Sunderland to bid to be UK City of Culture 2021

Sunderland to bid to be UK City of Culture in 2021

Sunderland is to bid to be UK City of Culture in 2021.

But what is a UK City of Culture, what does it mean to those who have been or will be a city of culture and what can Sunderland offer in their bid to be UK City of Culture?

The idea of the UK City of Culture comes from Liverpool's time as European City of Culture in 2008. Deemed a huge success Liverpool saw increases in cultural participation, one third of which was local. Economy and tourism also increased with 10 million more visits to Liverpool, bringing £754 million to the city. Liverpool also saw benefits from an increased cultural vibrancy that was more wide ranging than its usual focus of popular music and the built environment. During this time the image and perception of Liverpool became less polarised in the media with coverage of Liverpool as European City of Culture being overwhelming positive. From Liverpool’s success the idea of a UK City of Culture was taken up by the government.

The first UK City of Culture was Derry-Londonderry in 2013. Similar benefits to those of Liverpool have been cited for Derry-Londonderry including that 'it has established the city on the international cultural map' and 'has built self-confidence within the community'.

Hull will be the second UK City of Culture in 2017 and 'it is estimated that being the UK City of Culture 2017 will deliver a £60million boost to their local economy in 2017 alone. The title is also anticipated to leave a lasting legacy creating a more vibrant, sustainable cultural sector; improved quality of life for local people and increased access to tourism and cultural sector jobs in Hull'.

Over a number of years Sunderland has seen its cultural offer increase. On the banks of the River Wear stands the National Glass Centre which was built in 1998 and had a £2.3 million refurbishment in 2013. In the centre of the city The Empire Theatre reopened in 2004 after a £4.5 million refurbishment allowing it to present large West End shows. Sunderland Museum, in the very heart of the city and sitting on the edge of Mowbray Park, gained a new Winter Garden and improved facilities in 2001 through a £3.75 million Lottery funded investment. The regeneration of St Peter’s Wharf has created riverside walks that include a Sculpture Trail designed to reflect the city's cultural and industrial heritage. These same riverside walks include the national Coast to Coast cycle path which ends at Roker.

Ongoing investment in the city includes the regeneration of the coast line which has revived the seafront's cultural heritage by taking inspiration from its built and natural environment. The completion of Keel Square has created a large public area with heritage works that celebrate the city's history of shipbuilding. About 100 metres from Keel Square and close to the Empire Theatre is what is known locally as the 'Old Fire Station'. An historic and iconic building which is undergoing refurbishment into a cultural centre after the local MAC Trust received £2.4 million in Heritage Lottery Funding.

Future investment will include £545,000 of Heritage Lottery funding in the iconic Roker Pier and £258,000 of Arts Council England and National Lottery funding in Arts Centre Washington which provides a mixed programme of music, theatre, dance and comedy.

The National Glass Centre and the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art both hold major exhibitions of work by cutting edge contemporary artists. Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens has on permanent display significant works by both contemporary and classic artists including the largest collection of Lowry's outside of Manchester. Sunderland Museum has also hosted major exhibitions including 'The Vanity of Small Differences' by Grayson Perry in 2013, the BP Portrait Awards from the National Portrait Gallery in 2014 and will exhibit 'A Regatta on the Grand Canal' by Canaletto from the National Gallery later this year.

While Sunderland Empire have brought West End shows such as the Lion King, War Horse and Wicked other theatres in the city such as the Royalty Theatre and Arts Centre Washington have regular productions that include both a mix of the new and the old, with work from new playwrights and reworking of more established plays. Arts Centre Washington also provides an eclectic mix of exhibitions, dance and comedy some of which appear at other venues in the city under the recently established Sunderland Stages project which aims to bring performances across the length and breadth of Sunderland.

Individual cultural initiatives have also sprung up over the last few years not least of which is Pop Recs Ltd ran by local band Frankie and the Heartstrings. Occupying a shop in the city centre Pop Recs Ltd is a cafe, record store, exhibition space for Sunderland artists working in photography and a music venue that has attracted some of the biggest names in the alternative music scene.

The music scene is also well supported in the Independent which provides live music and is also beginning to play host to theatre, comedy and dance. In the same building as the Independent, Holmeside Coffee which is ran by local band the Lilliputs, holds a number of cultural events including monthly art exhibitions from the recently established Solo Arts Project.

Other individual cultural initiatives include street art from Frankie Styles whose workshop is in the Sunniside area; an area that is also home to a number of fine artists including the organisation Creative Cohesion which provides space for artists and facilities for hot glass work.

Working with others the Cultural Spring has brought an arts and culture programme that has spanned both nearby South Tyneside and Sunderland. The programme has included weekend festivals of music, comedy, dance and art, the commissioning of street art by internationally known street artists and collaboration with the BBC in the live broadcast of their Great North Passion a local interpretation of the Passion through dance, song, poetry and visual arts.

More recently established is the Sunderland Cultural Partnership. The partnership involves the University of Sunderland, the Arts Council and Sunderland City Council and the aims of the organisation is to coordinate, facilitate, plan and promote a new vision for arts and culture in the city.

With what is already established at every level, the work that is currently in progress and in place for the future and the organisational structures that are there, Sunderland looks well placed to be UK City of Culture in 2021.

Find out more about the UK City of Culture.

The image is the National Glass Centre situated at St Peter's Wharf on the banks of the River Wear.

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Did you know?

Mowbray Park in Sunderland city centre is one of the oldest parks in the North East. Restored to its former Victorian splendour, it has an intriguing array of art works.

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