Maddi Nicholson

Maddi Nicholson is one of the two Artist Founder Directors of Art Gene (the other being Stuart Bastik).

Maddi has leading role in most Art Gene projects – if she is not lead artist herself, you can be sure she is behind the scenes contributing ideas and ensuring everything runs smoothly, or cooking up a feast for our guests. Maddi is also our lead fundraiser and there is no limit to her ambition for Art Gene’s role in bringing intelligent social and economic regeneration and reform to the Barrow-in-Furness area and beyond.

Maddi Nicholson (foreground) and Hannah Brackston in the Art Gene Workshop, working on one of the Razzle-Dazzle Hides Art Gene designed and made as part of a commission by Cumbria Wildlife Trust for the South Walney Nature Reserve, 2016.

Maddi is currently heading the Islands and Bays of Barrow Coastal Communities Team: an association of stakeholders of the Cumbrian coastline: community representatives, local businesses & industry, environmental & ecological statutory bodies and charities. This newly established team will be responsible for channelling funding from the nation-wide Coastal Communities Fund, to best meet the unique geographic, social and environmental needs of this area.

Find out more about the Islands and Bays of Barrow Coastal Communities Team here.

As an artist, Maddi has a diverse practice. She works primarily with people and place – her interest is in communities: communities of people, of objects, of interest, of life – and the choices and allegiances that one makes.

A self-proclaimed ‘Artist in Residence,’ in Barrow since 1990, she came to the area for a year residency, was intrigued and stayed.

It’s got under my skin. I live and work in a place that could be considered to be the periphery, it is far from that. The perspective here is more interesting, you could say it is the raw truth”.


Since 1996, Maddi has also been collaborating with Stuart Bastik as under the title Nicholson Bastik.  Together they have designed architectural projects including schools, playgrounds and the superb Roker Pods, commissioned by Sunderland City Council for Roker Beach.  

Image above: Roker Pods, by Nicholson Bastik, 2012

Recently Maddi and Stuart have been collaborating on One for Sorrow – both a war memorial and working gate, leading onto the North Walney Nature Reserve (the site of the Art Gene archeological project Fort Walney, Uncovered).

One for Sorrow represents both the fragile nature of wildlife and the men who were so tragically lost in battle.

Image above: One for Sorrow, CGI image of gate in situ.

Find out more about Nicholson Bastik here.

Maddi’s own art practice is diverse, she works with people and place, making inflated structures, plastic installations, and works in photography, painting and video. Past commissions range from a 6 meter high pink inflated bathtub balanced on the balcony of Bishop Auckland Town Hall, Shall I Draw You a Bath Dear,  to 1000 inflated dog bones wallpapering gallery walls, in the installation, Bone Idle.

Her large scale works have clad castles, London tower blocks, town halls, art galleries and vehicles ranging from a Norwegian passenger ferry to double decker buses and trucks.

She undertakes projects, commissions, exhibitions and residencies, in community and educational contexts, giving lectures and courses of training. She was invited Speaker at the 2008 Labour Party Conference, on Art, Business and Education.

Maddi has a strong interest in education and research. As part of our current project Allotment Soup – a field sized exploration of community gardening, Maddi and Armelle Tardiveau of e.c. Architects took Year 6 children from Vickers Town Primary School. Find out more in Curating the Ground here.

Image above: Curating the Ground

In 2009, Maddi Nicholson, Stuart Bastik and Steve Harris ran Art Gene’s now legendary Re-visioning Utopia Charette.  Our (inter)national programme and test-bed-concept Barrow-by-Design, had already seen Art Gene pursuing pioneering working partnerships with local and sub-regional regeneration authorities in Cumbria, which we aimed to adapt and apply globally through our associates. (See Barrow by Design, Shop Fronts link below).

Over 4 days, Re-Visioning Utopia brought Artists, Architects and Academics together in small multi-disciplinary teams that were fuelled both by an intensive series of research field-trips exploring the diversity of Barrow and its islands, and chaired debates on both achievable and imaginable objectives (for both Barrow and beyond). Find out more about the Re-visioning Utopia Charette here