Sunderland’s Fire Station appoints new Director

SUNDERLAND’S newest cultural venue has a new boss.

Tamsin Austin, currently Head of Contemporary Music at Sage in Gateshead, has been appointed by Sunderland Culture to lead the team at The Fire Station, the new £11m development under construction in Sunderland’s city centre.

Originally from the North West, Tamsin was a founding member of the senior management team at Sage Gateshead, where she led on contemporary music for 17 years. She contributed significantly to creating the signature musical programme that established Sage as an internationally-recognised music venue.

She said: “I am delighted to have been invited to lead the team at the Fire Station at such an exciting time for culture in Sunderland. I have watched the cultural landscape unfold in Sunderland over the past few years and there is a huge amount of energy, will and purpose there.

“It is an ambitious city with deep musical roots and a rich family of musicians, cultural leaders, entrepreneurs, and audiences who are hugely invested in the new venue, which will become a new home and community hub for live music and arts in the heart of the city.”

Presenting a wide range of music, theatre, comedy and dance, the auditorium will seat 460 and have capacity for 800 people standing, as well as an outdoor performance space that will allow socially-distanced events. The new venue is being delivered by Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust and will be run by Sunderland Culture.

It has been designed by award-winning architects Flanagan Lawrence, with fixtures, technology and equipment specified by international acoustic experts Idibri and is being built by Sunderland-based Brims Construction.

Tamsin added: “The Fire Station is a beautifully-designed auditorium and its flexibility will give great scope for a diverse and exciting programme of live concerts, festivals, theatre, dance and comedy, and will delight local people as well as put Sunderland on the map nationally and internationally. I’m so excited to be joining the team.”

Tamsin moved to the North East in 1991 to study Performing Arts, majoring in Music, at the University of Northumbria. She worked as an artists’ agent and a freelance music programmer before spending five years programming the iconic Glaswegian venue The Arches. She joined Sage from there in 2004.

During her time at Sage she was responsible for booking more than 4,000 concerts, including international names such as Nick Cave, James Brown, Pet Shop Boys, Laurie Anderson, Sting, Roisin Murphy, MIA, Randy Newman and Solomon Burke, and developed a strong worldwide network of contacts across the arts, music and broadcast industry. Tamsin also founded and developed the annual SummerTyne Americana Festival that attracts more than 12,000 people.

“My challenge at Sage Gateshead was to build the contemporary music programme from scratch and develop an integrated programming, promoting and producing model there, built on great relationships with artists and the music industry and this is what we’ll be doing at The Fire Station. Sunderland is a city that loves its music and it helps that there are so many people invested in making the venue a success,” she said.

“I’m already thinking about the opening programme, which will be challenging because of Covid. We’ll need flexible plans because of the uncertainty over when we’re going to be able to welcome audiences. But we will be creative and find ways to welcome artists and audiences, whatever restrictions are in place.”

Rebecca Ball, Creative Director at Sunderland Culture, said: “Tamsin has unrivalled experience and networks in music. We’re thrilled she’s joining us.

“The Fire Station will be a major cultural asset for everyone in the city and in Tamsin we have the right person to exploit its flexibility and ensure we have programmes to do the venue justice. This appointment, and the opening of The Fire Station is another milestone in establishing the city as a major centre for arts and culture.”

Paul Callaghan, Chair of the MAC Trust, said: “We are delighted that Tamsin is joining Sunderland Culture as Venue Director. She is undoubtedly one of the best contemporary music programmers in the country.

“Over nearly two decades, she has been responsible for bringing to the North East many of the world’s finest musicians and helping to create some of the most successful festivals and events the region has ever seen.

“She shares our exciting vision for the cultural future of Sunderland and the North East and I’m sure she will deliver an ambitious, creative and highly entertaining programme that will not only include outstanding national and international performers but also showcase the region’s own superb home-grown talent.”

The auditorium is part of the wider Fire Station development, supported by Sunderland City Council, Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which has transformed an Edwardian fire station in High Street West into an artistic and cultural hub, housing The Engine Room bar and bistro, drama studio, dance studio and a heritage exhibition space. Last month it was announced the venue had been granted £1.38m from the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund to help reduce the impact of Covid.

It was also confirmed that the National Lottery through Arts Council England had given MAC Trust, in partnership with Sunderland Culture, a grant of £149,368 towards Fire Starters, an exciting pre-opening programme for The Fire Station. Tamsin’s appointment has also been supported via this grant, which will fund performances across Wearside mark the venue’s opening.

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