The chairman of Arts Council England has spoken of his belief in Sunderland as a ‘poster child’ for how arts and culture can drive regeneration.
Sir Peter Bazalgette praised the flurry of cultural activity taking place in the city at the Cultural Spring’s STEAM Co Day at Monkwearmouth Academy.
The Arts Council granted £2million to Cultural Spring, an ongoing project to boost uptake of arts in North Sunderland and South Tyneside.
“We believe arts and culture has the power to really drive urban regeneration in ways that change the culture of a place and how we feel about the place we live. It can drive employment and growth and Sunderland is a poster child for this,” Sir Peter told the Echo.
He added: “We gave Cultural Spring £2million and it’s been great working with great partners. The whole purpose was to give to places with lower uptake and build capacity and creativity. A great example of how that leads to further ambition is the Mac Trust and the development around the Old Fire Station.
“The quality of ideas coming out of Sunderland is very exciting and it’s only the beginning.”
I have to remain neutral and there is some tough competition, but if Sunderland won it would be a worthy winnerSir Peter Bazalgette on Sunderland’s City of Culture 2021 bid
Another string to the city’s burgeoning cultural bow is its bid to become UK City of Culture 2021.
Sir Peter said that the very creation of a bid is a great way of sparking cultural activity.
“I have to remain neutral and there is some tough competition, but if Sunderland won it would be a worthy winner,” he said. “In the year Hull won the title, Leicester failed, but they put in a great bid.
“It has a very forward-thinking mayor and the bid has been of great benefit to the city.”
He said we need only look down the road to see how powerful arts can be.
“Gateshead is possibly the very best example of the regenerative power of arts and culture in the Baltic, Sage and Angel of the North,” he explained.
“At the time people thought the Angel was a waste of money, it’s now an icon of the North East that welcomes visitors with open arms. It’s sensational.”
Sir Peter says he first spotted Sunderland’s potential for fostering artistic activity at the launch of Grayson Perry’s Vanity of Small Differences, an exhibition of tapestries which traced the colourful history of Sunderland.
“I remember being at the launch at the Winter Gardens and having an epiphany moment,” he recalls. “We had bought a set of the tapestries and we knew they had to go on show in Sunderland. Grayson was there in his full slap and all the clubbers and football fans from the tapestries were there, cheering him. It was then that I knew Sunderland was a place we should really get behind.”
The STEAM Co day, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and maths, marked the culmination of INVENTORS!, one of the many innovative projects funded and facilitated by Cultural Spring.
As part of the project, young people have designed inventions and seen them made into working prototypes.
It was the brainchild of Sunderland inventor, designer and author Dominic Wilcox, who has teamed up with STEAM Co, a community-led organisation working with schools to encourage pupils to bring science and the arts together in the classroom.
Also speaking at the event was Newcastle MP and Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, Chi Onwurah.
Dominic said: “It’s clear children get a lot from working with outside artists and inventors as well as parents and local business people. I have to say that not only do I get an immense amount of pleasure from working with children in this way, but also a great deal of inspiration.”
Other speakers included Paul Callaghan, chairman of Sunderland 2021 and Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust; Ian Green, senior training controller at Nissan and artists Mick Stephenson and Emma Pace.
Children also got the chance to take part in STEAM Co workshops as part of the event,
Monkwearmouth Academy principal Steve Wilkinson said: “Creativity and the arts are a key part of the rounded curriculum we offer here.”