Empty Sunderland city centre building to become 'North East's best looking gallery'
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The Athenaeum building, which stands at the corner of Fawcett Street and Athenaeum Street, was first opened in 1841 by the Literary and Philosophical Society.
Later rebuilt in 1900 with ground floor shops and first floor offices, the building has since been home to several businesses, including a nightclub and an Italian restaurant.
Now, arts organisation Breeze Creatives is redeveloping part of The Athenaeum building on Fawcett Street, with plans to open its new gallery and studio space this summer.
It will house the arts company’s main gallery, after it recently moved out of Bamburgh House in Newcastle city centre. It will also be home to 40 artists’ studios, available to those in the creative sectors, such as visual arts, writing, game design and video arts.
Zoe Breeze, who runs the organisation alongside Alex Breeze and Daniel Gibson, said she the transformed Victorian building will be the “best looking gallery in the North East.”
She said: “I’m excited to work in Sunderland as I feel like a lot of things are just starting here. It’s the perfect location, and I honestly think it’s going to be the best looking gallery in the North East.
“It wasn’t an easy task to take on, as the building was like an old brick shell with walls falling down and hardly any floors. So, the whole thing had to be completely renovated, but everyone at the council has been mega supportive in terms of making this happen.
“The first day we were due to start work on the redevelopment was actually the first day of the first lockdown. We’ve been so staggered by Covid, even with bringing artists over as no one could travel or send their work. However, we now have creatives moving into the studios and hope for the gallery to be open this summer.”
The gallery, which will have a predominantly international focus, will welcome artists from around the world to showcase their work and inspire residents and visitors to the city.
Alex Breeze said: “There will be six shows per year, each lasting between four to six weeks. The first year is going to be more installation led shows that are interactive, so when you come into the space, you’ll be able to navigate it differently than a traditional gallery.
“We have worked with Sunderland Culture to organise upcoming shows and are looking forward to welcoming a Chinese artist based here in the UK, who creates a lot of projections and interesting work. We also have a Canadian artist who will be showcasing an installation of a Mongolian slum in the gallery space, with all of the smells and smoke to create a really interactive experience.”
Zoe added: “We also hope to run workshops and bring back the old public lecture series that would have been here when it used to be the Literary and Philosophy Building in Sunderland."