Being the first venue to present Weeping Window outside London is a fantastic and exciting opportunity for Woodhorn Museum and understandably there is currently a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes to make sure its presentation of Weeping Window provides the best possible visitor experience. At Woodhorn, the sculpture will be adapted to be site-specific with the Poppies cascading over twice the height of the original sculpture, first seen at The Tower of London in November 2014, from one of its colliery heapsteads. This has resulted in the Woodhorn team working to a short timeframe on all the logistical issues with organisers 14-18 NOW, a major cultural programme taking place across the UK to mark the centenary of the First World War, to implement the installation.
“All the teams at Woodhorn have really pulled together with some of the region’s most experienced event managers to safely support what is expected to be a large number of visitors on site,” says Liz Ritson, Woodhorn Museum’s Public Programme Manager. “Staff from across the whole organisation are working hard towards our showing of Weeping Window. Although it has been a very busy summer, we are proud of what has been achieved and how well people have come together to make the most of this opportunity.”
Ritson says there has already been, and will continue to be, a large amount of learning from working on this project, which the team will be able to apply to future projects. As the opening date approaches, all staff are taking part in new training sessions around the showing of the Poppies and they will also be offered the opportunity to actually plant a poppy during the installation phase in the first week of September.
For Woodhorn Museum presenting Weeping Window fits in with its commitment to offering high-quality arts, heritage and cultural experiences to its communities in South East Northumberland and the wider region. It also offers an opportunity for the museum to share some of the stories from Woodhorn’s history and communities such as how Woodhorn Colliery played a major part in the war effort, not only for coal production, but also supplying skilled miners for the front.
“Viewing the Poppies will be the core focus of our visitor experience during the exhibition, however, we are also programming related engagement activities on-site including artist-led activities, family crafts, schools workshops and a pop up WW1 archive,” she says. “We hope these activities will enable audiences to have a really meaningful, unique and enjoyable visit to The Poppies at Woodhorn. “
Woodhorn Museum regularly presents national and international touring exhibitions and, according to Ritson, presenting the Poppies works in a very similar way. “We know from the showing at the Tower of London that the public have really taken the Poppies to heart, and we anticipate large numbers of people will visit Woodhorn to see Weeping Window during its time in the North East,” she says. “We are pleased that people who may not have been able to visit the installation in London will have the opportunity to view the work closer to home.”
The worldwide media interest surrounding the Poppies tour has meant the Woodhorn team has also been working closely with 14-18 NOW to maximise international, national and regional press and PR opportunities and to communicate information about visiting the Poppies to its audiences.
“Woodhorn is experienced in presenting high quality and footfall events and exhibitions, but every opportunity is different and we look forward to learning from how our visitors will experience and respond to this unique art installation.”
The cost of hosting the tour has not been disclosed but Ritson says a significant amount of money has been invested to mount the exhibition at Woodhorn, with the majority of expenditure supporting visitor infrastructure, related engagement activities, technical installation and marketing. Woodhorn has already had a strong response from charitable trusts and foundations within the region to help support the costs and as the museum is itself a charitable trust, any donations made by visitors on site during the exhibition will also go directly to supporting the cost of displaying the Poppies.
Within the terms of the Poppies tour, host venues are unable to charge visitors to see the work and as Woodhorn Museum is free to enter there will be no money directly generated through the expected increase in visitor numbers. However, Ritson says there will many opportunities on site to boost revenue through car parking charges, the café and retail offers and group packages.
At Woodhorn, Weeping Window will cascade 55ft from the winding wheel of the No 1 Heapstead (nearly three times the height of the original structure at the Tower of London). The Heapstead, an instantly recognisable symbol of the industrial heritage of the region, will provide a dramatic new backdrop and context to the sculpture with the industrial blue-grey structure of the heapstead providing a dramatic contrast with the organic mass of bright red ceramic Poppies that form Weeping Window.
“When developing our bid for the Poppies: Weeping Window to come to Woodhorn, we spent time considering locations that we felt could really show the work to best effect,” she said “And we were delighted that the 14-18 NOW team including artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper also saw the potential of this unique location. We believe the experience of viewing the work at Woodhorn will be rewarding, poignant and relevant to our audiences.”
The high profile nature of the Poppies tour means that awareness of Woodhorn and its activities will be raised regionally, nationally and internationally, further cementing its reputation as a place to experience ambitious, innovative and high quality cultural events and exhibitions.
The Woodhorn’s Weeping Window installation opens on 12 September and runs until 1 November.
The No 1 Heapstead, Woodhorn Museum