School of Arts and Cultures

Staff Profiles

Dr Emma Coffield

Early Career Academic Fellow



I joined Media, Culture, Heritage (MCH) in 2016 as an Academic Fellow having previously worked in the department as a Teaching Fellow (2015), Research Assistant and Teaching Associate (2014) and Graduate Teaching Assistant (2012). I now lead the MA in Art Museum and Gallery Studies (for more please see the 'teaching' tab above) with specialisms in exhibition histories, art curation, art education, and the social, cultural and organizational construction of artworks, creative practice and art history.

My research is situated at the intersection between museum studies, art history, cultural sociology, and geography - with a particular focus on the lived experience of creative practice. In recent years this work has focused on artist-run initiatives, artistic identities, belonging, inequality, and patterns of work and organisation in the cultural and creative industries. In addition, I am interested in the multiple possible 'interfaces' of artistic engagement, materiality, 'employability' in the creative industries, and spatial politics (for more please see the 'research' tab above).

Prior to joining MCH I worked in as an English Language teacher (in Newcastle and Madrid) and for a number of theatres, art museums, galleries and festivals in the UK, including the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art (GI), the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Durham Art Gallery, the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) and the Theatre Royal (Glasgow).

Roles and responsibilities

I co-convene the Cultural Significance of Place research group with my colleagues Prof. Chris Whitehead and Dr Jo Hicks ( If you would like to be added to the mailing list or have any suggestions for events, themes or speakers please get in touch with one of us.

I am also a member of the SACS Athena Swan committee at Newcastle University, the steering group for the Migration Museum Network (, am part of an interdisciplinary working group concerned with artist-run practice (with colleagues David Butler, Dr Paul Richter and Dr Ed Wainwright), and the Graduate Development Hubs Steering Group along with colleagues from the NewBridge Project ( 


AHRC sponsored PhD in Museum Studies (thesis title - 'Artist-Run Initiatives: A Cultural Study of Artistic Production') - Newcastle University, 2015

MA in Art Museum and Gallery Education - Newcastle University, 2009

BA (Hons) in Fine Art (Painting and Printmaking) - Glasgow School of Art, 2006


Research Interests

I am primarily interested in the everyday experiences of contemporary art practitioners, or more specifically, how it is that artists come to self-identity, belong to certain groups, how and where they practice, and the impact of social relationships, spatial politics, cultural precedents and politics and organisational affiliations on the above. This means that I understand 'art' in a predominantly sociological sense - as something open to debate, rather than as something that can be universally defined or fixed.

Although I am based in museum studies, much of my work to date has focused on artist-run initiatives - informal groups, collectives and organisations run by and for artists. I have argued here against the dominant reading of artist-run practice as having a 'culture in common', which tends to construct artist-run practice via generalisation, stereotype and assumption, and can obscure more specific meanings and values as attributed by those involved. Instead, I argue for more critical and sociologically aware approaches, capable of recognising difference, complexity and tension (e.g. artist-run initiatives can work to both compound and resist structural inequalities in the field, and so are not a guaranteed 'good thing' for all) while upholding their potential significance and value and making a case for the continued urgency of self-led, informal and grassroots creative practice. 

This work led me to further study artistic identities, belonging and inequality in the field of cultural production, and more recently still to a critical study of the cultural and creative industries, employability and creative entrepreneurship - partly in relation to my work with The NewBridge Project, the Collective Studio ( and as drawn from my teaching. I also work on a number of projects that involve art museums and galleries, their staff, artworks, and visitors more generally, and have curated a number of exhibitions in collaboration with colleagues and partners from a variety of disciplines (see below for more details). 

A co-authored book, Art Museum and Gallery Studies: The Basics, was published with my colleagues Prof Rhiannon Mason and Alistair Robinson in 2018. 

While my work is rooted in museum studies I draw extensively upon material from a number of related fields including cultural sociology, the sociology of art, art history, visual culture, the philosophy of art, cultural geography, identity theory and learning theory. I also have strong interests in place, space and the geographies of knowledge construction, as well as art education and learning theory. 

Current Projects

1. Academic Fellowship (September 2016 - August 2019)

As part of my Fellowship I am developing a package of work that re-considers artist-run initiatives, artistic identity, and the kinds of careers made possible in the new cultural and creative industries. I am particularly interested in if/how early-career artists practice, what they rely on in support of this practice, spatial politics, and the role of HEIs (particularly in relation to the content of taught programmes of study as well as the role HEIs might play in partnership with arts organisations to argue for longer-term contracts for artist-run spaces, for example). This includes my work as PI on the 'Beyond Meanwhile Spaces: Long-Term Business Models for Artists in the City' with Dr Paul Richter and Charlotte Gregory of the NewBridge Project (ESRC IAA funded project, March 2018-Feb 2019) and a number of single-authored articles and book chapters (please see 'publications' for more details).

2. Beyond Employability: Enabling Professional Cultural Identities (April 2018 - July 2019, PI with Dr Katie Markham)

For more details on this project please see the 'Teaching' tab above.

3. Artist Rooms Interfaces (June 2015 - )

With PI Prof. Chris Whitehead, this project explores young people's engagement with contemporary art as part of the Artist Rooms (AR) research consortium - a collaboration between National Galleries of Scotland and Tate and the consortium of the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle. The first publication developed from this work, 'Towards a new conception of gallery learning: the multiple interfaces of engagement' advances a concept of 'interfaces' to re-think how young people make sense of, and engage with and through, works of art during a gallery visit. A second article exploring materiality is in development. 


Paths Across Waters: Lost Stories of Tyneside and the Caribbean (2017) - An exhibition and event series designed and curated in collaboration with Dr Vanessa Mongey (History Classics and Archaeology) and Old Low Light Heritage Centre as part of Being Human, the UK's only national festival of the humanities. The project aimed to revive the region's history of international migration through its historical connections to the Caribbean, and explored 'loss' as a curatorial strategy for the telling of stories. 

Newcastle City Futures: People Place Change (2015) - A multi-media exhibition and events series with colleagues Prof. Mark Tewdwr-Jones, Anne Fry, Dhruv Sookhoo and David Mitchell (School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape) that explored built (and unbuilt) heritage in Newcastle/Gateshead in the post 1940s up to the present. In 19 days the exhibition attracted 2300 visitors, and included 17 partners and 24 free public events. Winner of the Royal Town Planning Institutes's 'Chair's Award' in 2015. The project also informed the report Newcastle City Futures 2065: Anchoring Universities in Cities through Urban Foresight


Undergraduate Teaching

I contribute to a wide range of undergraduate teaching in Media, Communication & Cultural Studies, Art History, and the PARTNERS Summer School.

Postgraduate Teaching

I am the module leader for the Art Museum and Gallery Studies MA. I also contribute to teaching more broadly as part of the Museum Studies MA degree programmes offered by Media, Culture, Heritage (MCH) and in particular to:

  • MCH8511 (now MCH8551) - Working on a Project - Art Museum and Gallery Studies (module leader)
  • MCH8501 - Understanding Challenges
  • MCH8599 - Research Dissertation

I also contribute to the Showcase OFFSITE module offered by HaSS to creative practice PhD researchers. 

In the past, I co-led/contributed to the following:

  • ICS8005 - Art Curatorship 1: Working with histories, objects and agendas (module co-leader)
  • ICS8006 - Art Curatorship 2: Exhibitions and exhibiting (module co-leader)
  • Communication and Interpretation - ICCHS MA e-learning course
  • Art Museum and Gallery Education 1
  • Art Museums and Gallery Education 2

    Research Supervision

    I supervise a number of BA and MA dissertations for students in MCH and Art History. 

    Beyond Employability

    PI (with Dr Katie Markham) for 'Beyond Employability: Enabling Professional Cultural Identities' (April 2018-July 2019, £9506.26, SACS funded). 

    'Employability' is a term increasingly used in Higher Education - but what does it mean and what does it require of us within the university? This project aims to critically explore employability discourses in the cultural and creative sectors, and more specifically, to investigate the development of professional cultural identities by UG and PG students as enabled or prevented by teaching across a variety of programmes of study and standalone initiatives over the course of a full academic year. The project recognises that the way students identify themselves is a crucial factor in their securing work, but also in their becoming critically aware 'selves' and citizens. Yet traditional employability approaches in the cultural and creative industries (as elsewhere) tend to focus on the former at the expense of the latter, expecting students to self-manage portfolio or freelance careers in response to changes in the world of work and to demonstrate pre-defined sets of skills and aptitudes not available to all (e.g. on account of  structural or other barriers such as race, class, gender, health etc). The project therefore aims to a) identify and critically explore the development of professional identities by students as enabled or prevented by UG/PG teaching and standalone initiatives throughout the School of Arts and Cultures, and b) to use findings to develop an approach that moves beyond traditional approaches to employability, enabling and supporting students and graduates through an enhanced teaching offer so that they can find meaningful work and act as ethical citizens.

    Beyond Employability is a collaborative project involving staff and students from SACS (MCH, Fine Art/NICAP and ICMuS), as well as the Newcastle University Business School and the Careers Service.