Sunderland Culture present Received Wisdom

29 January 2020

We are pleased to announce that Sunderland Culture will present the first of its major Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme exhibitions.

Opening on 1 February 2020, Received Wisdom challenges the notion that creativity and innovation are the preserve of youth by bringing together a body of work created by older artists, drawn from the Arts Council Collection’s extensive range of modern and contemporary British art.

Wide-ranging and dynamic, the exhibition confronts our assumptions about ageing by celebrating both artists who have enjoyed long careers as well as those who discovered their creativity later in life. 

Rebecca Ball, Creative Director of Sunderland Culture, explains:

“We wanted to use the opportunity of our first Arts Council Collection show to challenge some assumptions about what it is to be an artist and dispel some stereotypes about age and ageing. From those who have been working as artists all their lives but whose art has only become celebrated in their later years, to those who have only began their arts careers in their 60s or 70s. The breadth and range of the artworks created are incredibly inspiring.”

Bringing together the works of 36 artists, Received Wisdom includes a wide range of art forms including sculpture, painting, photography and mixed media.

Taking its title from a featured artwork of the same name, by one of the UK’s foremost conceptual artists Amikam Toren, the exhibition poses the question – Who is deemed ‘creative’?

Received Wisdom features the work of artists who began their creative practice later in life and those that became most recognised in their later artistic career including Phyllida Barlow, John Sheehy and Elisabeth Vellacott, who had her first solo exhibition at the age of 63 before working long into her 90s.


When Lubaina Himid - a pioneer of the Black Arts movement in the 1980s - was awarded the Turner Prize in 2017, she became the oldest ever recipient of the prestigious award. Her series of small-scale paintings imaging conversations between African slaves and millworkers in Manchester will be shown as part of the exhibition.

Received Wisdom demonstrates that provocative art is not just reserved for younger artists by presenting works from individuals whose radical pieces were created well into their careers. Acclaimed international pioneer of social art with a purpose, John Newling, and Jacqueline Morreau, who contributed to the feminist art movement in Britain, are represented alongside others including Jo Spence, Hurvin Anderson and Amal Ghosh.

Work from artists who showed a radical change in style as they aged, such as John Stezaker and Margaret Mellis, who in her late 60s began creating abstract art on pieces of driftwood, are also presented in the exhibition.

Jill Constantine, Director, Arts Council Collection, said:

"All the artists in Received Wisdom have made an enormous contribution to visual arts in the UK. This ambitious exhibition shows that creativity is a lifelong activity in which we can all engage, develop and enjoy in our different ways and this is exactly what the National Partners Programme is designed to support."

Received Wisdom will be accompanied by an extensive learning and engagement programme, from Art Taster workshops for adults and young people to family events and an Easter Art School.

Developing existing relationships with other artists in the city such as Kerry Cook at The Art Room and forming new partnerships with organisations like the Little Onion Club in Washington, the learning and engagement programme will extend beyond the boundaries of the Museum to reach new audiences.

Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens are working in partnership with Equal Arts to run a Creative Age programme in Sunderland, offering older people living with dementia, their families and carers, and those with long-term health conditions the opportunity to take part in lively and supportive creative sessions led by artists.

From 1-10 May 2020, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens will also be joining in the Age of Creativity Festival, which celebrates older people as creative audiences, participants, volunteers and artists across England.

The exhibition runs from 1 Feb - 10 May 2020 at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens. 


The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

With more than 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists, it can be seen in exhibitions and public displays across the country and beyond. This website offers unprecedented access to the Collection, and information about each work can be found on this site.