to redevelop a Permanent Display about Art, Place and Identity at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle

Rhiannon Mason, Chris Whitehead and Helen Graham, International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, Newcastle University

In partnership with Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, the ‘Art on Tyneside’ project is working with people living in the North East to explore the interrelationship between art, place and identity through developing digital media content for inclusion in a new permanent display at the Laing Art Gallery, due to open October 2010.

The new gallery – ‘Northern Spirit: 300 Years of Art in the North East’ – will explore art representing the North East and the stories of the artists who were born or worked in the region. The research project is drawing in contemporary perspectives by exploring how the North East looks in the Laing’s collections and asking ‘how does the North East look to you today?’

The Art on Tyneside Research Questions

  •  How is the relationship between people’s identities and sense of place performed, produced, and negotiated   through, or in response to, art (with specific reference to the Laing’s collection)?
  •  How is sense of place represented and constructed in a display like ‘Art on Tyneside’ and what role can audience perspectives play within this process?
  •  How can the polyvocality of audience perspectives be represented in a coherent and engaging display?
  • Can the use of digital technology within the redeveloped display fulfil the Laing’s objective to work towards the democratisation of curation?

Involving local people

The Art on Tyneside project has involved people living locally in a number of ways. A review of the Laing’s collections suggested that there were key places in the North East which had attracted artists such as the Tyne, Newcastle City Centre and the north Tyneside coast. We then used this map to decide areas in which we want to work by aiming to draw people from places both ‘on and off the map’, and were especially interested in areas which are key to the iconography of the North East but were not included in the fine art collection (e.g. Wallsend and Newcastle’s West End).

One method for meeting people was through running stalls in public places which we did in October and November 2009 in Grainger Market, Tynemouth Market, Cullercoats Watch House, Wallsend People’s Centre and Fenham Library.

In addition – and in recognition that public spaces are made up of exclusions as well as inclusions – we used links via TWAM’s learning and outreach teams and via youth workers to expand the pool of people with which we might work. The sixty people involved in the Art on Tyneside project include, amongst others, blind and partially-sighted people, people with learning difficulties, asylum seekers and refugees living in South Shields, women from established black and minority ethic communities in Benwell and young people from Scotswood and Elswick in Newcastle’s West End.

Making media content

Various genres of media content are currently being developed using participatory methods: photography, sound, digital stories and film.

These different genres involve different levels of ‘intervention’ and ‘shaping’ through peer processes of feedback and/or professional interviewing. As a result they also make space for different forms of participation and will therefore give the research team scope for a critical re-interrogation of logics of authority and control within the civic art museum.  

The content produced by the Art on Tyneside project will be displayed on touchscreens in the new gallery. The aim of the touchscreens are to create multiple routes through the gallery for different audiences. After the content has been handed over the software designers in Spring 2010, we will work with the project’s participants to prototype the touchscreen design.

Research in progress

The Art on Tyneside research team have given a number of papers, with articles in development.

  •  Conferences papers

‘Art on Tyneside: Exhibiting Place and Identity’, ICCHS Research Postgraduate Conference, Newcastle University, 15-16 June 2009

‘Museums, Communities and the Representation of Place: Co-creating stories of art on Tyneside’, Ideas and Images of the North in Visual Culture, Northumbria University, 25-26 June 2009

‘One Voice to Many Voices: Displaying Polyvocality in an Art Gallery’, Museums, Curators, Communities, Horniman Museum and University of Leicester, 26-27 November 2009

‘The logics of “participation” and “co-production”’, Engaging Communities, Newcastle University, 4-5 December 2009

‘One Voice to Many Voices: Co-production and Museum Displays’, Museum 2010, National Taipei University of Education, Taipei, 17-19 May 2010

‘Frames of reference: art knowledges between curators and communities’, The Inclusive Museum Conference 2010, Yildiz Technical University, Istanbul, 29 June-2 July

We are also running a series of seminars with Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums staff.

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