Three public art collections

Today’s post is by Rebecca Farley, ICCHS PhD researcher.

Three public art collections

Over the summer months I’ve been out and about beyond my usual Newcastle-Gateshead research base, visiting a selection of UK towns and cities that positively describe themselves as holding public art collections – in the ‘art in the public realm’ sense rather than museum or gallery based artworks.

In the UK the word ‘collection’ is not one that has been commonly connected with public art practice. (Indeed there is quite strong resistance towards this term from some UK public art professionals I have spoken to.) The term is more accepted in the USA however, where cities both large and small, often describe and promote their public artworks as city or civic collections. In recent years a small number of UK towns and cities are also beginning to use the ‘public art collection’ label. Three of these places, Milton Keynes, Folkestone and Cardiff, were selected as sites for my own PhD research visits. The purpose of these was twofold: to explore these public art collections as they might be experienced on the ground; and to meet with some of the curators and local authority officers who have responsibility for their commissioning, presentation and ongoing management or care.

As you might imagine, these visits to three completely different places – a 1960s ‘new town’, a culturally regenerating south coast harbor town, and the capital city of Wales’ ­– uncovered a diverse picture of public art collection history, practice and approach.

In Milton Keynes the collection encompasses some 220 individual artworks including outdoor sculpture and interior artworks commissioned for some of its key public and cultural buildings. Situated both in Central MK and the wider borough these artworks date from the various different phases of the physical development of Milton Keynes, from the mid 1960s to the present day. Despite their very mixed pattern of private and public ownership and current custodianship, all are considered as part of the ‘MK collection’.

In Folkestone the public art collection (‘Folkestone Artworks’) is much smaller and younger. Linked to the commissioning for the Folkestone Triennial twenty-seven artworks have been permanently sited and ‘collected’ for the town since 2008. Rather than coming under a local authority remit (as in Milton Keynes and Cardiff) here the public art collection is developed and managed by an independent local charity, The Creative Foundation.

Cardiff’s public art collection is by far the oldest of the three I visited. Managed by the council’s planning department and based on its recently compiled Public Art Register this collection maps the development of public art in the city – its statues, monuments, memorials and art in architecture commissioning – over a 150-year timespan. This includes over 200 artworks sited in Cardiff city centre, the historic Civic quarter and around Cardiff Bay.

For individual reports on my encounters with these three public art collections visit my PhD research blog at:

Andre Wallace (1984) The Whisper, Milton Keynes Collection.

Andre Wallace (1984) The Whisper, Milton Keynes Collection.

Gordon Young (2013) MK Rose, Milton Keynes Collection.

Gordon Young (2013) MK Rose, Milton Keynes Collection.

Sarah Staton (2014) Steve, Folkestone Artworks.

Sarah Staton (2014) Steve, Folkestone Artworks.

Nathan Coley (2008) Heaven Is A Place Where Nothing Ever Happens, Folkestone Artworks.

Nathan Coley (2008) Heaven Is A Place Where Nothing Ever Happens, Folkestone Artworks.

Albert Hodge (1912) Mining, Cardiff Public Art Collection

Albert Hodge (1912) Mining, Cardiff Public Art Collection

Jean-Bernard Metals (2009) Alliance, Cardiff Public Art Collection.

Jean-Bernard Metals (2009) Alliance, Cardiff Public Art Collection.


ICCHS Postgraduate Research Conference: 16 June 2015

ICCHS_RPG_conference_16Jun15_pic1_Fotor_CollageLast week postgraduate researchers had the opportunity to present papers on their work at the annual ICCHS PGR conference. This year’s conference was split into three sessions, with themes of ‘Heritage in Action’, ‘Representation & Interpretation’ and ‘Organisational Structures and Practices’.

The first session, ‘Heritage in Action’, saw Carolyn Gibbeson presenting a paper entitled ‘Haunted Hospitals? Examining the redevelopment of historic former asylums’. Carolyn’s talk was fascinating, exploring factors involved in the re-use of these sites through data from three case studies. Brian Moss then presented his paper, ‘Help or Hindrance? Engaging with outdoor cultural heritage through smartphone based mobile digital interpretations’. Brian’s research looks at the use of MDI’s (Mobile Digital Interpretations) in relation to cultural heritage sites. The final paper of this session was given by Niki Black, whose paper, ‘Festivals and Heritage: Contributions to a Sustainable Future?’ considered the heritage connections which enable temporal, spatial and social links to be established and strengthened, and how these contribute to the social sustainability of their host communities. All in all, a thought provoking session.

The second session of the day, entitled ‘Representation and Interpretation’, was started off with Alistair Robinson’s paper entitled ‘Museums of modern and contemporary art in an age of ‘globalization’ “. Alistair examined how museums with increasingly stretched resources are nevertheless able to pursue expansionary agendas and enlarge their geopolitical purview, eliciting some interesting questions at the end of the session. Muhammad Ilmam Tharazi then presented on the topic of iconography and figurative representation in Islam. He discussed how museums respond to challenges relating to the display and interpretation of Islamic objects containing images and figurative representations. Finally, Rebecca Farley presented a paper looking at public art in Newcastle-Gateshead, through the use of interpretive frames. Rebecca’s paper discussed her data analysis work and looked in detail at examples of public art in the region and the approaches taken to interpreting these objects.

The final session of the day, ‘Organisational Structures & Practices’ began with a paper by Gemma Cardona-Gomez who discussed archaeological education in Catalonia. Gemma’s paper provided an overview of how archaeological education is approached in Catalonia and how she is going about her doctoral research on this topic. Jennifer Locke then presented a paper entitled ‘Organisational change in art museums and evolving practices of interpretation’. Jennifer’s paper discussed the shift in institutional practices involved in exhibition development and how these changes have influenced the interpretation of art objects. Lastly, Bethany Rex asked the audience to put their ‘theoretical hats’ on and presented a paper on using actor-network theory to understand how co-production is negotiated in the context of the public museum. A lively Q & A session followed this last session, and it was clear that the audience was interested and engaged.

Following the three conference sessions, Kat Lloyd gave a presentation on researchers engaging with communities, and a discussion session with Kat, Rhiannon Mason and Areti Galani followed. Overall the day was engaging and informative and we look forward to next year’s conference.

Next week’s seminar, 17 June: Open-air museums – a destination in vogue for public art in urban districts

open-air museums

Please join us for another in our series of research seminars:

Open-air museums: a designation in vogue for public art in urban districts

Speaker: J. Pedro Lorente, Department of Art History, University of Saragossa

Wednesday 17 June
1 – 2pm
Room 1.06, 18 Windsor Terrace
All welcome

Art collections permanently exhibited in public spaces are sometimes called ‘open air museums”. This notion has been constructed over time, building on historical precedents and in dialectic interaction with other related concepts like ‘sculpture gardens’. The result is not a clear-cut definition, but a changing perception, carrying diverse connotations according to different languages and cultural contexts. The modern paradigm was set by Middelheim Open Lucht Museum created in 1950 by the municipality of Antwerp in a suburban park, emulated in the French-speaking University of Liège, since the creation in 1977 of a Musée en Plein Air in the campus of Sart Tilman; some features were slighly different in another famous instance, the Musée de sculpture à plein air de la Ville de Paris, inaugurated in 1980 on a riverbank between Île Saint-Louis and the Gare d’Austerlitz. But the triumph of a post-modern return to the city centre was heralded by the founding in 1972-79 of the polemical Museo de Escultura al Aire Libre in Madrid. It’s influence has been enormous in Spain and other Latin countries, where many collections of public art gathered as part of urban regeneration processes have been proudly labeled as museums. Are they?

New Seminar on 3 June: Museums Security: New Perspectives

Please join us for another in our series of research seminars:

Title: Museums Security: New Perspectives

Speaker: Suzie Thomas, University of Helsinki, Finland

Wednesday 3 June
1 – 2pm
Room 1.06, 18 Windsor Terrace
All welcome

Museums are an integral part of the cultural life of societies, with  collections that may be of not only national but international  significance. As well as intangible value, many objects may also have  considerable financial value, and pose a temptation to thieves.  Despite this, it has been noted that many museums have what can only be described as inadequate security provisions. In recent years, high profile art thefts from museums have only highlighted this situation.  Furthermore, a range of other criminal activities, such as vandalism and other anti-social behaviours can also adversely affect museums and their surroundings, which in turn impacts sense of place and visitor experience. We also know that situational precipitators (for example
graffiti or vandalism that has been left unrepaired) can act as a cue that crime is accepted in an area – the small scale offences, in fact, can directly contribute to larger scale crimes, according for example to the Broken Windows Theory. In this paper I outline the interdisciplinary research with which researchers at the University of Helsinki and Loughborough University are currently involved, which aims to shed light on the specific security challenges faced by museums, covering our research methods and the emerging findings.

Dr Suzie Thomas is University Lecturer in Museology at the University
of Helsinki, Finland. She has previously worked at the University of
Glasgow and the Council for British Archaeology, and completed her PhD
in Heritage Studies at ICCHS in 2009.

ICCHS PGR Conference 2014

wordleLast week nine of our current PhD students presented their research at the annual ICCHS PGR Conference. In this blog post conference co-organiser and participant Bethany Rex presents her personal report from the day:

The ICCHS PGR conference look place last week, and despite the lack of coffee until late in the afternoon due to the disruption caused by a ‘suspicious substances’ alert at the University, it was a real success.  It was great to get together as a department to discuss and share ideas on our research and, for me, one of the key things that came out of the conference was an appreciation for just how ‘alive’ the research emerging from the PhD community here is. We are all pursuing diverse projects, working away at answering our own research questions, but we are also collectively contributing to a discussion on the big questions relating to the role of museums and heritage in contemporary society. If there is one thing that PhD students are good at, it is asking questions!

We started the day with my own presentation, in which I spoke about the increasing involvement of community organisations in the local authority museums sector and the role of the policy environment in influencing this.

In Session 2, Niki Black presented her work on the impact of differing interpretations of heritage on small-scale cultural festivals. Next, Bronwen Colquhoun shared the key findings of her research project that investigates how the image-sharing website, Flickr The Commons, functions as a community of interest, and the extent to which the application generates knowledge and meaning around historic photographic collections. Finally, Carolyn Gibbeson explored the varied and different interpretations of the mental asylum from the viewpoint of those who built them, former patients, urban explorers, property developers and the heritage sector.

After lunch, and kicking off Session 3, Rebecca Farley explored the significance of Keith Grant’s Gateshead Metro mosaics and the response of Metro passengers’ to their everyday encounters with the artwork. Next, Gabriella Arrigoni, a practice based researcher from Culture Lab, talked about the concept of the prototype as aesthetic paradigm of current artistic production, and the related notion of the lab as a site for testing. Following this, Muhammad Ilmam bin Tharazi, presented his overall research on the representation of Islamic art since 9/11 and the recent transformations of the Islamic galleries at major national institutions such as the V&A.

In the final session of the day, the focus turned to China. To begin, Katharina Massing presented some of the key results of her PhD project, which critically examines the current ecomuseum development in Hainan Province, China. To close, Yong Zhao presented the results of her quantitative and qualitative data analysis of visitors to the Historic City of Xi’an, China, to argue for the importance of good interpretative strategies to enhance visitor satisfaction.

After a full day of excellent presentations and discussion, we headed to the pub for a much needed drink.

Well-earned post-conference celebration.

Well-earned post-conference celebration.

Thank you to all of the presenters for talking the time to prepare their papers and to the staff in the department for supporting the conference – especially Aron and Areti for capturing our best concentration faces (available on ICCHS Facebook page!) and Susannah (and PGR alumni Tori Park) for sharing their experiences of post-PhD life and opportunities!

You can download the full conference programme including all the presentation abstracts here.


Research Seminar: Knut Djupedal,19 June 2013

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

1 – 2pm

Location: 18 Windsor Terrace, Chester Room
Speaker: Knut Djupedal, director and curator, Norwegian Emigrant Museum

Born in 1948, emigrated to the United States as a child, returned to Norway as an adult. Educated in the United States and Norway, Knut gained Master’s degrees in both countries. After serving as a research associate with the Norwegian Research Council for the Humanities, he became director and curator at the Norwegian Emigrant Museum, a post he has held since 1991.

Knut has been chair of the Norwegian-American Historical Association in Norway (2006-2010) and the Association of European Migration Institutions (AEMI) (1996-2002). Has curated several exhibits at the Emigrant Museum, including: “The Norwegian-American Painter Bernhard Berntsen” (2005), “The Norwegian America Line” (2008), and “Mormons, Norwegians, the Handcart Pioneers, and Torleif Knaphus” (2009).

Knut has participated extensively in international projects, including “Routes to the Roots”, with NAUSA (Carl von Ossietzky) Universität Oldenburg, Germany (1994-1997); “Norwegians in New York 1825-2000,” with the Norwegian Immigration Association in New York, (1998-2001), and “Crossing Borders,” an EU-Interreg project with the Swedish-American Center, Karlstad, Sweden (2008-2011).

He has published articles on migration, folklore, media and culture and worldview in Norwegian, British and American scholarly journals, and co-authored “Amerikabilder” (Pictures from America) in 2008.

In this session of our research seminars for 2013, Knut will discuss how The Norwegian Emigrant Museum uses material and immaterial sources from its collections – and which for the purposes of the lecture, will include the museum’s historical buildings – to tell the story of Norwegian emigration to overseas destinations, in particular the United States.

For more information on the Norwegian Emigrant Museum, please visit  or

Hot off the press… Edited by Myra Giesen from ICCHS


Curating Human Remains – Caring for the Dead in the United Kingdom, edited by Myra Giesen, has just been released. Myra is a Lecturer here at the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies here at Newcastle University. Click on the image to visit Boydell & Brewer’s webpage for more information and to buy a copy.