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Northumbria University galleries and exhibition spaces come under review

All the exhibition spaces at Northumbria University are under scrutiny as it makes a plan for the future

University Gallery, Northumbria University, with its Pillar Man sculpture by Nico Widerburg
University Gallery, Northumbria University, with its Pillar Man sculpture by Nico Widerburg

Uncertainty hangs over the galleries and exhibition spaces run by a North East university as it looks to the future.

Northumbria University, which has a high profile on the regional visual arts scene, has begun a review of its facilities to see how they fit into its strategy for teaching and research.

The university’s best known public gallery, the University Gallery on Sandyford Road, Newcastle, dates back to 1977 and is widely known for its exhibitions by renowned artists from Britain and overseas and also for its publications.

Under long-serving director Mara-Helen Wood it has forged strong links with Scandinavia, showing work by Norwegian artists including Edvard Munch.

The gallery also had a long association with Norman Cornish, the Spennymoor artist who died last year, aged 94.

It has mounted several Cornish exhibitions and has also looked after the artist’s archive. In 1997 he donated paintings for its permanent collection.

The gallery recently revived its People Show, a competition inaugurating The Norman Cornish Art Prize, worth £5,000 to the winner, and culminating in a major exhibition in November.

Ten years ago, with money from bodies including the Baring Foundation, the gallery underwent a major redevelopment, gaining a new public entrance and its Baring Wing extension.

In 2008 its sister Kings Place Gallery opened in London, meaning an exchange of exhibitions between the venues and providing a capital showcase for work by North East artists.

Northumbria University’s campus is also home to Gallery North, which opened in 2009 in the department of arts with the promise of showing emerging, home-grown talent while also bringing big international names to the region.

Northumbria University also entered into a partnership with Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. Its BxNU Institute at Baltic 39 on High Bridge, Newcastle, has provided studios for students and access to gallery space since 2012.

All these and more are now under review, raising questions about their future.

Dr Heather Robson, associate dean (business and engagement) in the university’s faculty of arts, design and social sciences, said it was an exciting time for the university as it looked to the next phase of developing cultural partnerships.

Northumbria’s partnership with Baltic had been singled out by Arts Council England as an example worth sharing around the country and there was an ambition to be “the leading centre for overall creative practice in the region”.

Dr Robson said: “We have a number of gallery spaces and exhibition spaces on and off campus but this isn’t about square footage.

“Part of this review is about looking at all these spaces, including the University Gallery, to see how they are going to fit into the development of corporate strategy.

“I think we need to understand what’s going to work for us so we can deliver our research and teaching and the programme of exhibitions.”

Dr Robson said Northumbria also had exhibition space at the Northern Design Centre, on Gateshead Quays, and other project spaces around the campus.

“The commitment is to have a gallery on campus but what we need to make sure is that we’ve got a clear plan,” she said.

She said no decision would be made before September because university colleagues needed to be brought into the discussions.

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