Mapping Contemporary Art in the Heritage Experience: Creation, Consumption and Exchange

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

Abstract

'Mapping contemporary art in the heritage experience: Creation, Consumption and Exchange' is an interdisciplinary research project that will critically examine the role and practice of temporary visual art commissioning within heritage properties in Britain today, mapping the current landscape and exploring the impact of this activity on its producers and audiences. It approaches this subject from multiple perspectives, bringing together the knowledge and experience of scholars, artists, heritage professionals, volunteers and visitors.
Art commissioning has always been linked with Britain's great historic properties. Recent decades have seen many heritage organisations vigorously re-engaging with contemporary art, investing in this as a way of developing new opportunities for public engagement with heritage properties and their histories. Arts organisations including Arts Council England (ACE) strategically support this work, promoting it as a significant means of fulfilling their mission to promote excellence and public benefit. For many artists commissioned work for heritage properties is an increasingly important strand within their practice.
However, and despite strong support from major organisations including the National Trust and ACE, the actual impact of such projects on their producers and audiences is poorly understood. Similarly there is little collective professional understanding of the broader character of the contemporary arts in heritage field and its commissioning practices. As a creative practice-led collaboration with two major UK heritage partners this project makes a strong and unique contribution to the production of new knowledge around this significant but under researched area of the visual arts.
Through case study research centring on the development of new art commissions at four heritage properties the project will explore in detail how contemporary artists engage with heritage narratives and how these artworks are received and consumed by visitors. The case studies will be accompanied by the production of a new online resource that develops, expands and digitises an existing audit of such projects making this publicly available as a platform for further professional exchange. In doing so the research will generate a better understanding of UK contemporary arts in heritage practice and its future development needs. To deliver the project, specialist scholars and artists from Newcastle and Leeds Universities will be joined by a professional curator from the leading art in heritage organisation Art & Heritage to work in partnership with ACE, The National Trust, Churches Conservation Trust and the Contemporary Visual Art Network.
The new understandings and insights generated by the project will be disseminated across the contemporary arts and heritage sectors. This will be achieved through the use of complementary channels designed for different target audiences: the public exhibition of the commissioned artworks at the heritage properties; a website and blog that will document the project for an online audience; a project exhibition profiling the commissioning process for the benefit of an arts and practitioner audience; a research report for circulation to our project partners, strategic arts and heritage organisations and relevant policy makers; an international conference aimed at sector specialists and academic audiences; conference papers and published articles in academic and professional journals.
As public facing research this project will have specific benefit for practitioners, organisations and heritage visitors as well as for other academics working in the contemporary arts and heritage field, including creative-practice led researchers. It has the capacity and potential to stimulate new public interest in contemporary arts in heritage practice in the UK and internationally as well as providing much needed new knowledge for the sector, including for its funders and policy makers.

Planned Impact

Through its research outputs the project has the potential to impact on three significant interest communities: (1) Heritage site visitors; (2) Practitioners working in the contemporary visual arts and the heritage sector; (3) UK visual arts and heritage organisations, including major UK funders and policy makers. How will these three communities benefit from our research?

(1) Heritage site visitors: The on-site exhibitions will give heritage visitors an opportunity to experience and engage with high quality contemporary art made in response to the specific environments and heritage contexts of the four properties. Through these encounters audiences will be presented with new and alternative ways to access the stories and histories of the four sites, which go beyond standard approaches to heritage interpretation. For regular and return visitors the commissioned artworks will provide opportunities to question and refresh their knowledge and experience of the property, potentially adding a new dimension to their appreciation and understanding of the site. For focus group participants the project will provide an intensive contemporary art in heritage experience that could stimulate future interest in and enjoyment of heritage and of the contemporary arts.

(2) Arts and heritage practitioners: The online digital resource and the project conference provide new routes for knowledge exchange, understanding and innovation between practitioners working in the contemporary visual arts and in the heritage sector. In particular these outputs will support artists, curators, heritage managers, education and interpretation specialists wanting to enter into the contemporary arts in heritage field or wanting to exchange and showcase their own projects and experiences. The artwork case studies, artists' talks and the Ex-Libris exhibition will provide insights into the commissioning processes behind the artworks, adding significantly to practitioners' understanding of the potentials and problems of commissioning contemporary visual arts for heritage sites. Through participation in the conference, as presenters and attendees, practitioners from both fields will access a broad range of perspectives on contemporary visual arts in heritage practice, significantly expanding their understandings of this field and generating new opportunities for professional networking and future project development, including with the HE sector. For the artists involved directly in the research the project will provide a substantial opportunity to extend their creative practice showcasing their work to new audiences in the heritage, contemporary art and academic worlds.

(3) Visual arts and heritage organisations: Our research will have specific benefit for our two heritage partner organisations, the National Trust (NT) and the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT). It will directly feed into both organisations' understandings of the contemporary visual arts commissioning process and the impact of site-specific contemporary artworks on the audience experience of their properties. In doing so this research will make a valuable contribution to the future development of contemporary arts activity and strategy at NT and CCT. A briefing paper summarising key learning and research outcomes will also be prepared for Arts Council England (ACE), the key funder of current contemporary arts in heritage practice in the UK. We will also seek active routes for sharing our findings with other key heritage organisations not directly involved as partners in this project, including the Canals and Rivers Trust, English Heritage, Landmark Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Through this engagement and in providing empirical and academic standard research the project has the potential to make a strong contribution to future strategy development in this area of practice, going beyond the more sector-driven project evaluations and market focused studies so far conducted in this field.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The selection process for our artists commissions are already impacting on processes used by heritage organisations. An additional partner in our project, English Heritage have taken on board our research in joining with us to commission a new artwork for one of their heritage sites. Our research has been highlighted in art/heritage media outlets.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Faculty Impact Award
Amount £5,000 (GBP)
Organisation Newcastle University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 07/2018
 
Description English Heritage. Belsay commission 
Organisation English Heritage
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution English Heritage are coming on board as a collaborating partner in this project to commission a new artwork for Belsay Hall
Collaborator Contribution English Heritage are contributing both funding and in-kind support. They have also successfully raised funds from Arts Council England for this commission
Impact none yet
Start Year 2017
 
Description English Heritage. Belsay commission 
Organisation English Heritage
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution English Heritage are coming on board as a collaborating partner in this project to commission a new artwork for Belsay Hall
Collaborator Contribution English Heritage are contributing both funding and in-kind support. They have also successfully raised funds from Arts Council England for this commission
Impact none yet
Start Year 2017
 
Description Presentation at Newcastle University Heritage Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This was an event organised by Heritage@Newcastle to raise awareness across the sector of University research engaging with heritage issues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Project launch event for stakeholders in the activity 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Over 60 people from heritage organisations, funders, other stakeholder organisations and academia attended a launch event for our project. This was an opportunity to introduce the project and invite discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description studio visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A studio visit was made by members of the National Trust team to view and discuss research being developed in my artist studio in Newcastle.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018