TABLETOP sounds like a modern art installation that has strayed from Gateshead's Baltic art gallery.

But today, hundreds of health experts from all over Britain will have the chance to look at a project that underlines the region's leading role in using art to promote health.

The Tabletop project is on show at a health conference at The Sage, Gateshead, which starts today.

It brings together 15 community groups across the region in an art project to highlight the value of families sitting down together and enjoying healthy meals.

Each of the groups has decorated a tabletop in their own distinctive way and when brought together, they form one large circular table.

The Tabletop project will be on display as part of a workshop run by Durham University's Centre for Arts and Humanities in Health and Medicine.

When it was set up in 2000, in an attempt to help produce more rounded medical graduates, the centre was the first of its kind in Britain.

But now, according to the centre's director, Dr Jane Macnaughton, there is greater interest than ever before in using the arts in medicine.

She said: "It is really mushrooming.

"There is now an association of medical humanities which links together all of the medical schools, and there are now three professors of medical humanities, including Durham."

The workshop will be attended by many of the 900 health professionals due to attend the annual conference of the UK Public Health Association.

Dr Macnaughton said that since the centre was established, many medical students studying at the Stockton campus of Durham University had broadened their outlook by working with community groups.

She said: "One of our students produced a portfolio of work based on watercolour paintings and another is a sculptor."