A couple of weeks ago, Outside In Manager Jennifer Gilbert visited the Woodhorn Museum in rural Northumberland to see a new collaborative exhibition between the Museum and The Arts Project, based at Northgate Hospital. In the post below, Jennifer explores the collaboration and how it has resulted in a must-see show.
A new exhibition has just opened at the Woodhorn Museum in the remote town of Ashington (only a six hour train journey from Brighton!). On until 14 June 2015, ‘Into the Light’ is the second collaborative project between the Woodhorn Museum and The Arts Project, which is based at Northgate Hospital. The first was a quilting project back in 1997, and the quilt is now housed in the archives in Northumberland.
‘Into The Light’ builds on the Woodhorn Museum’s commitment to presenting work made by artists who may be excluded from the traditional art world. It also builds on their knowledge that their audiences are interested in exhibitions that relate to their locality; so using stories from their archives was a great fit.
All of the work in the exhibition is inspired by the stories and collections of the Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives. Professional artists have worked together with the patients from the hospital to research, develop and create new work for the exhibition. Everything exhibited is done so anonymously, so that the patient’s work is seen as equal to that of the professional artist teachers who have supported them. Staff at the Woodhorn explained: “The decision to do this puts the focus on the inclusivity of contemporary art-making and away from the professional and patient relationship.”
As well as creating the artwork, all those involved have selected the works and co-curated the exhibition. The patients and staff from The Arts Project really appreciated the fact that their ideas were listened to by the Woodhorn Museum when it came to the presentation, the selection and the curation of the exhibition. One of the artists involved hoped that audiences would find it “an enjoyable experience and to look at what went on and the work we’ve put in.”
The collaboration brought many benefits to both organisations involved with one patient from the hospital saying, “It gives you confidence that you’ve achieved something good. Making the work was therapeutic, relaxing and I enjoyed it.” This project also bought the nursing staff at the hospital closer to the patients and broke down barriers, as many had had family members who had worked at the Ashington Colliery, so great stories and deeper insights were gained.
With this exhibition, The Arts Project really want to push the boundaries with what and how they create. Although different wards in the hospital only allowed certain materials to be used, the exhibition features everything from 3D sculptures to drawings, as well as an animation and a pigeon coop! The whole project had an element of surprise, as no one knew what kind of work was going to be produced after the research in to the archives. No theme was set, but in the end it seems that an unintentional body of work was created.
Liz Ritson, Public Programme Manager at the Woodhorn Museum said, “The most rewarding thing about the project for the Woodhorn Museum was the enthusiasm from the artists for making the work. Lots of great work was made and it was difficult to make the final decisions on what did and did not make the exhibition.”
Woodhorn Museum has recently employed a new Community Engagement Officer who started before the collaboration began and it was felt from both sides that this really strengthened the exhibition. Objects were taken from the archives in to the hospital for those that were not able to visit, whilst those who were able to enjoyed tours around the museum. With the nature of some of the artists in the hospital, it often made visits very last minute or the vetting of archive objects to be very strict, but other ideas always came up which allowed archive items to be viewed in different, more creative ways. This really allowed all of the patients to feel that they were being included.
So far there has been very positive feedback about the exhibition and I really encourage you to pop along before it closes.
Note: The Arts Project is part of the Therapeutic Activities Service within the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust. The Arts Project offers an on-going comprehensive programme of practical art sessions led by professional artists. Patients make and learn about art, a process which directly contributes to positive clinical outcomes including improved well-being and feeling more included in society.
For more information on the exhibition, please click here.