Leader of Sunderland’s City of Culture bid gets new creative director post

Rebecca Ball.
Rebecca Ball.

The leader of Sunderland’s failed City of Culture bid has been appointed as the new creative director of Sunderland Culture.

Rebecca Ball becomes the second employee of the company charged with managing and operating cultural venues in the city on behalf of partners Sunderland City Council, Sunderland University and Sunderland MAC Trust.

Sunderland lost out to Coventry for the title of City of Culture 2021 when the decision was announced last December.

Keith Merrin, who was named chief executive of Sunderland Culture at the beginning of last year, said: “Rebecca did an amazing job in preparing our bid and galvanizing the city in support of it.

“We know how close we came to winning the title, and with Rebecca’s expert help Sunderland Culture will build on the momentum she was instrumental in creating.

“Over the next few days we’ll be unveiling our legacy programme and detailing how we’ll use the bid as a catalyst for the development and growth of the city’s cultural sector.”

Before leading Sunderland 2021, Rebecca was Project Director of the award-winning Cultural Spring, an Arts Council funded project aiming to increase participation in arts and culture in Sunderland and South Tyneside.

Rebecca, who has 20 years experience working in the arts, started her career in dance, running community and education projects before going on to a number of senior roles at Arts Council England (ACE), including Director of Arts for ACE South East.

She is a graduate of the prestigious Clore Leadership Programme, an initiative designed to develop and strengthen cultural leadership in the UK.

“There’s never been a more exciting time to be working in Sunderland’s arts and culture sector. Our City of Culture bid has given us confidence, credibility and a national platform and we aim to make the most of these and take our cultural offering to the next level,” said Rebecca.

“Last week’s announcement that Sunderland Culture had been granted £745,000 to deliver a groundbreaking glass and contemporary arts project is the latest in a series of fantastic funding announcements and we hope there will be more to come.

“The imminent launch of the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (NGCA) at its new home at National Glass Centre is another big step forward for the city’s cultural sector.

“My role at Sunderland Culture will be to ensure there is one clear and coherent creative vision for the city working with the teams across all of Sunderland Culture’s venues.”

Graeme Thompson, Pro-Vice Chancellor at the University of Sunderland and Chair of Sunderland Culture said: “We are fortunate to have as our creative lead someone as dynamic and well-connected as Rebecca. She will bring her energy, experience and reputation to guarantee Sunderland’s culture-led regeneration will go from strength to strength.

“The board is very excited by this appointment.”

Coun John Kelly, Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture at Sunderland City Council, and a member of the Sunderland Culture board, said: Rebecca was the natural choice for the role.

“She did a fantastic job in getting the whole city behind the City of Culture bid and we know she will bring the same expertise, enthusiasm and ambition to this role.”

Sunderland Culture was established in January 2017.

As well as being responsible for the city’s cultural assets, it aims to attract major investment to the city and raise the profile of Sunderland’s cultural offering.