Centre will be a glass act again

MANAGING the National Glass Centre was always going to be a hard job.

The challenge of reconciling all its local and national roles and partners - as it sought to be a gallery, museum, hi-tech interactive attraction, school, and a home for several businesses - claimed its first victim before it had even opened its doors.

Shiona Airlie, the centre's first chief executive and a passionate advocate for this extraordinary and ambitious venture, resigned while the builders still had their scaffolding up.

But six years on and five chief executives later, the role of glass centre boss has become immeasurably more difficult.

Katherine Pearson, whose appointment has just been announced, also has to overcome six years of setbacks, crises and mostly, bad publicity.

That she took the job nevertheless is a testament not only to her courage and conviction, but also to the undimmed potential of the place.

"It's going to be a tough job, of course it is, but there are enough people who are absolutely committed to getting it right," she says.

"And it's because of that, that it's not an impossible challenge. It will be extremely hard work, but that's a given."

Despite the accumulated disappointments and frustrations of the last six years, she reckons now is actually a very good time to take over.

The fact that Arts Council England has coughed up 500,000 to revamp the place, and that there is the prospect of more cash to be had, means that the centre could be about to turn the corner.

Katherine Pearson has worked in Sunderland arts since 1993 and has watched the National Glass Centre suffer several false dawns. She remains optimistic.

"It's a fantastic opportunity and I am absolutely convinced of the potential of the National Glass Centre.

"If I was not convinced of the opportunity to really establish it as a significant venue for culture and creativity around glass, I would not have been interested in this job.

"I think because of the Arts Council recovery plan, we have an opportunity to reframe what the glass centre does and offers."

She believes the glass centre really can be all things to all people, whether they be students, primary school children, artists, would-be glass-makers, tourists, diners, or vase collectors.

She states: "We need to be very clear as to what we are offering and to diversify the range of people we are targeting.

"Whatever the reason for coming here, the experience has got to be something really special."