DRAMA, stand-up comedy, live music and an exhibition from young local artists help make up a busy spring programme at Arts Centre Washington (ACW).

Theatre highlights include I, Malvolio, a one-man show written and performed by Tim Crouch. The show explores the character of Malvolio, the pompous manservant to Olivia in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Crouch’s irreverent and hilarious backstage expose picks up where Shakespeare left off. I, Malvolio is at ACW on Friday, February 15 and is suitable for ages 10 plus.

Later in February, ACW will host a completely different type of show – Woke, by Testament, a beatboxing, storytelling standup comedian and rapper.

Matt Blyth, Audience Development Officer, at ACW, explained: “Testament’s one-man show is about ‘wokeness’: the state of having one’s eyes opened to social justice issues. Hip hop, Testament’s livelihood and lifeblood, is about wokeness, he tells us in a freeflowing mix of narrative, rap, beatboxing and song.” Woke is at ACW on Wednesday, February 27.

Other theatre highlights include Odyssey, a hilarious new verse adaption of the most epic journey of all time (Wednesday, March 13), and The Time Machine, Stephen Cunningham’s fresh take on H.G. Wells’ legendary tale (Thursday, April 11).

There’s also drama aimed squarely at young people and families. First of all there’s Thief, Fox and Phoenix, the tale of a mischievous thief who, along with his friend the fox, goes on a quest to find the enchanted phonenix. Told through a fusion of aerial circus, dance, live singing and story-telling this is a show about the true meaning of friendship that the whole family can enjoy. Thief, Fox and Phoenix is at ACW on Friday, February 22.

Another family show is Chicken Licken: a TaleJam, the tale of a young chick who can’t decide what to do. The show is a musical storytelling experience, exploring an old fable in a new way with fun, fake news and feathers. Chicken Licken: a TaleJam is at ACW on Saturday, April 13.

The programme includes performances from two stand-up comedians – Anna Nicholson and Patrick Monahan. Anna’s show, Woman of the Year, is on Saturday, November 2, and was a sell-out show at Edinburgh Fringe. Patrick’s show, #Goals!, was also a hit at Edinburgh and will be performed on Friday, March 22.

As well as the popular, regular Davy Lamp Folk Club, held at ACW on the first Saturday of every month, the spring includes two top tribute bands. 10CCLO, who perform a brilliant repertoire of 10CC and ELO hits, are at the Centre for two evenings, Friday, March 8 and Saturday, March 9. Later in the same month, Sabbra Cadabra will perform the hits of Black Sabbath (Saturday, March 23).

A regular at ACW, the Youth Arts Exhibition, returns for its annual showing between Friday, February 1 and Saturday, March 9.

Matt explained: “The Youth Arts Exhibition has become a staple in our main Gallery’s calendar – each year we receive more and more high quality pieces of artwork from young people aged 11 – 19. This year we are changing things a little and asking young curators, supported by professionals, to select work for the best promising young artists aged 11-19 living in the city.  We will also have an online virtual art gallery featuring the work of all of the artists entering this year’s event.”

Another exhibition, A View From the Edge, will be at ACW between Thursday, March 21 and Saturday, May 4.

“This will be a really interesting exhibition,” said Matt. “A group of artists discover what a fresh start means to them. This is about the act of anticipating the future by understanding the past. This exhibition might shock, or might change your viewpoint, or even move you in some way. Whatever it does, it will make you think.

“Our varied programme has something for everyone and hopefully will prove popular with both regulars and newcomers,” he added.

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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.”