WELCOME to the all-new National Glass Centre.
Today, the Echo gets a first glimpse inside the venue before it reopens on Saturday after a £2.3million revamp.
The aim is to create an internationally recognised arts venue on a par with the likes of the Baltic in Gateshead.
Art curators from across the UK today gave their views on the new gallery, while city leaders say the centre will continue to offer something for Wearside families to enjoy and be proud of.
Exhibition space has doubled, helping create a series of galleries providing temporary homes to some of the world’s leading glass and ceramic artists.
And a permanent exhibition will tell the story of glassmaking in the city.
With arts students from the University of Sunderland based there, the venue will also be a living, breathing workshop for glass making.
Visitors will be able to watch the creation process as work is carried out in the Hot Glass Studio.
Graeme Thompson, Dean of Arts, Design and Media, and the University of Sunderland, said: “Nobody who walks through these doors can fail to be impressed by the ambience and importance of this palace of glass.
“It is a truly light experience coming in here and whichever part of the building you stand in, provides something different.
“The heritage gallery that has been created tells the story of glass in Sunderland in a very accessible and interesting way. This story of how Sunderland established itself as the centre of world glass manufacturing is fascinating.
“This centre shows the city continues to be an international leader in the innovation of glass through the students and academics here.”
As well as creating an elite arts venue, bosses are keen to make it more accessible to more local people with a series of workshops and summer activities.
Venue director James Bustard said: “Some people come here just to sit and enjoy the building, which is fine too.”
City leaders are hoping the centre will be firmly placed on the tourist map.
Councillor John Kelly, Sunderland City Council’s cabinet member for public health, wellness and culture, said: “National Glass Centre is another fantastic tourist and visitor attraction for Sunderland, which will complement the museums, galleries and architectural reminders of our cultural heritage.
“This is an exciting time for this part of our riverside, and we hope that the centre will help attract even more people to an area which is such an important part of both our city’s future and its proud past.”
Centre will now be ‘major cultural destination’
Art experts from some of the UK’s leading museums and galleries today praised the work that has transformed the centre.
Godfrey Worsdale, director of Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, said: “It will be tremendous to have a rejuvenated National Glass Centre open in the region again.
“As a place of cultural learning and engagement National Glass Centre will make an increasingly important contribution as one of the key institutions that is able to bring together art, the creative industries and higher education.”
Reino Liefkes, senior curator and head of the ceramics and glass collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, said: “Congratulations to James Bustard and his team on the opening of the completely renewed National Glass Centre.
“The new centre, with its vastly increased state of the art exhibition spaces and a very exciting exhibitions programme, has all the potential to become a major cultural destination, attracting people from across the UK to Sunderland and contributing to the regeneration of the area.
“A permanent exhibition pays tribute to Sunderland’s rich glass heritage while the inaugural Erwin Eisch exhibition is a must for anyone interested in 20th century glass art.”