Young children with lit up large inflatables
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Northern galleries attract a new generation of gallery visitors

Posted on 07 August 2017

A two-year programme, Generation Tour, supported by our National Lottery funded Strategic Touring programme with a grant of £150,000, attracted more than 123,000 visitors to four contemporary galleries across the North.

The galleries commissioned artists to create a series of new hands-on contemporary exhibitions to appeal specifically to families. The work included Generation NOISE by Owl Project offering huge wooden interactive sound machines and Generation AIR by Spacecadets which created ambient, breathing inflatables inspired by the human body. The Tree, The Caterpillar and The Butterfly by Aether and Hemera invited families to bring a nature garden to life using Xbox Kinect technology and Musical Chairs by Hellicar and Lewis gave visitors the chance to compose a changing soundscape by joining hands with other humans.

Boy with a light made from a log
Generation NOISE at The Gymnasium Gallery © Sallyanne Flemons

The programme followed a research project run by the DLI Museum and Art Gallery in Durham, Central Art Gallery in Ashton-under-Lyne, Townley Hall in Burnley and Berwick’s Gymnasium Gallery and encouraged thousands of new visitors who might not normally have considered coming to an exhibition.

The museums used family focus groups to find out what people wanted from a visit to a gallery – but also what might put them off from walking through the doors.

And the research revealed the main issue was a perception that contemporary art galleries were ‘hands off’ venues where lively children might not feel welcome.

Lucy Jenkins, Art Curator for Durham County Council, says: “We embarked on this project because family audiences were under-represented in our venues. This was a missed opportunity, not only in terms of visitor numbers, but because contemporary art can enrich the lives of families, and encourage a lifelong appreciation and interest. We were especially pleased to see that 14% of those visiting had never set foot in an art exhibition before – getting visitors to try a completely new cultural genre is not an easy thing to do.”

Families responded positively to the exhibitions, describing the experience as “brilliant! Hands on, imaginative – art without the stuffiness” and “great family fun, clever and thought provoking”.

This project is an excellent example of how a group of galleries listened to families and really thought about how they could programme fun, exciting and hands on artistic work that families would want to come and see

Jessica Farmer, Senior Relationship Manager, Arts Council England 

Young girl with watering can and large lit flowers
The Tree, the Caterpillar and the Butterfly © Donna-Lisa Healey

Jessica Farmer, Senior Relationship Manager, Arts Council England commented, “It’s great to see that Generation Tour has had such success in encouraging more families to visit contemporary art exhibitions. Through the Strategic Touring fund, we invest in projects which bring arts and culture to more and different locations and we encourage partners to work together to think about new ways to reach a wider range of audiences.”

“This project is an excellent example of how a group of galleries listened to families and really thought about how they could programme fun, exciting and hands on artistic work that families would want to come and see. We’re delighted that the exhibitions were so well received and I look forward to seeing similar work in the future.”

The galleries are now looking at how they can commission new exhibitions which will continue to attract families to enjoy their arts and cultural offer.

Find out more about our Strategic Touring programme.

Find out more about how we work with museums.