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The must-see art exhibition that tells the untold stories of the River Tees

Through the power of the local creative community minds, People Powered: Stories from the River Tees at MIMA reveals how the river has influenced the region.

Written by Rachael Nichol
Published 13.09.2023

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Are you fascinated by history and wonder how your region was shaped? We’ve discovered the must-see art exhibition for you.

People Powered: Stories from the River Tees at MIMA showcases how the river has influenced the region, from creating the Tees Valley to shaping the landscapes of its towns and industries.

This partnership between MIMA and the National Portrait Gallery, People Powered: Stories from the River Tees features artworks from collections of both organisations alongside new commissions, created through detailed and imaginative work with communities.

The summer exhibition reflects on the important role that the River Tees has played in our local and national story with untold stories and different perspectives emerging through the course of the exhibition.

But what makes this exhibition unique is that there’s a whole community involvement in creating work. From young people to schools and elders, the work captures the perceptions of the River Tees from a diverse range of people.


Beginning with the concept of a portrait, the exhibition asks bigger questions about the imaginative scope of a river, about physical and lived environments and about what creates a sense of belonging.

It tells stories of those who depend on the river, including steel and chemical industries, fishing, home-building, town planning and recreational sports and leisure.An eclectic mix of materials, themes and soundscapes will lead your through MIMA’s spaces, rediscovering the River Tees and its mosaic of environments and people.

The exhibition is partnered with a cool public programme which, among workshops and classes, also includes new DJ Sunday Music Sessions as part of their Art & Social meet-ups.


Artist Diane Watson is collaborating with school children at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Grangetown, to make new work in response to Herring Gull (1974) by Elisabeth Frink held in the Middlesbrough Collection. The resulting work, a vinyl wallpaper is presented in the exhibition.

Local photographer, Gilmar Riberio, captures portraits of many people who work, rest and play in and around the river, plus others who associate with it through memory or imagination.

Young People from MIMA’s Saturday Club (part of the National Saturday Club initiative) will display work drawing on myths and legends from the River Tees, which will be brought together with a contemporary soundscape of stories and folklore.

Electronic music group A Man Called Adam will launch an ambient river soundscape, with community voices at play in the gallery.

Photographic portraits from the National Portrait Gallery featuring some famous faces from the North East including, Teesside born author Adele Parks MBE, comedians Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer and South Shields born film director Ridley Scott.

Shown alongside these works through objects, paintings and portraits are artworks from the Middlesbrough Collection including Ian MacDonald, William Tillyer, Patricia Faulkner, Vivan Sundaram, Elisabeth Frink and Ken Couzens. Collection artworks illuminate multiple perspectives of the river and reflect on the coexistence of industry, ecology and leisure that has characterised the river.

Work by Vivan Sundaram traces the splendour of its changing geography as it flows from source to sea. Photographic work by HLN friend, Joanne Coates,  and Ian Macdonald reflects on the working communities past and present, that depend on the river as a source of labour and industry.

MIMA’s windows will feature photographic work by Verity Adriana, Senior Lecturer in Photography in the School of Arts and Creative Industries at Teesside University, in the form of a short photo essay inspired by AV Dawson Limited’s site at the Port of Middlesbrough.

People Power will be showcased until 7th January 2024 and is funded by National Lottery Heritage Lottery Fund and Art Fund.

MIMA, Centre Square, Middlesbrough TS1 2AZ

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