Over the last four weeks, we’ve been sharing the blogs from three young people who were successfully selected to take part in our work experience insight with Sunderland Culture in April.
For the final blog we hear from Anya, a Year 12 student from Houghton who attends Durham Sixth Form Centre. Read on as she talks about her time at Art Centre Washington and what they got up to!
Entering the final day of one of the most important and insightful experiences of my life, myself and the two people that had grown to be my friends were unsure whether to feel excited to explore this new venue or sad that our placement was coming to an end. Nonetheless, I was excited to visit a place that I regularly populated as a child and learn more about the strong collective of workers that stood behind it.
Today, we were at Arts Centre Washington, a small venue in comparison to other cultural hubs that Sunderland Culture has to offer, yet still equally vast in opportunities to be creative and have fun.
The day began with a tour of the site in its entirety, where markings of a deep and colourful history were revealed. What used to be a 19th century farm was now a beloved piece of the neighbouring communities of Washington and beyond.
Upon arrival we were greeted by the staff that possessed the essential skills within their role; easy going, reliable and full of pride for the cultural venue they worked for.
After a brief tour of the intimate yet spacious grounds, an impressive 120-seat theatre was revealed alongside a courtyard lined with old stables, now occupied by workshops ranging from art to music. Alongside this was also a cafe, gallery and an old barn of the original farm – now a commodious function room which was under renovation during our visit. We also learned of other new developments that were planned, such as a lift for accessibility – providing proof of care and attention to everyone.
After reading through the ‘What’s On’ leaflet which was placed in abundance at the main reception for all members of the public to peruse, I learnt of the activities on offer, including creative workshops for all ages, theatrical and musical performances, yoga, salsa classes and even a craft market for individuals to profit from the work that would no doubt additionally act as a method of therapy and escape.
Before noon we had already been given a strong impression on the importance of places like this and what they provide to people from all backgrounds.
In the open-plan gallery located at the heart of the mutli-disicplinary venue, an exhibition called ‘Amra Shobhai Aikhaney – We Are Here’ was on display, featuring installations by members of Sunderland Women’s Art Group. The work featured was rich in diversity, offering the colours, textures and artistic processes from women from places like Ukraine, Pakistan and many more.
Seeing this exhibition was truly inspiring in that it displayed a perceptiveness and acceptance for such important groups like Sangini, allowing for their work and message to be seen by all people.
“Without places like Washington Arts Centre, such voices may never be projected in such a touching and communal light.”
A piece that stuck out to me in particular was “The Queen Flower” by Enying Yang. The artwork was produced by Yang for her daughter Lije Zhang. The ubiquitous power of motherly love was what drew me to this piece, suggesting that for many the first figure of feminine power is that of your mother – with no bounds on location, religion, gender or age. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to view such an important collection of artwork.
In the afternoon, we got the opportunity to attend a session with Creative Age – a group designed for people living with dementia, long term health conditions or social isolation and their carers. The close-knit group of about 15 people have been meeting weekly since 2016 for 2-hour long arts and crafts sessions, with a break in the middle for tea and cake. It was nice to learn that any kind of fee was voluntary, removing economic barriers from the most vulnerable and isolated of individuals. During this session they were finalising a stop-motion animation video produced by themselves in small groups or pairs.
I was able to take part in the completion of a piece by a trio of attendees that had to miss out on this session, making sure that they were still included in the pieces that were to be shown in an upcoming exhibition showcasing the art pieces created by the group. After speaking to a woman that attended with her husband who had dementia, we learnt from a very heartwarming conversation that the Creative Age acted as a place to laugh and have fun with friends and release periods of stress and confinement – emotions that often come from being a carer.
“For me, knowing that Sunderland Culture is so passionate about letting all people feel involved was a comforting thought when considering the importance of the golden-aged people in my life.”
As the session went on we learnt of other projects that had been in the past, including a glass fusion workshop that helped a build up of stock for a craft market at the venue. Although the very notable earnings of £800 were impressive, it was worth nothing in weight compared to the friends that were made of the group over the past 6 years (and counting).
Subsequent to this, we got an introduction to the highly organised booking systems that allowed for the seamless flow of the bountiful events and activities on offer from Tuesday to Saturday. The woman who introduced us to this explained thoughtful acts of precautions in situations of closure or cancellation, keeping the quality of communication to the highest of levels.
From start to finish this week has been truly eye-opening to me, seeing the people that truly sell themselves to the conservation of Sunderland’s vast culture.
I want to wish the earnest of thanks to all involved in keeping this city as colourful as it has been and will always be. In a world where the future ever seems to be a consequence of the past, I have been overfilled with the abatement of seeing that people really do care about this place that we all call home. This opportunity has opened the door to the next generation of leaders within the field of creativity to keep art universal, always.
Thank you Sunderland Culture!
If you’re interested in applying to be part of this unique opportunity, our next work experience runs from July 18th-21st 2023. Deadline for applications is 2nd June 2023. Please follow the link: https://sunderlandculture.org.uk/about-us/opportunities/