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Mapping Contemporary Art

Research project to create new artwork for historic sites

Published on: 8 November 2017

Newcastle University has launched a £775,000 research project which will lead to the creation of four new pieces of artwork for three historic sites.

Mapping Contemporary Art in the Heritage Experience is a three-year collaborative research project between Newcastle and Leeds Universities investigating the value and practice of siting contemporary visual art in heritage sites.

A key part of the project will be the creation of four new temporary art commissions for three of the North East’s most distinctive heritage properties: Cherryburn in Northumberland will site one piece of artwork; Gibside in Gateshead, two commissions; and Holy Trinity Church in Sunderland, one. The commissions include new projects by award-winning UK artists, Fiona Curran, Mark Fairnington, Matt Stokes and Andrew Burton.

The new artworks will be presented on-site at the three heritage properties in summer 2018. As research case studies, each artwork will be appraised by focus groups including National Trust volunteers and first-time visitors to heritage properties. The artists themselves will work with the research team to explore how their creative process is challenged by working with new partners in the heritage sector. 

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) the project is conducted by the team of researchers based at Newcastle and Leeds Universities, working in partnership with the National Trust, English Heritage, Arts & Heritage, The Churches Conservation Trust, the Contemporary Visual Art Network and Arts Council England.

Professor Andrew Burton

Heritage sites providing a rich foundation for artists

Professor Andrew Burton, from Newcastle University, is leading the project as principal investigator. He will also be developing one of the case study artworks at Gibside.

Speaking about the project Professor Burton said: "The three heritage sites provide a rich foundation upon which artists will develop ideas and new work. We are delighted to be working with the National Trust, English Heritage and the Churches Conservation Trust on such an important and exciting research project.”

Grace Davies, Contemporary Arts Programme Manager, National Trust, said: "We are pleased to be part of this important research project, which will enable us to further our understanding of both the development of artistic practice in heritage settings and also our visitors' engagement with our programme of contemporary arts, so that we can continue to provide experiences that are relevant and inspirational."

The aim of the research is to test how contemporary art sited in heritage properties can change the experience of visitors, how it impacts on heritage organisations, including their staff and volunteers, and how it can change the working practices and professional lives of artists.

Bold claims are often made by funding agencies and heritage organisations for the value of commissioning contemporary art – but they have never been rigorously tested. The research will be important in guiding future investment in the arts.

The research will also map the current ‘landscape’ of contemporary art in heritage sites, investigating its geographical spread within England and Wales, and the network of artists, curators, sites and organisations involved.

The Mapping Contemporary Art in the Heritage Experience project will be documented through a website which will build into a rich resource for curators, the public, artists, students and researchers who want to find out more about the production and consumption of contemporary artworks commissioned for heritage locations.

An exhibition at the newly refurbished Hatton Gallery at Newcastle University and a major conference is planned for 2019 that will include work and presentations from all the commissioned artists.