Learning through the Art Gallery: Art, Literature and Disciplinarity

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Arts, Design and Social Sciences


This ambitious industry-facing project seeks to shape a key area of the engagement portfolio of the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and The Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead. In recent years these public-sector art galleries have experienced staff restructures and funding cuts that have made it increasingly challenging to pursue their ambitions to extend their learning offer and maximise their potential for engagement with new audiences. The project builds on the momentum created by a successful pilot project led by the Fellow and Anne Fountain (Lead, Laing and Shipley Learning Team) between May-December 2018. The pilot explored the potential for developing a new learning offer for KS4 English Language and Literature pupils at the Laing. Previously, the gallery had never worked with this particular audience of teachers and pupils, and they represent a substantial audience to benefit from engagement with the gallery's collections. Funded by Arts Council England 'Museum-University Partnership Initiative' (MUPI) monies, the pilot was undertaken on a small scale but led to clearly measurable successes. Questionnaire feedback from 100 KS4 pupils and their teachers who attended pilot workshops in late 2017 indicates their educational benefits and popularity, and the footfall generated by these visits helped the Laing overachieve on its related annual KPI target for 2017-18. The Fellow and Anne Fountain (as lead project partner) are keen to build on the momentum generated by the pilot project to fully develop their collaborative venture and establish a self-sustaining learning offer for KS4 and KS5 English pupils both at the Laing and the Shipley. This will establish a new learning audience for these galleries, thereby increasing both their learning visitor footfall and augmenting the annual income of the Learning Team, helping them to meet KPI targets in a challenging economic environment. The Fellow will thereby serve as the academic lead in providing a model for engagement that could be adopted by galleries and museums across the UK, with project activities and publications highlighting the findings of our collaboration.

The project's development of an innovative learning offer at the Laing and Shipley will be complemented and mutually informed by the Fellow's scholarly research on the relationship between Art and Literature at the turn of the eighteenth century. Exploring a transformative moment in the history of the relationship between Art and Literature in Britain, the Fellow's planned monograph derives from research first began when the Fellow was a postdoctoral researcher on the AHRC-funded project "Court, Country, City: British Art, 1660-1730' (University of York/Tate Britain), since developed through a published article and essay. The monograph explores the decades (1660-1735) which oversaw the development of distinct theories, networks, institutions and markets for the textual and visual arts in Britain, arguing that they saw a marked transition from Renaissance concepts that celebrated the interconnectedness of the Arts to an increased demarcation of the differences, and parameters, that separated them.

Planned Impact

This project has great potential to benefit non-academic groups in a number of ways.

1. The most visible impact created by the project will be the implementation of a new learning offer at both the Laing and Shipley galleries open to school groups studying English Language and Literature at KS4 & KS5. We will be able to measure the increase in learning visitor footfall for this demographic at both galleries, and the associated income generated through these visits. These measures are recorded by the galleries across the financial year, and we will be able to compare the impact of our new learning offer upon broader statistical trends. It is anticipated that this new offer will impact positively upon the Laing and Shipley's ability to meet annual KPI targets set against learning visitor footfall and income, as it did in the case of our pilot project for the 2017-18 financial year.

2. A large group impacted upon positively by the new learning offer will be those KS4/5 pupils and teachers who participate in the new learning workshops at the Laing and Shipley. The questionnaires completed by school group participants (100 KS4 pupils and ten teachers) in our 2017 pilot project exceeded expectations in describing the universally positive response to the pilot workshops. Pupils noted that they had gained increased confidence, skills and ability, new interests and "been introduced to different ways of thinking." It is anticipated that these positive benefits should translate into higher grades and the increased engagement of pupils with their studies. Many pupils indicated that as a result of the workshop they were more likely to consider studying English at KS5 and beyond. Despite living locally, the vast majority of the pupils had not previously visited the Laing, but said they were now likely to return. Teachers were equally enthused. They welcomed "the opportunity to work with students in a new setting with new and different inputs" and could "see pupils' analysis improving throughout the session." One teacher, from Whitley Bay High School, booked a further visit with her KS5 cohort within two days of the workshop. As we take this project into its main phase of development we will continue to use questionnaires from participants, measuring their response on the day as well as that of teachers at one and three-month intervals.

3. The project will invite eight local English teachers to become ambassadors for the project. These teachers will help us to reflect upon and inform the learning offer in its developmental phase. Each teacher ambassador will attend two knowledge-exchange events at the Laing, as well as be offered a fee-waiver for their students to experience the new learning offer. As a result, we hope to impact positively upon the continued professional development of the teacher ambassadors, offering them a leadership activity with external industry and academic partners that will benefit their careers and training.

4. Individual gallery staff at the Laing and Shipley will benefit from participation in the project. The Learning Team reported that they had learnt new ways of interpreting their collections from observing academic-led workshops during the pilot project. This type of continued interaction will aide the professional development of gallery staff and encourage future innovative projects. The knowledge-exchange events the project will oversee will also help to grow the academic networks of the gallery staff, bringing them into contact with scholars from Northumbria and across the UK with whom they might collaborate in future.

5. Other heritage institutions may benefit from the project. The project website, articles for 'The Conversation' and 'Journal for Education in Museums' (JEM), and the two-day workshop on collections and public engagement should give rise to much discussion that generates ideas for similar UK projects and collaborations.


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Van Hensbergen C (2021) Aphra Behn: Portraiture and the Biographical Account in The Review of English Studies

Description For non-academic impact as recorded through pupil questionnaires see 'Influence on Policy, Practice, Patients and the Public'. More broadly, we are starting to have non-academic impact in offering secondary school pupils a chance to acquire more 'cultural capital' at a time when Ofsted are increasingly emphasising this area in their revised framework. We have been surprised by the very low number of local secondary pupils (less than 10%) who have visited the Laing Art Gallery previously, and we therefore will begin to work with this finding immediately in the hope that it can inform gallery practice and our own project activities more broadly.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Training of undergraduate and postgraduate students in working with secondary education and heritage sector
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Northern Bridge (NBCDTP) CDA Studentship
Amount £70,627 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2020 
End 04/2024
Description Northumbria University RDF Studentship
Amount £59,190 (GBP)
Organisation Northumbria University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2019 
End 09/2022
Title Data collected from questionnaire feedback with participating school pupils and teachers 
Description The project includes the running of numerous workshops for secondary school pupils studying English. Following the completion of each workshop all pupils are asked to complete a brief questionnaire to collect data about their experience. Teachers are emailed a more extensive online questionnaire at one-week, one-month and three-month intervals to collect data on how the workshop experience has impacted upon their teaching and discussion in the classroom. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The questionnaire data continues to inform the ongoing workshop activities undertaken through the project. The data will inform a research article written towards the end of the project. 
Description Invitation to present on project at external schools meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Project team members presented on the outreach workshops at the gallery at the quarterly meeting held between the School Improvement Adviser for North Tyneside Council and their English subject leads. As a result a number of further requests were made for schools and teacher ambassadors to particpate in the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Meeting of project team and teacher ambassadors 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Meeting of project team with teacher ambassadors from local schools. We used the meeting to explain and promote the project's goals re. pupil-facing workshops at the gallery, and to consult with teachers about their experience and requirements. The meeting included a demonstration of workshop activities in the gallery and plans for future meetings. The School Improvement Adviser (SIA) for North Tyneside Council also attended this session and agreed to promote the project with local English leads by inviting the project team to present at the next regular meeting between the SIA and English leads.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Project knowledge exchange visits between Northumbria University staff/students and Laing and Shipley Art Galleries 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Approximately 20 members of the English subject area from Northumbria University (mainly academic staff but including postgraduate and undergraduate students) attended half-day knowledge exchange visits to the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, and the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead. These visits were used to introduce the schools outreach side of the project and consult on ideas for future workshops, but also to familiarise staff and students with the collections, demands and activities of the galleries. It is hoped this will lead to a wealth of broader knowledge exchange activities (public talks, academic and student projects, etc.) as well as increased participation in the immediate project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description School outreach workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Between 13th January and 10th February 2020 the project oversaw the visit of six schools to the Laing Art Gallery across seven days. A seventh school will visit on 23rd March 2020. These groups consisted of GCSE and A-Level pupils studying English Language and Literature. The pupils undertook two workshops on each visit, led by Northumbria University academic staff and assisted by Northumbria University undergraduate and postgraduate students. To date (3rd March) approximately 150 pupils have participated in these workshops.

Pupils completed a short questionnaire on the day, with the vast majority reporting positive outcomes from the experience. Although the pupils were all local and from the region, less than 10% said they had visited this city centre gallery before. A good number said they would return for further visits. Pupils reported that they felt they had acquired new knowledge relevant to their studies (historical, political and cultural contexts) and improved their skillsets (especially in creative writing, analysing poetry and close analysis). Many pupils reported that they had gained confidence from the visit and enjoyed looking at art. A high proportion of the pupils noted that the visit had made them more likely to consider studying English at A Level and beyond.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://learningthroughtheartgallery.wordpress.com/2019/01/12/workshops/