THE continuing renaissance of Sunderland’s cultural sector today (Tuesday, March 12) received further impetus after confirmation the city has been chosen to host artwork from the acclaimed Arts Council Collection.

Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens will be one of only three galleries nationwide to present work from the Arts Council Collection as part of the National Partners Programme for 2019-2022.

The Arts Council is investing £1.65m into the programme, which will exhibit the collection over the three-year period. The collection includes work by Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry, Paula Rego, and Gillian Wearing.

Sunderland Council Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture, Councillor John Kelly, said: “This is a major coup for Sunderland and the region, building as it does on the city’s recent success in attracting the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition.

“We know that there’s a huge appetite for amazing art and culture in Sunderland and we’re delighted that the Arts Council have recognised that by including Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens in this three-year programme.”

Keith Merrin, Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture who will deliver the programme at the museum on behalf of Sunderland City Council, said: “We are delighted to be working with the Arts Council Collection to bring amazing works of art to audiences in Sunderland and the North East over the next three years.

“Bringing the Arts Council Collection to Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens is the latest installment in the resurgence of the city as a centre for arts and culture following hot on the heels of the reopening of the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art and the current Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition.

“We know our audiences will relish the opportunity to be inspired by the very best of modern and contemporary British art from the collection.”

Jane Tarr, Director, North, Arts Council England said: “Congratulations to Sunderland Culture on winning their bid to host the Arts Council National Collection. This is excellent news, not only for Sunderland, but for the whole of the North East. By having the Arts Council National Collection as the basis of a partnership programme at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens and across the City for the next three years, people who might otherwise never get a chance to see the Collection will be able to enjoy and engage with it.

“And it’s fitting the collection comes to Sunderland as it builds on unsung work spotting and developing talent over many years – Sunderland has been the first to show many artists who’ve gone on to build international reputations and its contemporary art scene goes from strength to strength.  I hope it will encourage more people to explore Sunderland and the North East, and to see first hand, not only the Arts Council National Collection, but the amazing culture offer we have here in the region.”

Graeme Thompson, Sunderland Culture Chair and Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sunderland added: “This amazing access to the national collection is the latest accolade to be awarded to Sunderland. From a University perspective it underlines the advantages to students studying arts and creative industries in a city which has such unparalleled access to artists, designers, makers and curators. And it brings another step change to the city’s culture-led revival.”

Funded by the National Lottery, the focus of the National Partners Programme is to increase the diversity and number of people experiencing the Arts Council Collection in England, and to support organisational development in regional art galleries.

The Arts Council Collection was founded in 1946 is the most widely circulated national loan collection of modern and contemporary British art in the world. The collection has played a valuable role in supporting galleries round the country through loans, touring exhibitions and curatorial skills. There are now over 8,000 works in the Collection, including paintings, sculptures, original, works on paper, prints and moving images.

The first National Partners Programme (2016-2019) has given galleries and museums in Liverpool, Birmingham and Eastbourne the opportunity to host the Collection.

For more information about the Arts Council Collection go to


We’re delighted to be working with The Tall Ships Races Sunderland 2018 team to produce a cultural programme set to thrill visitors.

The programme will feature a wide variety of art forms that will entertain visitors to the city during the visit of the Tall Ships, between Wednesday, July 11 and Saturday, July 14. Actors, musicians and dancers from across the UK and beyond will entertain people in event zones across the city in a programme funded by National Lottery through Arts Council England. Local artists will also be given a platform to perform.

Sunderland City Council’s Head of Events, Victoria French said: “The Tall Ships Races Sunderland 2018 gives the city an unmissable opportunity to host a wide variety of open-air performances to complement the magnificent vessels we will be welcoming to Sunderland. Thanks to support from Arts Council England we are able to present some fantastic national and international performances. Featuring music, dance and circus artists and culminating in an epic, large scale performance from Cirque Bijou on Friday night.”

Cirque Bijou, renowned for their spectacular and inspirational shows, will be delivering a dazzling performance as part of the festivities on Friday, July 13, when they will walk across the Wear. Artistic Director of Cirque Bijou, Billy Alwen, said: “The show we are making for The Tall Ships Races Sunderland will be one of the highlights of our year. We are bringing some of the finest wire walkers in Europe together with a local ensemble of singers and dancers to produce a unique show telling stories of Sunderland’s connection to the sea. It will be on a scale rarely seen in this country.”

Local artists Emma Bloomfield, Sophie Lisa Beresford, Penella Bee and Thomas Potts will perform throughout the event as part of the ‘Wearside Emerging’ project. Programme Producer for The Tall Ships Races Sunderland 2018, Helen Green, also said “We are delighted that, as part of the wider Tall Ships Cultural Programme, we are able to offer opportunities to local artists to take part in the festival. We have offered commissions to four Sunderland artists who will pop up in areas around the event zones. They range from breath taking trapeze performance to street dance, music to strolling theatre – and expect a surprise here and there.”

Further details of the exciting programme which also includes international performers as well as many from throughout the UK will be released nearer to the event.


A leading figure in Wearside’s burgeoning cultural sector has taken on a new role at the organisation responsible for building on the momentum created by Sunderland’s bid to become City of Culture.

Helen Green, who was appointed Director of The Fire Station last year having previously been Creative Director at Arts Centre Washington, has moved into the role of Sunderland Culture’s new Head of Performance.

Formally launched earlier this week (April 2) by Sunderland Council, the University of Sunderland and the MAC Trust, Sunderland Culture will strategically lead cultural venues, including The Fire Station, owned by its partners and develop and deliver large-scale cultural projects. It has National Portfolio Organisation status, which means it receives regular funding from Arts Council England.

Helen is the organisation’s third appointment after Keith Merrin was confirmed Sunderland Culture’s Chief Executive and Rebecca Ball its Creative Director.

“It’s an exciting role, a totally new challenge and a great opportunity at an important time in Sunderland’s cultural development,” explained Helen. “I’ll be responsible for the strategic overview of performing arts across the city at Sunderland Culture’s venues, including The Fire Station and Arts Centre Washington (ACW),” she added.

Manchester-born Helen started her career in the arts working on West End hit Starlight Express after studying an English degree in Birmingham. She went on to become General Manager at the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain in London before leading an arts venue in Edinburgh. She moved to the northeast in 2001 when she was appointed General Manager at Theatre Sans Frontieres in Hexham, before becoming Creative Director at ACW.

Helen was given the role of Director of The Fire Station early last year and as well as fulfilling that role has more recently been working on producing and delivering an arts and culture programme for the visit of the Tall Ships in July.

“My focus at the moment is on delivering the best possible programme to thrill local and national audiences coming to Sunderland to enjoy the spectacle of the Tall Ships. But I’m starting to think about programming exciting, challenging and appropriate performances for Sunderland Culture’s venues. I’d also like to build on the success of Sunderland Stages by looking to programme performances into places you wouldn’t normally associate with the arts,” said Helen.

“I also have ambitions to find the resources needed to commission work in the city, so we can not only bring the very best artists and performers into Sunderland, but we can also develop and promote local artistic talent. I think developing, encouraging and allowing local talent to grow will be a big part of my role,” she explained.

Work on the new 450-seater auditorium adjacent to The Fire Station is due to start later this year, with curtain up on the opening night being late next year or early 2020.

“I’m already contributing to planning for the opening season of the auditorium – it’ll be something special. Taking a broader view, I want to provide opportunities for the city’s wide range of community performing arts groups and I also see developing new audiences as a real priority.

“We need to make sure that performances appeal to both the heart and the head, intellectually and emotionally, that they make people think and feel. And of course, the performances must be for everyone in the city, appealing to all of our diverse communities. Hopefully, if we do that, and are giving platforms to local, national and international artists and performers, the audiences will follow.”

Keith Merrin welcomed Helen into her new role: “Helen’s appointment is another step forward – her knowledge and experience in a range of senior roles in the arts and culture sector will be an asset to Sunderland Culture, and she’ll bring an energy and dynamism to the important area of performance.”


We may have been pipped at the post for City of Culture but the transformation of Sunderland through arts and culture continues. We are still determined to build on the momentum that the bid created and raise the bar of the city’s cultural ambitions.

Friday 23rd March 2018 was an historic day for Sunderland and a pivotal one for the city’s cultural sector as we unveiled the next chapter of Sunderland’s cultural transformation and launched the cultural programme Twenty Four Seven.

Twenty Four Seven is an ambitious seven-year, £60m project that will take the city up to 2024. It will improve the city’s cultural profile and reputation, strengthen the city’s creative economy and increase the number of Wearsiders taking part in arts and culture. It has been built from the excitement, drive and imagination of everybody who took part in the City of Culture consultations and will incorporate the bid’s themes of Light, Friendship and Inventiveness. It will deliver much of what was in our bid plan.

The announcement came on the same day as Sunderland Culture officially re-opened the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art in its new 3,000sq ft space within National Glass Centre.The new gallery has been created with the support of University of Sunderland, Arts Council England and Sunderland City Council, and in its first 18 months it will celebrate British artists whose work has been created on continental Europe, bringing new audiences to contemporary art.

For the first exhibition, Fiona Crisp has been working with the Laboratori Nazionale del Gran Sasso in Italy to investigate the way in which we imagine the frontiers of fundamental science

Keith Merrin, Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture, said: “There’s never been a more exciting time to be involved in the arts on Wearside. Sunderland Culture recently secured £1.25m from the Great Place Scheme, and days ago we were awarded £745,000 in Arts Council England’s final round of Ambition for Excellence funding. This grant will deliver Believe in Me: Cathedrals to Creative Cities, a world-class visual arts project that will celebrate Wearside and unite the two cities of Durham and Sunderland.”

At the same time as Crisp’s Material Sight exhibition opened the NGCA, another new exhibition opened in the National Glass Centre’s main gallery. Young Artists is an exhibition created in collaboration with the Danish Gallery, Glasmuseet Ebeltoft, presenting the finest examples of work by international, early career artists working in glass. Both exhibitions are free to the public.


An ambitious bid has been launched to establish a new flagship cultural attraction in Sunderland following a call out to LEPs across the north of England from the £15m Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund.


The Wearside-based ‘National Centre for Imagination’ (NCI) was chosen from a strong pool of funding bids that came through to the North East LEP and aims to focus on young people’s creativity and imagination.

If successful the Centre will also include an institute of performing arts.

Andrew Hodgson, Chair of the North East LEP, said: “We received a very impressive set of bids to put forward for potential funding from the Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund.

“The entries we received clearly demonstrated the scale and ambition of emerging cultural projects right across the North East. The National Centre for Imagination particularly demonstrated a strong fit with the criteria set out by DCMS to create a lasting legacy of cultural regeneration.”

The two key goals of the fund are to:
• Encourage sustainable cultural and creative regeneration in the North of England
• Benefit areas of the North of England that have historically had low levels of cultural and creative investment.

Keith Merrin, Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture, the organisation behind the proposal and Sunderland’s bid to become City of Culture 2021, said the centre would unleash the imaginations of young people and stimulate their inventiveness.

“If we are successful in securing this funding, the National Centre for Imagination will be the headquarters of Inventors, the globally-successful programme devised by Sunderland-born artist, designer and inventor Dominic Wilcox. The NCI will also be home to DigiLab, where children and young people will have the opportunity to use emerging digital technologies to learn new skills and develop their ideas,” said Keith.

Plans include a provision for the upper floor of the NCI to be devoted to the University of Sunderland’s performing and creative arts provision, with the university working with leading practitioners and providers in the region.

“Having a stimulating, inspirational learning and development space for a range of cultural disciplines on the upper floor will help cement Sunderland’s place on the national, as well as regional, cultural map,” said Keith.

“It’s another stepping stone in raising the profile and image of the city’s overall cultural offer and further making the case for Sunderland to be UK City of Culture in 2021.”

Sunderland’s bid for £3m towards the £5m cost of the building is now in competition against ten other towns and cities bidding for part of the NCRF pot. It is understood up to four projects will be successful in their bids, with a decision due in March next year.

The NCRF fund was set up to ensure a lasting legacy for the Great Exhibition of the North, which will be held in Newcastle and Gateshead next summer. The £5 million government-funded exhibition will showcase the best of Northern art, design and innovation. The fund is also anticipated to pave the way for future investment in the Northern Powerhouse.

The NCI would be owned and operated by Sunderland Culture Ltd, the joint venture company established by Sunderland City Council, University of Sunderland and Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture Trust to deliver and manage Sunderland’s major cultural venues. Since its inception just over a year ago Sunderland Culture has attracted over £3.5m in new investment into the city for cultural activity over the coming four years.


Sunderland is celebrating after taking a huge step forward in its bid to become the next UK City of Culture 2021, making it through to the next stage of the competition.

Sunderland has made it to the final five in the hotly-contested competition and will now battle it out against other shortlisted cities, Coventry, Paisley, Stoke-On-Trent and Swansea. The bid, which was submitted at the end of April, was assessed by judges from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and they announced [this morning], that the city had made it to the final stage.

The team is now working on Sunderland’s second stage bid, which will be submitted in September, before the overall winner is announced in December.

Rebecca Ball, director of Sunderland 2021, said: “This is fantastic news for the city and we couldn’t have done it without the support from the people of Sunderland and the North East. It is down to their support and hard work that we have made it this far.”

She added: “It is a huge achievement to get to this stage of what has been an extremely competitive process. We are delighted to have come this far, but we don’t have time to be complacent; we are very much in it to win it and there is much to be done to prepare for the next stage of the competition.

“We wish all of the other shortlisted places the very best of luck as they develop their bids over the next few months.  The first stage bid submission was the culmination of months and months of hard work, so every single place that has thrown their hat in the ring deserves credit.”

The UK City of Culture title is designed to use culture as a catalyst for economic and social regeneration and to raise the profile of arts and creativity. It also helps cities develop a broader arts and culture sector, as well as attract increased business investment and boost tourism.

Winning City of Culture status could deliver a multi-million-pound boost to Sunderland. This year has seen 2017’s UK City of Culture Hull see £1billion in investment since winning the title in 2013. It is estimated Hull’s economy will see a £60million rise in this year alone.

Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “Sunderland has a unique energy and ambition, making it the perfect contender for UK City of Culture. From the New Wear Crossing, to the Vaux site development; from the regeneration of our seafront to the repurposing of buildings like the old Fire Station to prepare it for a new future, the city is undergoing unprecedented change, and this investment in infrastructure will be perfectly underpinned by a year of cultural celebration. Regardless of whether we win or lose, we have gained so much from this process.”

If Sunderland was to win, the benefits would last long beyond 2021, creating jobs and tourism opportunities throughout the area.

Shirley Atkinson, the University of Sunderland’s vice-chancellor, added: “The competition has the power to absolutely transform Sunderland’s destiny.  It will change the future for the city and the people who live and work here as well as those who visit.  A win for Sunderland would be a win for the whole of the North East.”

Paul Callaghan of the MAC Trust said: “Confidence in Sunderland has never been higher.  As a city, we are brimming with a pride and passion that runs in our veins.  Like so many people from Sunderland, I am immensely proud of our city and I do think we have a great chance of bringing this accolade to Sunderland in 2021.

“Reaching the final of this competition is absolutely incredible, and is huge testament to the Sunderland 2021 team, all of those who have worked alongside them to develop the first-stage bid, and most importantly, to the people of Sunderland and the North East, whose enthusiasm has shone through since we announced our intention to go for this title.

“We’ll need more of the same to ensure we are front of mind when the judges come to select a winning city, so we’ll celebrate that we have been shortlisted today, and the hard work will begin again tomorrow.”

Sunderland declared its intention to bid in the early part of 2016. The bid was written by a team from Sunderland, Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust, the University of Sunderland and Sunderland City Council, who have since formally come together as Sunderland Culture, a company set up to oversee the bid, run major city attractions and deliver large-scale cultural projects in the city.  It will also raise the profile of the city’s arts provision and manage programming for the city’s cultural sector.

Keith Merrin, chief executive of Sunderland Culture said: “Making it this far in such a tough competition gives our city renewed confidence, and I think we can be incredibly proud of what we have achieved.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but winning this title would put Sunderland firmly in the cultural spotlight, kick-starting a period of growth and creating a calendar of exciting cultural and artistic events, the Sunderland 2021 team is going to be working really hard as we prepare for the final stage submission in September.”