Remembering the bookshop which changed the face of arts in Sunderland

The Bookshop at NGCA

The Bookshop at NGCA

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As Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art turns 20, a new exhibition looks back to the bookshop which sparked its being.

Decades before NGCA opened on the top floor of the City Library in Fawcett Street, an independent bookshop in Frederick Street paved the way for Sunderland’s arts scene.

Some of the works on display

Some of the works on display

The Bookshop, which opened in 1969, would steer clear of mainstream books to sell conceptual writing and poetry. Founder Chris Carrell then began to publish and exhibit works by setting up Ceolfrith Gallery & Press.

This interest in trying to establish a wider audience through readings and exhibitions saw the development of Sunderland Arts Centre in 1971, which snowballed into NGCA opening in 1995.

Now a Bookshop has been set up in the Fawcett Street gallery to celebrate its past, where people can browse archival print material and books from the Coelfrith days and also buy recent publications on display.

Dawn Bothwell, a member of Circa Projects arts organisation, has been researching the history of the institution, which has helped to fuel the imagination of many forward-thinking artists.

“Though it’s the 20th anniversary of NGCA we wanted to look back at its roots,” she said. “We were interested in the history and what came before, which was The Bookshop in 1969. It was on a different site, but the organisation started there.

“Using the current site, we wanted to show people what it had been in 1969 and how much that bookshop transformed arts in Sunderland. It would have been easy to put on an archival show and put up old photos. But we decided to set up an actual bookshop. It’s come full circle because in 1969 Sunderland had hardly any independent bookshops and it doesn’t have any today after Hills closed.

“The Bookshop would sell books you can’t get in chain stores, books by independent publishers, art and poetry books.”

To mark The Bookshop, which will be in the Project Space at NGCA until January 23, there are a series of events taking place on Saturdays and Wednesdays.

Forthcoming screenings and events include:

•December 5 at 1pm - Zine workshop and performance by Fritz Welch

•December 9 at 5pm -Film screening and discussion, Amber Films: Today I’m With You

•December 19 at 1pm - Film screenings and discussion, Symbolism, Poetry and Censorship in Artists’ Film from Iran/UK. Selected with Mohsen Mousavi

•January 9 at 1pm - Zine-making and performance, Joe Posset and Dook

•January 13 at 5pm - Live performance, Underscore

•January 16 at 1pm - Zine-making print response to Twitter and Instagram residencies by Stacey Davidson

•January 20 at 5pm - Film screening Luke Fowler and Mark Fell: To the Editor of Amateur Photographer, a film commissioned by and about Pavilion in Leeds, and their roots in 1983 as a feminist photography centre

•January 23 at 1pm - In conversation event, Social Memory and the Landscape: Danni Harper in conversation with John Kippin and Patrick Low