Kielder Observatory Arts and Culture Programme
There is something subliminal about looking upon the night sky. Whether you are young or old, whether formally educated or not, alone or with loved ones, stargazing, astronomy, and the universe are captivating. Though science offers us fundamental answers to questions about the stars and shows beauty in the theories and methods it employs, it has a less tenuous hold on how the universe makes us feel. Here, art provides a fusion point, catalysing the human experience of astronomy and science and offering a new avenue of exploration.
Expression of science and astronomy through art and culture has implications for engagement with and uptake of STEM subjects for children and adults alike. By providing a variety in accessibility and sources of inspiration, artistic and cultural works reach those who may otherwise go through life without exploring astronomy. And this is the core ethos of Kielder Observatory; to inspire as many people as we can.
The Arts and Culture Programme developed by the observatory is therefore a rapidly progressing part of how we seek to inspire people of all ages. We’ve had multiple great successes, and lots still in the pipeline. Our projects have included everything from thematic workshops both online and in person, to exhibitions and collaboration with artists. Our work would not be possible without the backing of our funders, which have included the Northumberland County Council, Arts Council England, and the Heritage Lottery fund - thank you all very much for helping us make these projects possible. You can read below about some of our previous projects!
Discover Another Dimension – an immersive virtual art exhibition by Helen McGhie, our photographic artist-researcher in residence. This is a virtual tour of Kielder Observatory that invites you to creatively contemplate the cosmos through photography, film and sound. The exhibition explores human encounters with dark skies in Northern England and shares personal memories of observations, celestial dreams, and the inspiration felt by astronomers to gaze up at the universe. View it here.
Kielder Narratives builds on the central learning of our previous ACE-funded project, Kielder Dark Skies: a redoubled commitment to protecting the darkness, drawing on the stories and needs of the Kielder communities. We commissioned a poet in residence (Dan Simpson), supported by a wider creative team, to cocreate Kielder Narratives with Kielder communities and visitors. This team reviewed the creative output of Kielder Dark Skies, delivered workshops locally in Kielder, and we supported a week long residency for Dan to cocreate the narratives. We worked with composer Will Todd, sound technician Chad Male and Voice Over artists Jill Dellow and Chirs Connel to bring to life the tales of Kielder’s Dark Skies. You can read more here.
Frank's Fellowship is a bursary programme helping young Northumberland artists access Kielder for inspiration. The first round for 2022 has now concluded and some fantastic work has been created by the recipients - currently on display at the observatory so take a look on your next visit. The second and final round for this bursary will be opening spring 2023 so watch for announcements.
Escape Velocity was a highly successful project funded by the Northumberland County Council which tasked young people in the North East to do some astrophotography with their mobile phones and delve into dark skies. This involved providing a great resource on astrophotography and online workshops as part of the Northumberland International dark skies festival. It proved highly impactful during lockdown.
It is still up on the website for you to view.
We have collaborated briefly with Limbic Cinema on their project “Let the Light In” which explores humanity’s relationship with the sun, darkness, and light pollution. It is still in development and has not yet been released to the public.
We have a strong working relationship with Beacon Films, who are a filmmaking company comprised of disabled, autistic and neurodivergent individuals. Their films are inspiring, insightful, and often very funny, utilising the wide skill sets of the filmmakers in a variety of formats.
Light Years is our newest project with Beacon Films and their members have created four creative short films showcasing four different famous astronomers. You can view their work here: www.anyamedia.net/light-years-ahead. It is also available to view on a kiosk in our Gillian Dickinson Observatory.
The Cosmic Unknown
Our first collaboration was a planetarium film called “The Cosmic Unknown” when an intrepid astronaut travels through time and space exploring the wonders of the universe.
The premiere was held at The Great North Museum in the planetarium, and in Kielder Observatory’s planetarium. It was shown to schoolchildren in the North East and part of our educational outreach programme.
This exhibition encouraged artists on a national scale to submit space related work to the observatory to be displayed and viewed by our 20,000 visitors per year. We successfully displayed work right until COVID19 became apparent, and the work was enjoyed by thousands of people working their way around the observatory.