A unique approach to managing and developing cultural venues has been unveiled in Sunderland.

A new company has been set up to run major city attractions including National Glass Centre and the Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens.  The new venture – which will also oversee Sunderland’s bid for UK City of Culture in 2021 – has been hailed as an innovative model for cultural leadership.

Sunderland Culture has been formed by the University of Sunderland, the city council and Sunderland Music Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust which is developing a new cultural quarter behind the Sunderland Empire.

The company will manage and operate major cultural venues owned by the three partners, and develop and deliver large-scale cultural projects. It will also raise the profile of the city’s arts provision and manage programming for the city’s cultural sector.

Board directors from the three partner organisations have been joined by five independent board members to govern the activities of the new venture.

The newly-appointed independent trustees are: David Roberts from Manchester-based igloo regeneration; Andrew MacKay, director of the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery Trust in Cumbria; Annabel Turpin, chief executive of the ARC arts centre in Stockton; Iraa Kadchha, director of Sunderland-based RGB Media and Gillian Miller, regional director of the Association of Colleges.

They join six trustees appointed by the company’s founding partners. Representing Sunderland City Council are Fiona Brown, Executive Director of People Services and Coun John Kelly, Cabinet Member for Public Health, Wellness and Culture. Representing the MAC Trust are John Mowbray OBE, High Sheriff of Tyne and Wear and Paul Callaghan CBE, who is chair of the Leighton Group. Representing the university are chief operating officer Steve Knight and Graeme Thompson

Chief executive of Arts Council England Darren Henley welcomed the new company, which will pioneer a fresh approach to cultural provision: “Sunderland Culture is an innovative model for place-based cultural development and leadership.

“And it is good to see its establishment growing with the appointment of this experienced board. At the Arts Council we’re very keen to continue working in partnership with them, together with the independent culture and heritage organisations in the city, in support of the ambitious and exciting plans for culture in Sunderland over the next few years.”

The director of the university-owned National Glass Centre Keith Merrin will be the new company’s chief executive.

Keith said: “This new model for cultural support and governance is a first in the country and has attracted interest from arts and culture organisations across the UK. This is a very exciting period for the city.”

Graeme Thompson Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of Sunderland is the new company’s chair. He commented: “The establishment of the company and recruitment of such a strong board of directors marks a step-change in the artistic and cultural life of the city. The company will build on the excellent work done by the Sunderland Cultural Partnership and provide strong leadership and a voice for the city’s expanding arts sector.

“The company will generate income through its venues and related activities. It will also serve as a central vehicle for fundraising and will bid to access funds from a range of sources.”

The culture company will also receive funding from its three founding partners and aims to attract millions of pounds of investment to the city over the next few years.

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