Van Gogh’s immersive art experience at York St Mary’s to gogh on until March 31

Deck chairs at the ready: Sit down and relax into a “Zen-style” immersive experience surrounded by Van Gogh’s animated artworks at York St Mary’s. All pictures: Charlotte Graham

THE Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience exhibition at York St Mary’s, Castlegate, York, has been further extended to the end of March 2023.

For the festive season, art lovers can enjoy a “Zen-style escape” from the bustling streets in the former church that offers a sanctuary of peace, tranquillity, mindfulness amid the chance to “step inside” Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings as an antidote to the Christmas crowds.

As exhibition manager Evie Blackstock says: “The run-up to Christmas has to be one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year, so we’re encouraging frazzled shoppers to come and recharge their batteries with a calm, relaxing experience surrounded by Van Gogh’s paintings, animated and projected onto the nave walls of York St Mary’s.

Making a big Post-Impression: Vincent Van Gogh surveys his artwork projected onto York St Mary’s nave walls

“The best way to enjoy the experience it is to settle into a deck chair and let the soothing soundtrack wash over you as you are surrounded by stunning artwork. It instils a real sense of calm, so people are ready to face the outside world again with renewed vigour.”

In the 360-degree son-et-lumière presentation, many of Van Gogh’s most famous works are shown on the nave’s four walls and floor, accompanied by an emotive soundtrack, interspersed with “commentary” from Van Gogh. 

The Dutch Post-Impressionist painter’s story is told through 200 of his artworks, from his peaceful time in the French countryside, to the mental turmoil that brought his life to an end through suicide at 37 on July 29 1890 at Auvers-sur-Oise. He had sold only one of his 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, in his lifetime.

York St Mary’s: The setting for Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience

After the immersive sound-and-light show – run on a 35-minute loop to enable visitors to enter and leave at any point – and projections of his floral artworks onto a huge vase, visitors can partake in mindful colouring of Van Gogh’s works, with their illustrations being projected onto a virtual gallery on the wall. 

“Some people initially think that this is just for children but engaging the creative part of your mind is very soothing for adults, too,” says Evie. “There’s great satisfaction from finishing an artwork.”

A small exhibition about Van Gogh’s life and work awaits on the mezzanine floor, along with an optional extra (with a £3 additional charge): a virtual-reality visit to Arles, France, where Van Gogh was at his most productive. 

“Starry, starry night, Paint your palette blue and grey,” as Don McLean sang on his 1972 chart topper, Vincent

Donning VR headsets, visitors are taken on an 11-minute digital recreation of the village, starting in the house where Van Gogh stayed, before travelling around the streets and sights so familiar from his later paintings. 

York was the first British venue chosen to host Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, opening at York St Mary’s, next to the Jorvik Viking Centre, on July 5 2019, followed by Leicester, with temporary exhibitions in such cities as Manchester, London and Bristol (and a New York show too).  The Immersive Experience has just opened at Carlisle Memorial Church, in Belfast, where it will run until late February.

“We opened in York in summer 2019 with an original plan to remain until early January 2020, but it has been so popular that we’re delighted to be confirming another extension until March 31 2023,” says Evie. “This year, we had already extended to August and then to the end of the year!

The Dutch Post-Impressionist painter’s life story is told through 200 of his artworks in Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience

“We’ve had quite a number of visitors visiting us several times – it’s like they come in to recharge their cultural and emotional batteries – and we’ve had a couple of changes, including upgrading our virtual reality systems and extending the gift shop, during our stay to cater for the numbers of people through the door each day.”

Urging a winter visit, Evie says: “As a visit takes around an hour, this is something that people can easily fit into a trip to York – to rest their feet and their minds.  It’s little wonder that we’re the longest-running version of the exhibition in the world!”

Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, Castlegate, York, is open every day except Tuesdays, from 10am to 6pm; last admissions at 5pm. Tickets: adults £13, concessions £11, children £9, with an additional charge of £3 per person for the optional Virtual Reality experience. To pre-book, go to:

Exit York Museums Trust chief executive Reyahn King to be National Trust for Scotland’s director of heritage properties

Reyahn King: Leaving her post as chief executive of York Museums Trust after seven years . Picture: Richard Kearns

REYAHN King is to step down as chief executive officer of York Museums Trust to be the National Trust for Scotland’s director of heritage properties in a summer return to her birthplace.

Reyahn has been in post since September 2015, leading the independent charity that cares for the City of York’s collections and operates York Castle Museum, Yorkshire Museum, York Museum Gardens, York Art Gallery and York St Mary’s.

As CEO, she has steered York Museums Trust through one of the toughest periods in its history, when facing the need for lockdowns in the Coronavirus pandemic.

During her seven-year tenure, Reyahn has achieved great change for the trust. Under her leadership, she introduced a new vision and mission that puts audiences and communities at the heart of its work, while strengthening the charity’s fundraising activity and generating increased revenue from commercial activities.

York Art Gallery has presented such public exhibitions as the Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years ceramics and chart-topping Leeds band Kaiser Chiefs’ award-winning fusion of art and sound, When All Is Quiet, as well as championing experimentation in Strata- Rock- Dust- Stars.

Alongside this step change in the public programme, Reyahn oversaw the opening of two new permanent galleries: Jurassic Yorkshire at the Yorkshire Museum and Shaping The Body at York Castle Museum.

Cocktail Party, 1989, from last year’s Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years exhibition at York Art Gallery

Reyahn will leave a lasting legacy for York Museums Trust, having overseen the acquisition of the St Mary’s Abbey 13th-century Limoges Figure of Christ and the Ryedale Roman Bronzes, soon to go on display at the Yorkshire Museum in April 2022. She worked with City of York Council, stakeholders and the public to develop a compelling vision for York Castle Museum.

Reyahn has been a leading figure within the museum sector championing inclusion, diversity and equality. She has championed the inclusion of diverse and underrepresented artists within the public programme, with exhibitions such as Sounds Like Her and The Sea Is The Limit. and has led a significant internal inclusion, diversity and anti-racism culture change programme at York Museums Trust.

As chair of the York Cultural Leaders Group, Reyahn led the development of York’s Culture Strategy, which sets out to “create a more collaborative, higher-profile cultural city that truly benefits residents”.

Reyahn says: “It has been a joy and a privilege to lead the amazing staff at York Museums Trust and to be part of York’s cultural scene. I’m thrilled to be joining National Trust for Scotland at a time when NTS is doing such important work for Scottish culture, heritage and nature.”

James Grierson, York Museums Trust’s chair, says: “Reyahn has been a wonderful chief executive, modernising the organisation and culture of York Museums Trust, bringing in some great new talents, enriching our collections and staging some important and inspiring exhibitions.

“She led the leadership team’s highly professional response to the enormous challenges of the last couple of years and, notwithstanding the shadow the pandemic has caused, leaves the trust in good heart.

“The richness of experience she has had in York will, I am sure, be put to very effective use with the National Trust for Scotland and, while my fellow trustees and I will be sorry to lose her, Reyahn leaves behind a significant legacy, and one of the most exciting jobs in the sector, and I’m confident that her successor will be very well placed to take York Museums Trust on the next stage of its journey.”

Kaiser Chiefs band members at the December 2018 launch of their When All Is Quiet: Kaiser Chiefs In Conversation With York Art Gallery exhibition, winner of the Museums + Heritage Award for Partnership of the Year 

Phil Long, chief executive of the National Trust for Scotland, says: “The National Trust for Scotland’s portfolio of properties is the foundation of all that we do.  Caring for them also means caring for the stories of Scotland and enabling everybody to find out about and be inspired by our shared heritage.

“That’s why Reyahn’s appointment is so important for the trust and, given her track record of success with York Museums Trust and other organisations, we are delighted that she will be joining us to bring to the trust her experience and insight.”

Recruitment for Reyahn King’s successor in York will begin this spring.

Reyahn King: the back story

AS chief executive of York Museums Trust, Reyahn has strategic and operational responsibility for museums, an art gallery, botanic gardens, scheduled monuments and Museums Development Yorkshire.

Before moving to York, Reyahn had been head of the Heritage Lottery Fund West Midlands, director of art galleries at National Museums Liverpool and head of interpretation and exhibitions/masterplan at Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery.

Reyahn is an experienced leader who brings people together to develop new visions for culture and heritage. She is on the board of Culture Perth and Kinross and is thrilled to be returning to work in the country of her birth as the National Trust for Scotland’s director of heritage properties from this summer.

Passionate about diversity and equality, Reyahn began her career as a curator and programmer who produced exhibitions notable for their relevance to a wider, more diverse range of audiences, such as curating the ground-breaking Ignatius Sancho: An African Man Of Letters at the National Portrait Gallery, London.