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Nexus - Art on Transport

Location: Tyne and Wear , UK

Artists (since 1999): Cath Campbell, Lucy Casson, Mike Clay, Robert Belilios, Richard Cole, Elinor Eastwood, Ron Haselden, Steve Hines, Simon Jones, Danny Lane, Morag Morrison, Hilary Paynter, Michael Pinsky, Topsy Q'uret, Martin Richman, Fiona Rutherford, Andrew Stonyer, Richard Talbot, Simon Watkinson, Carl von Weiler

Writer: Tim Etchells


Nexus (the name adopted in recent years by the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive) is the key public transport authority for the region. Nexus operates the Tyne and Wear Metro - the first light rapid transit system in the UK - but it also owns major bus interchanges, and the Shields Ferry, as well as undertaking large Local Transport Plan projects.

Nexus operates a programme of public art commissions integral to its capital construction projects. The current commissioning programme is led by the Metro Communications Manager, John Meagher, calling upon the advice and project management of independent Public Art Consultant, Andrew Knight. Selection procedures are "tailored to meet the needs of each project", and include direct invitation as much as limited or open competition. The public art programme will proceed indefinitely, as Nexus takes on new capital projects, and maintains and reviews its existing commissions.


The public art programme of Nexus has operated since the Metro was under construction in 1977, though most of the earlier commissions were realised during the 1980s. These included works by Basil Beattie, Simon Butler, Mike Clay, Jenny Cowern, Mike Davis, Keith Grant, David Hamilton, David Kemp, Anthony Lowe, Stephen McNulty, Ian Patience, and Vincent Rea. The scheme was known as 'Art on the Metro'.

In 1996 Nexus published a strategic plan, Towards 2010, and also reviewed its public art programme. As a result Nexus adopted a Percent for Art policy (developed with advice from the then Northern Arts, and known as 'Art on Transport') as an established part of its annual capital programme. The percentage sum (up to one per cent of the capital cost of a new construction project) covers not only the cost of the commissioned work, but also community consultation and education programmes, and funds the post of a full-time Percent for Art Assistant, Hayley Sowerby.

The programme is further enhanced by matching grant aid from other sources, including arts lottery funding, and partnerships with urban regeneration and arts development schemes run by or on behalf of the five local authorities which make up Tyne and Wear, enabling new commissions to be integrated "where interests converge".

In 2002 the extended Metro line to Sunderland opened, designed and built by Railtrack, and a public art strategy for this new part of the network was developed with the support of Northern Arts, and endorsed by Nexus. An Advisory Panel of specialists was formed to consider solicited 'expressions of interest' from artists.


The Nexus strapline,'Linking people to places', implies a connection between people and the places in which they live, work and spend their leisure time that is more than just a functional one. The current objective of Nexus is to reduce the use of the private car through providing an attractive, high quality public transport infrastructure, and thereby to stimulate economic regeneration and improve the social fabric of Tyne and Wear. To these ends Nexus takes a proactive approach, placing itself "at the forefront of forward thinking about social and transport issues". It has led rather than followed in identifying the role of cultural development in the regeneration and re-invention of the North East, currently exemplified by Anthony Gormley's Angel of the North.

The main objectives of the Art in Transport programme of Nexus are to:

  • Improve and enhance all visual aspects of the transport environment, countering the visual uniformity that is the consequence of corporate globalisation.
  • Achieve high quality, adventurous commissions.
  • Secure high quality project management.
  • Create a forum for artists, architects and planners to work collaboratively.
  • Involve local communities in the consultation process and creation of artworks, and encourage arts access for people of all abilities.
  • Maximise opportunities for attracting additional investment into the programme.

The Commissions

Locations for the Nexus commissions vary considerably from inner city to rural, and vary equally in scale and cost, ranging from £20,000 to £250,000, or more for major 'landmark' projects. The largest artwork commissioned by Nexus is also one of the largest public artworks to have been commissioned in Britain. Opening Line by Danny Lane is a 90m long steel and glass artwork that functions as a barrier between the platforms of a bus station.

Other recent commissions comprise a wide range of mediums and practices, traditional media being given a contemporary twist. Circuit by Richard Cole uses forms derived from electronic circuit boards anachronistically transposed into granite. From the Rivers to the Sea by Hilary Paynter uses wood engravings specially conceived by the artist to be enlarged onto enamelled panels as a continuous mural. Other mural commissions have been produced in collaboration with local 6 th form students (Journey's Echo by Elinor Eastwood), with local primary school children (Illumination by Mike Clay and Fiona Rutherford), and with senior women residents (Cakes Crows and Insulators by Lucy Casson).

Two artworks actively respond to their site. Pulse by Andrew Stonyer reacts to the vibrations of approaching and departing trains. Prevailing wind direction controls the changing light levels of White Light by Ron Haselden. Other commissions take the form of environmental modifications. Detour by Cath Campbell displaces the louvres in a multi-storey car park from their regular horizontality. Station Colours by Morag Morrison utilises a palette of colours developed by the artist to reflect the environmental characteristics of the Sunderland Metro line, giving each station "a unique colour character". As part of a project by the artist Michael Pinsky, signs in Latin and English have replaced the conventional statutory signage (right down to the 'No Smoking' signs) throughout Wallsend Station, a short distance from Segedunum Roman fort.

The Percent for Art budget funds not only permanent commissions but also temporary and time based commissions. Monument by Carl von Weiler was a video installation presented in the ticket concourse and escalator area of Monument Station. Faith, Hope and Charity by Steve Hines comprised a red heart shape projected into a cold corner of Cullercoats Station. Map Music by Andrew Hodson is a CD of ambient music deriving from sounds recorded on Metro trains and stations, to be heard on a CD Walkman whilst travelling. Entitled Hidden Ticket, micro-stories by Tim Etchells about getting lost were printed on the backs of two million Metro tickets.

Key Issues

  • Pooled Budget - An annual commissioning budget is maintained by "pooling" the Percent for Art allocations of varying amounts from different capital projects. The budget can therefore be allocated strategically, rather than in a piecemeal manner. It is not necessary therefore to integrate an artwork within every single capital project undertaken by Nexus, but only where suitable. A pooled budget also enables Nexus to respond to proposals for temporary projects from individual artists and artists' groups. Moreover, the budget available can be fixed up to three years in advance, enabling forward planning and an 'agile' approach to partnership project funding.
  • Vandalism - All Tyne and Wear Metro stations are unmanned, and a requirement to use robust materials, and to aspire to the aim of Nexus to achieve "bright, clean looking public areas" in order to deter potential vandalism are incorporated in artist's briefs and taken into account in the assessment of design proposals. Vandalism is also a budget issue, as resilient materials can be expensive. Tag-Tile by Simon Jones and Robert Belilios, a mural at Longbenton Station produced with local young people, incorporates fifty graffiti 'tags' printed onto pastel coloured tiles, and was commissioned specifically as part of a programme to confront the problems of graffiti in the area.
  • Advertising - Nexus generates a significant part of its capital through display advertising on stations, commercial branding of stations and trains, and commercial lets on station concourses. Conflict or confusion between the adjacent presence of public art and advertising is avoided by sensitive station design and planning. The Nexus contract with the artist ensures that commissioned artworks cannot be temporarily obscured for any reason.
  • Review Process - While Nexus seeks to ensure the "continued presence and integrity" of its commissioned artworks, it has adopted a review procedure as part of its policy. For example, following a review with the artist of the deteriorating condition of David Kemp's Iron Horse sculpture, commissioned for Four Lane Ends Station in 1983, it was decided that further conservation was not viable. It was 'decommissioned' and a new brief was drawn up for the site, resulting in Andrew Stonyer's Pulse sculpture, which was installed in 2000.


For details of many of the Nexus commissions, click here to visit their website:

For more information contact:

John Meagher, Metro Communications Manager,

P.O.Box 28, South Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 1PZ

Tel. 0191 203 3231

E-mail: [email protected]

© Copyright David Briers, 2004