Strategic approaches – Gateshead Council

Theme: renewing a sense of place and identity

Angel of the North, Antony Gormley, 1998. Photo Colin Cuthbert

Angel of the North, Antony Gormley, 1998, Gateshead. Commissioned by Gateshead Council. Photo Colin Cuthbert

Best practice in: embedding public art into regeneration schemes to help effect major economic and social change for the area. 

Gateshead Council’s public art programme was established in 1986.  Initially seen as a way of bringing art to a community which lacked its own contemporary art gallery, the ambition and scope of the programme grew as the Council (and in particular the Libraries and Arts Committee) realised the potential of arts-based regeneration for the area.

Over the last twenty five years more than 80 pieces of art in the public realm have been commissioned by the Council, with Antony Gormley’s sculpture, the Angel of the North (which was installed in 1998 at a cost of £800,000) being by far the most famous. Arguably the UK’s most recognised public art commission, the Angel’s success paved the way for further arts and cultural development in Gateshead and it has become a symbol of the area’s regeneration through the arts.  Gateshead now boasts key cultural venues and iconic architecture in the form of the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, The Sage Gateshead concert hall by Foster and Partners and the Millennium Bridge by Wilkinson Eyre Architects. 

As well as providing some of the foundation for this regeneration, the Council’s public art programme has helped to integrate the growth of new public spaces and buildings into the area, and continues to do so. 

Gateshead Council’s commitment to commissioning art in the public realm continues with the following aims, to:

  • Help improve the local environment by engaging with art and artists
  • Encourage identity for the area and community pride
  • Continue to encourage investment in a previously economically depressed region
  • Help integrate new developments into the city.

Gateshead Council’s strategy for siting work is often related to major planning and environmental developments, from the Riverside Sculpture Park (begun in 1980s with re-working since 2001) to the ongoing town centre redevelopment (begun in 2002), not only helping to ensure that there are budgets for commissions, but also that art is integrated into the growth of the town. 

There is a strong commitment from the Council to see that work is relevant to the site that it is located in as well as the town as a whole.  This approach to embedding art in the locality is continued in terms of engagement with local people, thousands of which have been involved in the public art programme via a range of major commissions, broader arts development and arts-education projects, helping to “bridge the gap between the commissioning procedures, creative process and the finished artwork.” For example, the award-winning education programme for the Angel of the North.

Facts and Figures:
Key factors for success:

  • A public art strategy and immensely successful Council-led commissioning programme with a committed and ambitious approach from the Council to embed art into the locality.
  • The creation of a critical mass of a public art commissions and iconic buildings, together with a major iconic sculpture in the Angel of the North, changing the image and economy of Gateshead from an area that was economically depressed, to one that is now seen as a thriving centre for the arts in the North East.
  • A mix of scale of projects from the Angel commission and the large-scale exhibition of Antony Gormley’s Field For Britsih Isles, through to smaller-scale projects involving local artists in residence.

Funding streams:

  • Public art requirements are built into the planning development control procedures and unitary development plan guidelines. Private sector developers are also a source of funding.
  • Occasionally there has been financial contribution in the form of grants, sponsorships, trusts, foundations and legacies.
  • The arts-led regeneration in Gateshead as a whole was made possible via a range of sources including Arts Council England North East, Arts Council England (Lottery), One North East through the Single Regeneration Budget, The Town Centre Partnership, The East Gateshead Partnership.  Initial spend on the Angel of the North led the way for other major cultural milestones (Gateshead Millennium Bridge at a cost of £22 million, BALTIC at cost of £47 million, The Sage Gateshead at a cost of £70 million).

Anna Pepperall, Public Art Curator, Gateshead Council, Civic Centre, Regent Street
Gateshead, NE8 1HH. 

Gateshead Council’s website which gives more information on their approach to commissioning art in the public realm.
Public Art in Gateshead and the Angel of the North, Public Art Team, Gateshead Council, July 2006