Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead might not be the first places you think of when you think of contemporary art galleries, but think again.
Although they may be overlooked in favor of the bigger northern England cities such as Manchester and Liverpool, Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead have a thriving grass-roots arts scene which shouldn’t be underestimated.
Over the last few decades, numerous new art galleries and organisations have popped up in converted warehouses and mills. They are giving new life from the industrial past for which the cities are perhaps more famous for.
Artist-led studios and community groups are giving opportunities for local artists to showcase their work alongside their internationally renowned peers.
The modern and contemporary exhibition spaces join the thriving traditional galleries which have long had a home in the North East.
The best part? All of these art galleries are free for you to enjoy!
Here is your guide to the best free art galleries in the city centre of Newcastle upon Tyne and over the bridges in nearby Gateshead. In addition, looking towards the suburbs of Shieldfield and the Ouseburn Valley, are the highlights of Newcastle’s ‘Cultural Quarter’.
The Best Free Art Galleries In Newcastle Upon Tyne & Gateshead
BALTIC Centre For Contemporary Art
Set in a converted flour mill, the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art showcases a variety of modern and experimental work.
When I visited, I was treated to the stunning paintings and drawings by Joy Labinjo in the exhibition ‘Our Histories Cling To Us’. Joy composes her paintings from old photographs of family and friends. Her painting style uses abstract techniques, patterns and blocks of bright colour. Because of these elements, I found the large and colourful paintings really unique and inspiring.
I also got involved with the interactive and playful exhibition from Pippa Hale titled ‘Play Rebellion’. This work was made up of different movable foam shapes for which participants could make structures from. Therefore the room was filled with tunnels, stairs and slides. It made good fun for kids as well as adults!
Each exhibition is accompanied by a BALTIC BITES video of the artists talking about their work. Through these videos, you can learn much more about the intention and creative process behind each piece.
On the top floor of the art galleries is a viewing box. Here you can have a nice (free) view over Gateshead, Quayside and Newcastle upon Tyne. It is a good spot to admire the bridges over the River Tyne, particularly the Millennium Bridge.
Opening times: Monday – Sunday, 10am – 6pm.
What’s on: Visit BALTIC’s website here.
Laing Art Gallery
The Laing Art Gallery is the home of many 18th – 20th century oil paintings. The gallery includes many artists from the North East of England.
As well as paintings, the galleries also have a selection of watercolours and objects such as silverware, ceramics and sculpture.
Many of the galleries are free to explore, whereas for special exhibitions you need to buy a ticket.
My favourite part of visiting this art gallery was seeing the paintings depicting Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
It’s so interesting to see how the city landscape has changed and evolved over time, with new bridges being built and cars replacing horse drawn carriages.
Because of these unique paintings, you can learn a lot about the history of the region through admiring the art work.
Opening times: Monday – Saturday, 10am – 4:30pm.
What’s on: Visit Laing Art Gallery’s website here.
A photography gallery dedicated to showing the best in documentary photography. Side provides really interesting and insightful exhibitions which are guaranteed to broaden your perspective of the world we live in.
The powerful and challenging work they showcase engages with landscapes and people’s lives within them, telling the stories that often get marginalised.
During my visit, there was an exhibition showing the stories of Syrian refugees in the Middle East and Europe between 2012 – 2016. The pictures were harrowing and really demonstrated the plight of children and families affected by the destructive wars.
Opening times: Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 5pm.
What’s on: Visit Side’s website here.
I loved visiting the three art galleries I have listed above while I was in Newcastle Upon Tyne and Gateshead . The following art galleries I didn’t have a chance to visit, but I would have liked to if I had more time!
The Biscuit Factory
The Biscuit Factory boasts at being the UK’s largest independent contemporary art, craft & design gallery. They are based in Shieldfield.
The gallery aims to provide a platform for local and national artists.
Based in a former Victorian warehouse, the gallery spaces are set over two floors. The gallery displays and sells a range of contemporary fine art, sculpture, home design, crafts, original prints and jewellery from around 200 artists every season.
Opening times: Monday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm.
What’s on: Visit The Biscuit Factory’s website here.
Abject Gallery is a contemporary art gallery with work from national and international artists.
It is also a studio rental space and community for artists.
Opening times: Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 5pm.
What’s on: Visit the Abject Gallery’s website here.
Northern Print is a gallery showing the very best in contemporary printmaking.
They are based in the Ouseburn Valley which is seen as the cultural quarter of Newcastle upon Tyne.
The building is equipped with a studio, gallery and education space all dedicated to printmaking.
Opening times: Wednesday – Saturday, 12noon – 4pm.
What’s on: Visit Northern Print’s website here.
Vane is a contemporary gallery space with an exhibition programme showcasing work from national and international artists.
They also host a flexible workspace for artists to develop new work, talks, performances, workshops and other events.
Opening times: Wednesday – Saturday, 12noon – 5pm.
Whats on: Visit Vane’s website here.
Hatton Gallery is based at Newcastle University. The gallery has a diverse collection which includes over 3,000 works from the 14th – 20th centuries. Key pieces include work by Francis Bacon and Eduardo Paolozzi.
The gallery also has extensive archive material including paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings and textiles. It holds material connected to the history of the Gallery as well, such as exhibition posters designed and printed in the art school.
Most notably, the gallery works closely with students from Newcastle University and exhibits their work on an annual basis.
Opening times: Monday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm.
What’s on: Visit Hatton Gallery’s website here.
In addition to the BALTIC in Gateshead, the same creative team brings you BALTIC 39 – a vibrant community of practising artists, academics and researchers. They are located on High Bridge, however, in the heart of Newcastle upon Tyne.
BALTIC 39 is the home of Project Space, a gallery and exhibition area located in the top-floor of the building.
There are also 33 artists’ studios and the BxNU Institute of Contemporary Art at BALTIC 39.
Moreover, BALTIC 39 offer free tours of the building’s history and exhibition programme. The building is a former printing warehouse and Grade II listed building. The tours bring the exhibitions and historic building to life and are suitable for everyone.
There’s no need to book, so you can just pop in and ask at the reception desk. Tours take place every Wednesday – Sunday at 12:30, and last around 20 minutes.
Opening times: Wednesday – Sunday, 12noon – 5:30pm (during exhibition periods only)
What’s on: Visit Baltic 39’s website here.
Shieldfield Art Works (also known as ‘SAW’) is an arts organisation based in Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne.
SAW’s focus is on the intersection of contemporary art, theological reflection and community activism. As both an arts space and a project of the Methodist Church, they seek to understand how these three spheres can speak, interact and learn from each other.
SAW’s broad programme includes art exhibitions, events, workshops, conferences and publications.
Opening times: Tuesday – Friday, 11am – 4pm. Saturday 1 – 4pm. Check individual exhibition details for further information.
What’s on: Visit SAW’s website here.
Gallagher & Turner
Gallagher & Turner is a modern and contemporary art gallery and also a specialist picture framer in Newcastle upon Tyne.
They host a number of exhibitions in the gallery every year, featuring work from both well-known international artists and emerging local artists.
All of the artwork is available to buy, so if you see something you like you can take it home with you!
Opening times: Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 6pm. Saturday, 10am – 5pm.
What’s on: Visit Gallagher & Turner’s website here.
The NewBridge Project
The NewBridge Project aims to create space for the development, production and presentation of contemporary art practice in Newcastle upon Tyne.
As an active and vibrant artist-led community, they are supporting the development of artists and curators because they provide space for creative practice and curatorial opportunities.
They also host an artist-led programme of exhibitions and events.
Opening times: Check website for programme specific opening times.
What’s on: Visit The NewBridge Project’s website here.
The Shipley Art Gallery
In 1909 a local solicitor in Gateshead, Joseph Shipley, donated his large art collection to the public. Shipley also gave the town the funding needed to build a gallery to hold the art work.
The Shipley Art Gallery was opened in 1917, and showcases highlights from Shipley’s collection. These include a group of 16th – 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings as well as some Victorian British paintings.
Over the last 100 years, the collection has grown to include a wider range of art alongside Shipley’s original collection of paintings. Therefore, the gallery now includes sculpture, decorative art and a contemporary craft collection.
Opening times: Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 4pm. Saturday, 10am – 5pm.
Workplace Foundation is a contemporary arts organisation which aims to support emerging and under-represented artists in the North of England.
Their focus is on connecting the art communities and scenes, particularly those outside of London, to an international audience. With this in mind, they hope to create opportunities for artists and improve the cultural landscape in the UK.
Based in Gateshead, the art gallery has a rich programme of solo and group exhibitions and events.
Opening times: Wednesday – Saturday, 12noon – 5pm.
What’s on: Visit Workplace Foundation’s website here.
Have you visited any of these or other art galleries in Newcastle upon Tyne or Gateshead? What did you think? If you have a suggestion that isn’t in this list, please share in the comments! 😊