Sunderland Culture appoints a new Chair

SUNDERLAND Culture has a new Chair of Trustees.

Jane Earl, who had a successful career in local and national government, and the arts, has succeeded Graeme Thompson who had chaired the organisation since its inception in 2016.

Jane grew up in Sunderland, attending Monkwearmouth Academy in Seaburn Dene before studying a law degree at Leicester University.

She started her career in the legal department of the Central Electricity Generating Board before entering the world of local government.

She worked for several local authorities across the South East including Elmbridge, the London Borough of Hounslow and Reading Borough Council, where she became assistant chief executive. She was appointed Chief Executive of Wokingham Unitary Council in 1999 and in 2003 became Director or the Assets Recovery Agency, a new department set up by the Home Office to recover criminals’ ill-gotten gains.

“I was able to write the best mission statement I’ve ever written: ‘making bad people miserable,’” Jane joked.

After four years there, she left to establish a wide portfolio of non-executive roles, including at Cifas, the Legal Service Board and several housing organisations.

In 2010, Jane was appointed Chief Executive of Rich Mix, an arts centre in Shoreditch, East London, while remaining on the board for several arts organisations including Opera Close Up and Fantasy High Street. She is also a trustee for several faith organisations.

“My passion for the arts was ignited in Sunderland. When I was 14, Northern Arts gave out a book of green vouchers that gave you 15p off the price of a ticket at the Sunderland Empire. That was where I first saw opera, and was hooked,” Jane said.

“Through my work at Rich Mix and my board experiences at other arts organisations I’m aware of the power of the arts to enhance and change lives. I’m thrilled to have been appointed Chair of Sunderland Culture and have been so impressed by the unique and successful partnership between the council, the university and the MAC Trust which established the organisation.

“So much has been achieved, but there is potential for so much more to be explored. Sunderland is rightly gaining attention for what is happening in the city, but there is so much more to come – we want the city to be a beacon of the arts nationally. And it’s really impressive to see the way the city has changed and grown from the memories I have of shipyards on the banks of the Wear to the world-class education investment in the University which is now so visible.

“We want Sunderland to be in the Premier League of the arts world – and it can be!”

She thought her background in both the arts and local government would be beneficial in her new role: “As a former Chief Executive of an arts organisation, and a local council I know about the pressures and challenges and how hard it can be for all types of organisations. But I also know how exciting it can be and the impact the work can have on local communities.”

Jane was quick to praise the work done by her predecessor: “Graeme is going to such a tremendously hard act to follow. He’s steered Sunderland Culture from its launch and the City of Culture bid to where it is now, and the city should be grateful to him. I’ve been very impressed by his skills and knowledge and he’s been so helpful in introducing me to people across the city.”

Graeme, who is Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of Sunderland, said: “I’m delighted Jane is the new Chair of Sunderland Culture. She brings a wealth of experience across local government, Whitehall and the cultural sector and I look forward to working with her on the board.”

Coun Linda Williams, Sunderland City Council’s Cabinet member for Vibrant City, said: “Jane brings a wide range of leadership experience from the arts and culture sectors and, on behalf of everyone across the city, we welcome her as Chair of the Sunderland Culture Board.

“The cultural and visitor economy are an important part of our city and in recent years we’ve attracted growing numbers of residents and visitors to events, exhibitions and other attractions. We are all very determined to continue raising the profile of our cultural venues, events and programme and we look forward to working with Jane and Sunderland Culture on achieving this.”

Sunderland Culture was founded through a partnership between Sunderland City Council, University of Sunderland and Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust. It is both a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity.

Its mission is to ‘improve life for everyone in Sunderland through culture’ and the organisation works across five venues owned by its partners. These include Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (NGCA), National Glass Centre, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, Arts Centre Washington, and The Fire Station.

Sunderland Culture also works with local, national and international artists and organisations to deliver a citywide cultural programme in community settings all over Sunderland and the surrounding area.

Jane’s first meeting as Chair will be at the organisation’s March board meeting.

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