'Art on Tyneside': Redeveloping a Permanent Display about Art, Place and Identity at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle.

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: School of Arts and Cultures


This research aims to explore the relationships between identity, place, and art. It will focus on people's responses to artworks within the collection of the Laing Art Gallery and its permanent display 'Art on Tyneside'. The Laing is the flagship art venue of Tyne and Wear Museums (TWM) and is based in Newcastle city centre.

The 'Art on Tyneside' display opened in 1991 and took a novel approach by displaying art, both historical and modern, in relation to its geographical context: Tyneside. It was felt that a familiar frame of reference - that of local place - could engage local non-visitors and 'humanise' the gallery as its then director David Fleming put it. Over its first few months the Gallery did indeed attract 70% more visits compared to the same period in the previous year. However, it also attracted media criticism from those who objected to the socio-historical approach taken to the interpretation and to the inclusion of interactives. Regardless of the different responses, this display was innovative and received significant critical attention.

Now over seventeen years old, the 'Art on Tyneside' display is scheduled for redevelopment by 2010. Things have changed considerably not only in terms of Tyneside's thriving art-scene and the way that museums and galleries aim to appeal to new visitors, but also in terms of new possibilities offered by digital technology. This redevelopment therefore presents curators from the Laing Art Gallery and academics working at Newcastle University with an ideal opportunity to revisit the original ideas behind the display. These experts will draw upon recent academic research about place, identity, curation, audiences, and the use of technology within gallery visiting to create a new display for a contemporary audience.

To achieve this goal, the researchers propose to give members of the public the chance to be creatively involved in the new display. Participants will be given the chance to either feature in a short-documentary, try their hand at new digital storytelling techniques, record an oral history, or take photographs. The researchers hope that by asking members of the public to get involved creatively, this will offer a new insight into how people think about place, identity, and art. The audio-visual materials produced by participants will be integrated into the new display to show the diverse ways that people think about place, identity, and art and to help the display appeal to a range of potential visitors.

Participants will be drawn from a wide range of groups including families, community groups and those who have never before visited the Laing Art Gallery. Tyne and Wear has an excellent track-record of working with a diverse range of visitors and community groups. Those with a specialist interest in art and a knowledge of the North-East's art-scene will also be given a chance to contribute to ensure that the display includes a variety of perspectives. Along the way, researchers will give regular feedback to the staff and exhibition design team so that both the audience's perspectives and the academic ideas can be fed into the new display from the outset.

The films, photographs, and stories generated through the research process will be collected and cared for by Tyne and Wear Museums so that future researchers and exhibitions can also make use of them. An additional benefit is that the project will bring academics in the University and curators in the city's museums and galleries closer together enabling them to share their knowledge. The two organisations are already working together on the city's Great North Museum project. The 'Art on Tyneside' project also provides a chance for audiences to go behind the scenes in the Laing Art Gallery and to be part of the process of redeveloping this important public display.

The research project will run from summer 2008 to summer 2010 when the new display will open to the public.


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Title Northern Spirit: 300 years of Art in the North-East'. 
Description A new permanent gallery about the visual art of the North-East over the last 300 years at the Laing Art Gallery. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2010 
Impact Already provided to AHRC in final report.