Updates from our National Partners Programme 2020

19 February 2020

As part of the National Partners Programme, the second round of National Partners for 2019-22 will present works from the Arts Council Collection in unique and surprising ways as part of their 2020 exhibition programmes, including meaningful collaborations with their surrounding communities.

The National Partners for 2019-22 are Firstsite (Colchester), Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange (Penzance) and Sunderland Culture. Working closely with members of the community including local students and charities, each National Partner has opened up the curation process to showcase the Arts Council Collection through the lens of different experiences and perspectives.

Peter Heslip, Director, Visual Arts, Arts Council England says: “We want everyone, everywhere to have the opportunity to have incredible creative and cultural experiences. This is central to Let’s Create, our strategy for the next ten years. This programme is about empowering visual arts professionals to invent new ways to bring art into the lives of an even wider range of people. England has some of the most dynamic art galleries and the Arts Council Collection's National Partner Programme is a chance for them to take risks and have full access to our Collection in support of this. The public activities being launched now give a taste of this ambition and a very serious commitment to serving their communities.” 

Firstsite recently presented Super Black; co-curated by people from Essex’s black community with Arts Council Collection artworks alongside new work by Southend-based artist, Elsa James, the show explored the experiences of black people living in Britain today.

In 2020 Firstsite presents Tell me the story of all these thingsan exhibition co-curated by women living in Colchester including civic leaders, community organisers, artists, designers, politicians, mothers and business owners. Firstsite will also collaborate with Refugee Action - Colchester for an exhibition that responds to questions posed by refugees and asylum seekers living in Colchester to create a multi-sensory and participatory experience exploring themes including the transience of life.


Sally Shaw, Director, Firstsite says: “At Firstsite we have been questioning and changing the role the gallery can play in the community. We are largely supported by public funding and therefore what we do and how we do it must reflect that public. To do this we have accepted we need to change some fundamental things about how we work and with whom.

The National Partnership Programme enables us to address this head-on through our artistic programme. We have extended this amazing opportunity to work with the Arts Council Collection out to a number of different people with a broad range of life experiences living in our region. We are doing this because it is essential that lots of different people have the opportunity to directly influence and inform what we show at Firstsite and how we go about showing it.

This isn’t a matter of external consultation, this is a case of inviting people - lots of different people - into the heart of Firstsite to be creative with us. To be part of the team. The experience so far has been incredibly exciting and provocative for everyone involved. Most of all, it feels like we are starting to form an authentic and open conversation about society today - what’s wrong, what’s right and how to move forward together.”

The Arts Council Collection : Updates from our National Partners Programme 2020
The Arts Council Collection : Updates from our National Partners Programme 2020

Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange supported students from Mounts Bay Academy aged between 12 and 16 years in curating the exhibition Go On Being So at Newlyn Art Gallery, a show sparked by a discussion around what it means to be a global citizen. This is the first time in the Arts Council Collection’s 74-year history, that a school has curated a gallery exhibition from the collection. The gallery extends further their investigation into learning through the exhibition Hippo Campus: Where We Learn, at The Exchange.

James Green, Director, Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange says: “Being part of the Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme has given us an extraordinary opportunity to test new curatorial models that invite groups and individuals to have their voice heard as part of our main gallery programme. Go On Being So is the first in that mould. For some years, we have been concerned about the shift away from creative subjects in schools’ curricula and our ambition is to use the programme and the access it provides to one of the country’s most important collections, to interrogate a range of urgent and pressing issues."



Sunderland Culture brings together a body of work created by older artists with Received Wisdom, a show which challenges the notion that creative radicalism is the preserve of youth. Sunderland Culture have also been collaborating with a team of young people aged 13-25, who will curate an exhibition later this year, and look forward to launching Art Crush, a digital app developed in collaboration with Arts Council Collection.

Rebecca Ball, Creative Director, Sunderland Culture says: “This three year partnership is a wonderful opportunity, not only to bring an extraordinary body of artwork to the North East, but to offer a programme of events and activities that inspires as many people as possible, regardless of age and background. We’re really excited to be working with a wide range of local groups and communities to enjoy this amazing resource, but also to produce and create their own artistic projects.”

The Arts Council Collection : Updates from our National Partners Programme 2020

Across each exhibition, programmes of activities and workshops to make contemporary art as accessible to as many people as possible has been a key aim for all three partners. Alongside Tell me the story of all these things, Firstsite will run Easter Holiday Fun and art classes for adults and young people; Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange run artist–led creative workshops for 7-13 year olds as well as two regular social group meetings, Lunch Time School and Bad Art Class; Sunderland Culture presents an intergenerational programme which accompanies Received Wisdom, including collaborations with Age of Creativity Festival and Equal Arts.


Jill Constantine, Director, Arts Council Collection says: “By involving their local communities in their programming from the very beginning, each of our Partners is adopting an innovative way of reaching out and attracting new audiences to make their galleries more welcoming and relevant to the local population. This is exactly what the Arts Council Collection aims to be, open and accessible to all.


Find out more and see all National Partner Programme exhibitions currently showing here.


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.