Returning for its second round after first emerging to mark the Arts Council Collection’s 70th anniversary in 2016, the National Partners Programme is again seeking to forge deeper relationships with audiences outside of London and groups underrepresented in the arts.

Central to this goal will be exhibitions run in collaboration with three regional sites – Firstsite, Sunderland Culture and Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange. Projects will feature community-created artworks alongside items loaned from high-profile artists such as David Hockney and Maggi Hambling.

Firstsite, Colchester © Jayne Lloyd

The trio of venues have been chosen after having previously delivered projects highly successful at reaching new and underrepresented audiences.

Prime examples include Firstsite’s My Name is not Refugee, an exhibition featuring artworks chosen by a group of refugees and asylum seekers living in Colchester; Go On Being So at Newlyn Art Gallery, curated by local schools; and Sunderland Culture’s Art Crush app, which lets audiences discover works from the Arts Council Collection through a Tinder-inspired digital platform.

“All three partners have worked with individuals, organisations and community groups in their local area, and have welcomed new voices to curate and produce exhibitions and projects that ensure galleries and museums reflect the richness of our communities,” says Deborah Smith, director of Arts Council Collection.

Now, the organisations will work with key workers, local communities and social prescribing groups to curate shows that look back at the experiences of the pandemic, focussing on themes including isolation, illness, family and self-care.

What’s on?

National Partners Programme exhibition listings include:

Sunderland Culture

  • Antony Gormley’s Field for the British Isles (Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art), 24 July – 25 Sept 2021
  • Where We Are Now (Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens) 21 Aug – 14 Nov 2021
  • Celebrate Different (Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens) 10 Jan – 13 March 2022

Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange

  • Social Prescribing Programme Exhibition (Newlyn Art Gallery) 23 Oct 2021 – 8 Jan 2022
  • SEEN (The Exchange) 23 Oct 2021 – 8 Jan 2022


  • Art for Life 17 May – 5 Sept 2021
  • House Share 26 June – 5 Sept 2021
  • Holiday Fun exhibition January 2022 – TBC

Zeroing in on the medicinal powers of art, Cornwall’s Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange will explore how the Arts Council Collection could relieve pressure on the NHS while also offering much-needed support to local people.

This builds on All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing research which suggests both drop-in GP consultations and hospital admission rates are reduced by social prescribing.

To test this theory further, an exhibition opening in Newlyn this autumn will be curated by a group of ten participants, referred to the project by link workers in local GP practices, who will collaborate with artists and select items reflecting their lockdown experiences from the Arts Council Collection’s 8,000 artworks.

Newlyn Art Gallery © Steve Tanner

“It’s well understood that participation in cultural activities can make people happier and more content. Here at Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange, we are now building evidence that shows these tangible health benefits,” notes the site’s director, James Green.

“Our involvement in the Arts Council Collection’s National Partners Programme has given us the resource and support to explore these benefits, hopefully paving a way for galleries and public collections to take a little pressure off the NHS as it continues to battle the consequences of the pandemic.”

Aside from programming focussed solely on health, various shows running between June 2021 and March 2022 will be co-curated by young people – aged from 11 up – and will explore the representation of underrepresented groups in the Arts Council Collection, including members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

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