Creativity and Practice
Without creativity we cannot find solutions for the problems we tackle; and we cannot imagine different ways of being and doing.
Creativity lies at the heart of what we do. We understand it as a value, a process and an outcome.
Many of us think through making, and this is reflected in the variety of our outputs: academic writing, policy and practice work, a website, a poem, an art installation, a musical composition or a performance.
Creative practice enables us to test and reformulate ideas, to understand deeply, but also to design and build.
Read our case studies below:
Sit With Me: Re-imagining digital museum encounters with 'otherness' - Rhiannon Mason and Areti Galani
Images courtesy of Mike Unwin, Richard Chippington and David Chatting
Sit with me is an interactive digital media installation, situated in the permanent exhibition Destination Tyneside in the Discovery Museum, Newcastle, UK. It was created by a multidisciplinary design team from Newcastle University, deploying an iterative research-through-design approach. The installation experiments with the idea of creating a space, in which visitors to the exhibition interact with nine ‘portraits’ of historic migrants in the Tyneside and with other fellow visitors.
The design process involved a workshop with creative practitioners, museum staff and migration experts, physical prototyping and archival research in Tyne and Wear Archives and the Northumberland Archive. The installationwas developed in collaboration with staff at Discovery Museum.
Sit with me combines archival records with open source code, responsive mirror, screen and Kinect camera technology to surprise and challenge visitors’ own assumptions about historic migration in the region. Through the use of ‘calm technology’ it create a reflective space that encourages people to “see something different in the familiar”.
Sit with me invites visitors to sit in front of a mirror. From behind the mirror a photograph of a historic migrant to the region emerges.
The visitor’s reflection temporarily aligns with the migrants’ portrait. The migrant's portrait moves to one side and key words revealing the person’s life experience emerge on the mirror. When the text eventually fades out, the migrant’s portrait re-aligns with the visitor’s reflection and closes its eyes. The encounter ends.
To find out more visit aretigalani.com/portfolio/sit-with-me.
Project Team: Areti Galani (PI) and Rhiannon Mason, Media, Culture and Heritage (MCH); David Chatting, Open Lab, Abigail Durrant Open Lab (now Northumbria University), and Kylea Little Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums.
Projects’ Duration: 2015-2016
Partners: TWAM – Discovery Museum
Improving the Lives of Older People with Dementia - Andrew Newman
The Dementia and Imagination Research Project examined how visual arts enrichment activities improve the quality of life for people in later life with dementia and their carers. This was a UK national project funded by through the Connected Communities Programme and participants were recruited from care homes in the North East of England, NHS dementia assessment wards in the Midlands and domestic environments in North Wales.
As there is no cure for dementia attempts to maintain the quality of life and well-being of people living with the condition are critical. The importance of this is illustrated by the fact that in less than 20 years nearly a million people will be living with dementia in the UK. This will increase to 1.7 million people by 2051, and 1 in 5 people over 80 will have dementia by 2021.
The approach taken by the artists developed the work of Anne Basting, an American academic. This uses creativity and attempting to look forward to generate new stories rather than focusing on memory which for those with this condition can become fractured. The work combines aspects of craft and textiles practices with digital technology and aims to provide participants with an enjoyable experience.
Across all the sites, scores for the well-being domains of interest, attention, pleasure, self-esteem, negative affect, and sadness were significantly better in the visual arts enrichment activities than the alternative condition. It was also possible to demonstrate that the activities supported resilience in the domains of creative expression, increased communication, self-esteem, and relationships with carers and family members. The work also supported the personhood of those with the condition through supporting the production of autobiographical narratives.
During 2018 the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council have funded a series of activities based in London, Edinburgh and Llandudno to publicise the results of the project. This involved training for artists, talks and an exhibition of work.
Project Lead: Andrew Newman
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council – Connected Communities Programme.
Re-imagining the modernist dream at Park Hill, Sheffield - Prue Chiles
Part of the Imagine project - The Cultural Context of Civic Engagement: Imagining Different Communities and Making them Happen
Over the last 50 years Park Hill been home to thousands of residents and has spawned love and derision in equal measure. We originally set out to find out about the lived experience of Park Hill, the concrete blocks, the feel of living there, as well as the decoration and home ornaments that made up the idea of ‘home’ (Buchli 2002, Miller 2001). The power of the design of Park Hill and its specificity however, has led us to concentrate on their experience of the very fabric of modernity and how they see their future there.
We collaborated with a small community of the new Park Hill residents and make a case for “making”, using drawings, models and images as a way to think about their lived experience and how it might change and allow re-imagining.
Our aim was to offer a listening ear and design conversation with the residents, discussing their own particular ways of living in Park Hill and helping the residents to build a better community. We explored themes around modernism and living differently; the residents themselves felt that they were living in a ‘modernist dream’, where modern architecture encourages modern life.
The scale, form and the materiality of Park Hill proved to be a huge challenge. The project developed new ways to gain insight through the processes of collaboration.
The first designed event was a substantial public exhibition visited by over 200 people at Park Hill; this was held half way through the process of conducting in-depth interviews with 12 households and followed by two group workshops.
The final event, and the most public and substantial outcome of this project, is a film to match the existing powerful film on the residents of Park Hill made in 1996 that resides in Western Park Museum, Sheffield. The film cut ‘interviews with the new residents together with some of the historical archive material and an interview we carried out with Lord Hattersley in August 2016. This created a powerful link between the old and the new Park Hill and will be shown in the museum as part of a permanent exhibition on Park Hill.
Project Team: The project was conceived with Kim Streets, Chief Executive of Museums Sheffield together with academics Prue Chiles, Kate Pahl and Susan Reid with researchers, Louise Ritchie, Paul Allender and Mathew Collins.
Project Duration: May 2014 - September 2017
External funders: AHRC /ESRC Connected Communities Award
Who do we think we are? Exploring Identity, Place and Belonging in North East England - Rhiannon Mason, Areti Galani, Katherine Lloyd and Kylea Little
This project was developed in partnership with Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM) and focused specifically on the ‘Destination Tyneside’ display in the Discovery Museum. This museum tells the city history of Newcastle, as well as the history of science and technology in the region. ‘Destination Tyneside’ is a permanent display about the history of Tyneside’s development and focuses specifically on the history of migration to the area.
The research project, ‘Who do we think we are?’ investigated how this display addresses issues of migration, identity and belonging in the North East of England. Specifically, it examines how the display tries to engage visitors empathetically with the history of migration through telling the stories of individual migrants.
Our research looked at what drives visitors’ identification (or lack of identification) with displays like this which aim to reframe regional and city histories in more inclusive and diverse terms.
The research team worked with different audience groups to understand how individuals’ background (such as age, ethnicity, length of time - or family connections - in North East, 1st/2nd generation migration experience) affected those individuals’ responses to the themes addressed in Destination Tyneside. The project worked with both visitors and non-visitors (identified via the museum’s outreach team) to examine the question ‘who do we think we are?’. It also aimed to help the museum understand the impact of Destination Tyneside on visitor attitudes.
Unlike more standard methods of exit questionnaires or structured interviews, we used special glasses developed through earlier research projects which were fitted with audio-visual recording technology to record participants’ responses to the displays. In particular, we wanted to capture the conversations participants had with their friends about the display as they visited in pairs unaccompanied by researchers. We paid particular attention to how the emotional and affective dimension of the visit played out over the duration of that experience and also how contemporary media and political events were framing visitors’ responses on the day. What came out of our research was the need for a more multi-faceted and holistic approach to understanding the importance of affect in visitor behaviour in museums.
We also filmed short vox-pops with all participants. Through testing the extent to which empathy and attitudinal change is possible in a public museum, a key output of the project is a better understanding of the way in which the Discovery Museum and the wider heritage sector can achieve their own social justice aims by addressing contemporary and historical issues of migration, identity and citizenship in their displays.
Project Team: 'Who do we think we are?: Exploring Identity, Place and Belonging in North East England': Rhiannon Mason (PI), Areti Galani and Katherine Lloyd, Media, Culture and Heritage, School of Arts and Cultures, and Kylea Little Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
Projects’ Duration: 2015-2016
Partners: TWAM – Discovery Museum
Find out more about the project here.
Networking New Opportunities for Artists in East Africa - Andrew Burton
AHRC Global Challenges Research Network.
There is a thriving community of artists at work in East Africa. Many of these exciting and creative people are at the beginning of their careers. But despite terrific energy on the ground and the sound intentions of regional governments expressed in The East African Community cultural policy, the reality is that there is little infrastructure for artists, a lack of training in entrepreneurship and professional development and virtually no public funding for the arts.
How is this community of artists addressing the challenges they face? What are the most important stepping stones they want to put in place to help themselves build sustainable livelihoods as artists, and – in a global region with a growing middle class and democratic values – how do they, and other stakeholders in the arts see the long term benefits of a dynamic visual art ecology in East Africa?
This landscape of contemporary visual art practice in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda is at the heart of this interdisciplinary GCRF/AHRC funded project. Working with our partners in East Africa: Makerere University, arts organisation 32 Degrees East, the British Council and the British Institute in East Africa we are developing a research network to create new, sustainable conversations, interactions and collaborations between UK and East African academics, artists, visual arts organisations, museum professionals and other stakeholders, including audiences for art.
Our project foregrounds practical interventions. As well as our workshops, six ‘case study’ visual art commissions will provide focus and test ideas articulated by artists. The six new artworks produced by young professional African artists will be on public display during our workshops.
Project Team: Andrew Burton (Arts and Cultures); Bob Newbery (NUBS); Lilian Nabulime (Makerere University); Joost Fontein (BIEA) Paul Richter (NUBS); Liz Oughton (CRE) George Vasey (Baltic) Charlotte Gregory (Newbridge); Megan Todman (SACS PGR)
Project partners: Newcastle University; 32 Degrees East, Ugandan Arts Trust; Makerere University; British Institute in East Africa; Africa Arts Trust; British Council; UCASDR (Uganda)
Project funder: Arts and Humanities Research Council/Global Challenges Research Fund
Living Archives: Re-imagining Poetry Collections - Linda Anderson
Images: Untitled drafts written by Sean O'Brien (left and centre) and a page from Moniza Alvi's notebook (right)
University investment has enabled the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts to develop its Contemporary Poetry Collections by acquiring the archives of some individual poets who have a strong connection with the poetry publisher Bloodaxe and/or the North-East of England. These archives also complement the Bloodaxe Archive we already have, offering insight into the early drafting process, rather than the journey into publication so richly documented by the Bloodaxe Archive.well
Workbooks and notebooks, newly acquired as part of this collection, help to develop the archive as a genre of material curation, a place where the process of writing is visible, and where writing (which includes doodling and drawing) can be thought about as an exchange between paper, pen, and hand, tracing the unique psychosomatic presence of the writer.
The notebooks of Moniza Alvi, for instance, and the revised manuscripts and typescripts of Sean O’Brien (both illustrated above), reveal these exchanges in close and vivid detail. These newly acquired archives also provide insight into the practices and development of individual writers who are historically representative of the tendencies of contemporary poetry and of writing practices that have changed dramatically over the period from 1970s to the present.
We conceive of the Collections as a ‘living’ archive. Rather than a static resource, the Collections represent an ongoing engagement with the recent literary past as well as a catalyst for new work, both critical and creative. The Collections continue to generate new literary work, visual art and films, and have been folded into the teaching of contemporary literature and creative writing.
Moreover, the Collections have created their own research culture, providing the basis for online critical essays, films, art works and supporting larger research inquiries, particularly into evolving late 20th-century writing technologies and textual ‘versions’ across manuscript, print and performance, and the processes of imaginative writing. They take us to an intimate centre of writing, but at the same time open themselves to interpretation, critique and creative refashioning.
We are also engaged in a process of digitising selections of the archive, and creating a website that itself forges new connections and perspectives and ways of reading, using the possibilities of the digital – across sound, vision and text – to push towards new ways of thinking about writing.
Investigators: Professor Linda Anderson, Dr Mark Byers