The region’s oldest contemporary art gallery has been given a new home in Sunderland as part of major ongoing investment in the city’s cultural landscape.
Around £375,000 is being invested in transforming former meeting space and workshops in the National Glass Centre into a new permanent home for The Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (NGCA), which first began displaying works in Wearside 50 years ago.
The NGCA, which has won national recognition for championing artists, such as Sam Taylor Wood, before they were famous, moved from its previous location in the former City Library and Arts Centre in Fawcett Street after the library was moved to the nearby Museum and Winter Gardens.
For the past year it has temporarily been operating within the Glass Centre, but will now have a dedicated space to call its own, which is due to open in spring next year following funding by Arts Council England, the university and city council.
Director of National Glass Centre Keith Merrin said: “The space we’re transforming was a bit of an under-used space at the Glass Centre, but once it opens as the NGCA it will actually double the size of our gallery offering here. Visitors are used to a changing programme here and now, as well as our glass works, they’ll be able to see a contemporary art offering.
“The last year was actually our biggest in terms of visitor numbers, with 230,000 people visiting the centre, and this can only add to their experience.”
Keith, who is also chief executive of Sunderland Culture, a partnership company set up to develop the city’s cultural assets, said it’s another string to the bow of Sunderland’s City of Culture 2021 bid.
He said: “As part of our 2021 bid we are making £30million of capital investment in new cultural spaces and improvements between now and 2021 and this is all part of that, alongside developments such as the Fire Station and the adjacent auditorium, the Canny Space and Hylton Castle.”
Arts Council England’s director for the North, Sarah Maxfield, announced the relocation on a visit to Sunderland and says it’s another cultural step forward for the city.
“The NGCA has been a homeless gallery for the past few months, so it’s fantastic that it will have a new home,” she said. “In the last five years in Sunderland what we’ve seen is a real build up of momentum in interest in the arts and what it can do for the city. Whether Sunderland clinches that 2021 title or not, what’s been left is a programme of cultural activity that is still happening. So Sunderland wins either way.”
Cabinet member for culture, Coun John Kelly said: “To manage to secure all of the funding we need to reopen this fantastic facility is a major coup and a brilliant boost as we move into the final few weeks of the UK City of Culture competition.”
Graeme Thompson, chairman of Sunderland Culture and pro vice chancellor at the University of Sunderland, said: “The Arts Council’s support and significant investment in Sunderland’s cultural renaissance is a game-changer for the city. Sunderland’s significance in the world of contemporary art over the past 50 years is often overlooked, but this new space reaffirms our credentials and importance to the art world both in the UK and internationally.”