Search is on for events to mark opening of Sunderland’s new Fire Station arts centre

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The search is on for a fitting celebration to mark the opening of Sunderland’s cultural centre.

Artists have been invited to bid for a joint commission, worth up to £55,000, from The Cultural Spring and the Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust for a community programme and a large-scale public event to mark the opening of The Fire Station in November.

Helen Green

We need the opening event of The Fire Station to reflect the importance of the MACQ,

The £3.5million transformation of the old Fire Station in High Street West is well under way, thanks to a £2.4million Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

The 110-year-old building, which has stood empty for more than two decades, will house a restaurant, bistro, drama studio, dance studio and heritage centre.

Cultural Spring Director Emma Horsman explained: “Together with the MAC Trust we’re commissioning an individual, organisation or partnership to conceive and lead an ambitious participatory programme that will culminate in a large-scale, public event to celebrate the opening of The Fire Station.

“The participation programme will be three separate strands delivered by Live Theatre and Dance City, who are taking up satellite tenancies in the Fire Station, and Sunderland Music Education Hub. Meaningful engagement with people will be a measure of success both for the programme and for the commission.”

Participation programme events will be held in The Cultural Spring’s Sunderland wards of Hendon, Millfield, Pallion, St Anne’s and Sandhill, but will be open to people from all over the city.

The programme is expected to cover at least 200 people and activities will be primarily focused on music, dance and drama.

“We’re looking for an innovative and ambitious idea for the opening event; something of the highest artistic quality and something that will align with at least one of the City of Culture 2021 bid’s themes of Light, Friendship or Invention,” explained Fire Station director Helen Green,

“The event must be relevant, diverse and inclusive and we’re expecting it to attract about 2,000 people.

“The opening of The Fire Station marks the first stage of the MACQ (Music, Arts and Culture Quarter) with work due to start on the auditorium later this year, both of which will change the cultural landscape of the city.

“We need the opening event of The Fire Station to reflect the importance of the MACQ,” added Helen.

The commission fee could be up to £55,000, dependent on a successful ACE funding application. Applicants are asked to provide details for a scaled-back version of the event they’re proposing with a minimum fee of £25,000.

Proposals must be submitted by Monday, May 22 and community commission panels will start to meet during the week of Monday, June 5 to decide on a successful applicant. A final decision will be reached by Monday, June 23.

To discuss a potential proposal or arrange a site visit, contact Helen Green on 0191 4476090 or email at