Empty Sunderland city centre building to become 'North East's best looking gallery'

An empty city centre building is being transformed into a gallery and studio space, which is set to welcome artists from around the globe.

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.

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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.

The Athanaeum building is being transformed

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.

(l-r) Daniel Gibson, Director of Breeze Creatives, Cllr Graeme Miller, Leader of Sunderland City Council, Alex Breeze, Director of Breeze Creatives inside The Athenaeum building.

“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.”

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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.”

The Athenaeum building is to be turned into an art venue.
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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."

“I love the idea of kids and young people seeing something that is completely out of their normal remit and being impressed and inspired by something so big. Hopefully it inspires people to stay within the arts and creative areas, but also to show people an alternative and that there’s more than just certain jobs to go for in life.

“The more culture we have in the city the better. I think it will bring excitement to the arts and add to the diversity of art that people have exposure to in the North East. It’s so important to keep it in the city centre too, where people might just accidentally see us and pop in for five minutes to see something completely different.”

The redevelopment has been made possible through support and partnership with Sunderland City Council, Creative Culture Trust CIO and Social Investment Business.

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The building will house a gallery and studios

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “We’re delighted to welcome Breeze Creatives to Sunderland and look forward to seeing the diverse range of art they will bring to the city from around the world.

“Sunderland is transforming, and with continued investment into our city centre, as well as our heritage and historic buildings like The Athenaeum, local creatives, residents and visitors alike can enjoy all that we have to offer.

“We’re thrilled to have supported the redevelopment of this new gallery and studio complex and believe it will add to the cultural excellence of our city and be a great addition alongside the new Culture House and Auditorium.”

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