Arts project will bring Sunderland and Durham together

Sunderland's National Glass Centre
Sunderland's National Glass Centre

An ambitious new project will unite the River Wear's two cities.

Arts group Sunderland Culture has been awarded a £745,000 grant to deliver the three-year glass and contemporary art scheme.

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

The new organisation, formed by University of Sunderland, the city council and Sunderland Music Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust, is celebrating after being awarded the grant from Arts Council England’s (ACE) £35.2million Ambitions for Excellence fund.

The ACE fund aims to contribute to the development of strong cultural places, grow and develop artistic leadership and create the highest quality of new work.

Keith Merrin, Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture, explained: “We’re delighted to have been awarded £745,000 for our project, Believe in Me: Cathedrals to Creative Cities, a

world-class visual arts project which will celebrate our heritage and links to contemporary art.

"The grant comes hot on the heels of our successful bid to the Great Place Scheme, where we secured £1.25million of funding over three years.

"And it’s further evidence that the momentum built during our City of Culture bid has not been lost, but has been the catalyst for even more growth in our cultural sector.

"This new project will deliver a series of internationally-outstanding commissioned contemporary works in glass – in recognition of Sunderland’s glass heritage and in honour of the Anglo-Saxon scholar, the Venerable Bede.

"The works will be presented in key sites along the River Wear, from National Glass Centre in Sunderland to Durham Cathedral. The project will create opportunities for contemporary artists and will invest in the talent development of those working in hot glass and in the region’s capacity to lead major visual arts projects.

"The project will also draw in regional, national and international audiences to both cities."

Believe in Me: Cathedrals to Creative Cities will be led by a team which will include representatives from Sunderland-based The Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (NGCA) and the National Glass Centre.

Julia Stephenson, Head of Arts at National Glass Centre, explained: “Sunderland’s relationship with glass goes back to the Seventh Century and to the work of Benedict Biscop and the Venerable Bede at the Wearmouth-Jarrow Monastery, the founding church of which, St Peter’s, sits next to our building.

"Bede was one of the most revered and innovative thinkers of his day and the themes of his work will provide a catalyst for the project’s commissions.

"The project will celebrate the area’s connection to Bede, and help maintain Sunderland’s reputation as an important international centre of excellence for artists working in glass."

"The commissioned artists, from across the globe, will be selected this year and undertake four-month residencies at National Glass Centre during 2019 and 2020 to explore and develop their ideas and make new work in glass.

"The artists will have the support of a specialist team of glass makers, and each artist will create one major installation to be displayed as part of a two-year exhibition programme, culminating in 2021 when the artwork will be displayed in venues along the Wear, including National Glass Centre and Durham Cathedral.

"The year 2020 has been proposed as a Year of Pilgrimage for the cathedral, and the World Heritage Site would expect to see a major uplift of its visitor numbers – the Romanesque Cathedral attracts 750,000 visitors annually.

Alison Clark, Director, Combined Arts, Arts Council England, said: "Ambition for Excellence has provided us with brilliant and ambitious arts projects, that will continue to have a significant impact on artists, places and audiences across the country. In particular, the fund has given us exceptional opportunities for diverse, emerging and established artists to make work in new places or in new formats.

"We look forward to seeing similar brilliant projects through our new Project Grants funding stream this year."

As well as delivering projects such as Believe in Me: Cathedrals to Creative Cities and the Great Place Scheme, Sunderland Culture will manage and operate venues in the city, and work to raise the profile of the city.