Every city deserves a certain measure of attention and recognition for the great things its people have done in the past, are doing now, and plan to do in the future.
Coventry, Swansea, Paisley and Stoke-on-Trent are no exception.
But Sunderland should win the title of UK City of Culture 2021 - and here’s why.
An industrial powerhouse
First and foremost, the city is a leading light in the world - quite literally.
Through the pioneering work of inventor and Sunderland son, Joseph Swan, our modern world is lit up, thanks to the development of his early incandescent light bulbs. That’s quite a gift to give humanity.
This reputation for innovation and craftsmanship has put the city on the map for centuries.
Once the largest shipbuilding centres in the world, Sunderland-built ships have circumnavigated the globe as ambassadors of both the city’s and Britain’s technological know-how.
Nowadays, Mackems turn their hands to churning out over half a million high quality cars each year which, instead of ploughing the ocean waves, keep the world’s towns and cities on the move.
It’s not just coal, ships and cars the city is known for, though.
While rival candidate Stoke-on-Trent has its exquisite potteries, Sunderland has stunning glasswork.
With over 1400 years of expertise under its belt, the city can lay claim to the first stained glass window, created in 647 AD, and it hasn’t looked back since.
Inspiring artists for centuries
Of course, the city’s industrial heritage is only one small part of Sunderland’s cultural history. Pedigree in the arts also plays a big role.
All the 2021 candidate cities can lay claim to having strong links to some of the country’s leading cultural figures and icons. Swansea was the hometown of poet Dylan Thomas, for instance.
Sunderland, on the other hand, has been the muse for the likes of influential painter L.S. Lowry, and celebrated children’s author Lewis Carroll.
Drawn to the city and surrounding coastline, Lowry diligently preserved snapshots of a Sunderland from a bygone era on canvas, some of which can be admired at the Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.
Since Lowry’s visits, the city has built a profile for its visual arts; from contemporary art to photography.
The prominence of its arts scene was cemented when artist, Grayson Perry, chose the city as the first stop on a national tour of his Vanity of Small Differences tapestries, ahead of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham.
Much of what inspired Carroll’s writing can still be seen around the city, including the outstanding views out over Sunderland from the Penshaw Monument, and the grandeur of buildings like Hylton Castle.
How many cities can boast that when you lose yourself in the pages of Alice in Wonderland, it’s really the wonders of Sunderland you’re discovering when you fall down the rabbit hole?
Making a splash with music
Other cities like Paisley have every reason to crow about their fantastic connections to musicians such as Paolo Nutini, but nothing can touch Sunderland’s proud musical tradition. The arts are part of the makeup of Mackem DNA.
Nurturing the best of the UK’s musical and songwriting talent, the city has produced the likes of the Futureheads, Frankie and the Heartstrings, Hyde & Beast and many more.
Between them, Sunderland bands have racked up over £1 million in record sales worldwide, and their legacy is set to continue through the ranks of up and coming artists.
Small venues like Pop Recs (which has played host to James Bay and Maximo Park, as well as youth songwriting workshops, and more) and the Independent are giving young hopefuls a chance to showcase their gifts.
One day they could well be taking the stage at a sell-out gig at the Stadium of Light, like Coldplay, the Foo Fighters or Beyonce before them.
The only way is up
And that’s just the story so far. There’s so much more to come in the years ahead.
Sunderland is well and truly on the move, thanks to a rake of exciting new city-wide projects.
So what does the future hold? A lot of investment is being made to rejuvenate the cultural fabric of the city.
Work on the new Music, Arts and Culture Quarter is in full-swing. When it’s finished, the city will have two new venues, including the £3.6 million Old Fire Station, and a new auditorium.
The focus of the new quarter will encompass the city’s fine old Edwardian treasures, including the Empire Theatre and the newly-restored pubs the Dun Cow and The Peacock.
As a city celebrating its past while transforming itself for the future, Sunderland really is going places. It deserves this chance to shine.