Sunderland artists on why the time is right for City of Culture 2021

Sophie Lisa Beresford
Sophie Lisa Beresford
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For decades Sunderland was a hub of creativity, with talent that quietly existed in the city.

From the Tardis that is The Bunker recording studios, where talented musicians beaver away producing new and distinctive sounds, to arts groups that meet behind closed doors to write poetry, paint and dance.

Sophie Lisa Beresford at her Geordie Mackem Magick exhibition

Sophie Lisa Beresford at her Geordie Mackem Magick exhibition

Should Sunderland win UK City of Culture, 2021 could be the year when all of this activity bursts onto the streets of Wearside – a cultural explosion that has the potential to transform the city.

For one Sunderland-born artist it feels like that journey towards a cultural renaissance is under way.

Sophie Lisa Beresford, who’s had her work exhibited in a number of galleries, including a display which merged SAFC and NUFC shirts, said: “I think what entering the City of Culture competition has done is start to bring art and creativity to the front of people’s mind.

“People from here have seen the city change for the worse for a long time. In parts of Sunderland, the soul has been sucked out of it over the years.

Field Music

Field Music

“There has been this man-made erosion and lots of the things we were once proud of have disappeared.

“The city has been culturally pillaged and people have watched parts of it turn to ashes.

“The support and action people are taking to use this competition entry – one that provides cities with a rich authentic culture and heritage like Sunderland does, with a transformational investment in its regeneration, and a celebrated regeneration at that – is the ember burning in those ashes though.”

Sophie also feels that the momentum achieved by the Sunderland 2021 competition entry so far means winning is not the be-all and end-all.

She said: “Everything doesn’t ride on a competition-win: the activity, excitement and momentum gathered by entering this competition has brought together locals.

“The University of Sunderland, Sunderland City Council and the MAC Trust, who are all finding new ways to support Sunderland and its cultural redevelopment at a time when the city has seen so many cuts.”

Sunderland born musician, David Brewis, is another vocal ambassador for Sunderland 2021.

One half of the critically-acclaimed and Mercury Award-nominated sibling duo, Field Music, David believes that City of Culture status could help the city carve out its own distinctive image and reputation.

“My brother and I have been making music in Sunderland for about 20 years,” David said.

“For most of that time there was next to no infrastructure for creative endeavours and, in some good ways, that shaped how we do things.

“For instance, we are very protective of our independence.

“We have had to be self-reliant and I’m very proud we’ve managed to make so much off our own backs.

“However, a dearth of infrastructure and support is absolutely not a recipe for fostering creativity.”

Developing an authentic identity for the city is something David thinks is one critical outcome for the city.

“We can’t, and shouldn’t, be the new Manchester or Liverpool or London, or even the new Newcastle or Hull, he added.

“A recognition of Sunderland’s cultural future can be a recognition of the things which make Sunderland unique; that mix of seaside and industry, historical significance and surviving economic hardship, all feeding in to a cultural identity miles away from the worn-out cliches which are commonly trotted out.”

Another local artist enthused by the prospect of Sunderland being named City of Culture is Frank Styles.

The full-time street artist’s work adorns the walls of some of the city’s most prominent street corners.

Frank said: “Let’s be honest, working in the cultural sector can be financially very precarious.

“I don’t necessarily think that’s a terrible thing, but it takes a bit of fortitude to battle through when times are tough.

“The bid has already provided a huge confidence boost to the creative community in the city.

“It gives people one more reason to keep making and to keep going.

“It is also an amazing opportunity to show the people of the city just how much is happening here – a showcase of all of the things which are being made in Sunderland, right under our noses, but mostly a little too far under the radar.”