Huge light festival and hip hop show to celebrate Sunderland's heritage in 2023

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A light festival is among the visual spectacles planned to celebrate Sunderland’s rich heritage.

Award-winning arts project The Cultural Spring has commissioned two large-scale events to honour the city’s industrial heritage.

Work on the two commissions has already started and both events will take place in the autumn, after months of preparation involving Wearside communities.

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Award-winning folk and hip hop dance company Breaking Tradition will bring people from across the city together to create one of the commissions, a musical and visual extravaganza that will celebrate the cultural heritage of Sunderland.

Sara Blackburn with one of her creationsSara Blackburn with one of her creations
Sara Blackburn with one of her creations

Damien Barber, lead singer with folk band The Demon Barbers and Laura Connolly, a community musician and clog dancer based in South Tyneside, will be leading the project.

Damien said: “We are looking for enthusiastic groups and individuals who would like to share their interests, anything from playing an instrument, dancing, or singing, to their memories of living in Sunderland and stories of days gone by.”

Damien and Laura will be looking for participants to take part in music and dance workshops, which will take place in May and June when everyone will be welcome. Dates and venues for the workshops will be confirmed over the next few weeks.

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The second commission, a light festival, will be delivered by artist Sara Blackburn in October.

Underneath The Stars. Photo by Bryan LedgardUnderneath The Stars. Photo by Bryan Ledgard
Underneath The Stars. Photo by Bryan Ledgard

Sara explained: “My concept is to deliver a light-based event which features artwork created by, and for, key community groups in Sunderland. Over the next few months through participatory workshops and skills sessions we will create a series of light sculptures that share a common theme of the environment and the natural world.

“Each piece will be created with individuals and groups each making key elements of the sculptures. These pieces will then come together to create several impressive lit artworks.

“I’m particularly excited about working with groups who may not otherwise be engaged in the arts and I look forward to helping them bring out their creative side. I will also be working with art students to co-create some ambitious pieces, with the intention of developing their own practice and future career.

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“I will be connecting with a range of groups through consultation workshops to explore which activities, art forms and themes speak loudest to them, with the additional intention of identifying ways of increasing participation and inclusivity, and breaking down barriers around accessibility to the arts.

“The project will culminate in a two-day event in October, when the pieces will be displayed in an outdoor space. This will offer additional opportunities for audiences to add to the artwork.”

The Cultural Spring announced last year that it would fund research and development projects which could be developed into large-scale productions.

Emma Horsman, Project Director of The Cultural Spring, explained: “We were looking for projects which could scale up, but our priority was to ensure the projects would be co-created with local residents – and that’s exactly what Breaking Tradition and Sara’s projects will do. They both have community participation at their heart.

“Wearside communities will be involved in the creation, development and realisation of what is produced.”