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Public Participation: Choose the Art You Want to See

Elizabeth Walsh on how York Art Gallery are looking to the future.

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Image Credit: York Art Gallery, 2020

Museums and galleries alike have had plenty of time to re-strategise, with their doors being temporarily closed to the public during the lockdown. While nationwide closures and rapidly deteriorating funding have been cause for major concern, not all of the impacts of the pandemic have been negative.

A common reaction within the arts sector which has emerged throughout the lockdown is that of a larger focus on public engagement .This is currently the central focus of York Art Gallery. Aware of the frustration and even sadness members of the public may be feeling as a result of being unable to visit the gallery in person, they have looked for ways to tackle this,resulting in giving the power back to the people once they are able to reopen in the near future.

As of 15 July, members of the public are being invited to vote for their most loved and missed paintings from the gallery, which will then be curated to form a new exhibition launching on 20 August . Each painting can be scored from one to five stars, with those proving to be the most sought-after earning their place in the display. The exhibition, inventively entitled  Your Art Gallery - Paintings chosen by You will be made up of a selection of popular paintings chosen by way of voting on the Gallery’s website, which can be found here:

Not only will the public be able to decide which paintings are shown in the exhibition, but the York Art Gallery has taken the interactive element one step further. Avid art lovers will have the chance to come up with a short label for their favourite painting, including details of why they like it or what it means to them. The most impressive label submissions will be chosen and placed next to the paintings once the exhibition is live.

The public will be able to choose from a selection of twenty of the most renowned paintings created by artists such as Bridget Riley and L.S Lowry. From the initial lineup, the ten with the highest votes will be showcased . In less than a week the gallery has already received over 200 votes . Voting will close on the 29 July with the winners being announced on the 30th, giving any keen gallery-goers plenty of time to carefully browse through and identify their favourites from the world-class selection.

Alongside the paintings chosen by way of public vote, those selected for the  exhibition will also be decided based on the reactions gauged from Twitter polls (the polls are running from 20 until the 24 July). Ten further pieces will be presented in the Twitter polls with two going head to head on each of the four days. Further to this, some more of the paintings featured will be brand new while others will be selected by the Friends of York Art Gallery.

Dr Beatrice Bertram, senior curator at York Art Gallery commented: “We thought what better way to reopen than by giving our audiences the opportunity to choose the paintings they want to see. We hope as many people as possible will vote for their favourites through the online survey or the Twitter polls and also write a few words about one specific work, telling us why it means so much to them. We can’t wait to see which choices you make in what will be a truly fascinating exhibition of work curated by you.”

Even as the lockdown begins to ease, maintaining public engagement  through interactive measures certainly seems to be the way forward. By allowing the public to be more directly involved and have a say in the way exhibitions are run, galleries are sure to keep visitors coming back now and in the future. The time away during the pandemic has certainly not been wasted. Lockdown has in fact made way for new initiatives that are here to stay. With a stronger focus on community and the visitors themselves emerging out of lockdown, more and more galleries are likely to follow suit creating stronger  long term connections with the public.

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