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£2m win for Sunderland's cultural scene

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Published on 27 June 2017

Keith Merrin, Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture & Rebecca Ball, Director of Sunderland 2021
Keith Merrin, Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture & Rebecca Ball, Director of Sunderland 2021

Sunderland's cultural credentials have received a multi-million-pound boost today (27 June), after being backed with a cash injection from Arts Council England.

Just months after it was formed, Sunderland Culture, a company set up to advance the city’s cultural development, has been granted £2million from the Arts Council, after receiving National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) status. The decision will plough cash into the city’s cultural facilities, with the funding representing a significant increase in Arts Council support to the city.

It’s the second investment announcement today for Sunderland, which has also won a further £175k, to create a new exhibition space for the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art at the University of Sunderland’s National Glass Centre. It means the iconic gallery – which is now part of the university’s arts provision – moves from its previous base in the city library.

The University's Pro Vice-Chancllor, Graeme Thompson, who is chair of Sunderland Culture, said: “This is a tremendous achievement for our city, and for an organisation that – despite its relative infancy – is already bringing about a genuine step change in the way we are driving culture-led regeneration. 

“Sunderland has a rich cultural story, and venues of national and international significance. This recognition from Arts Council England means we are finally able to start punching our weight in collaboration with partners across the city. It’s an exciting milestone which will help shape a new narrative for the city over the coming years.”

Keith Merrin, chief executive of Sunderland Culture, which was launched in March this year, said: “This is the second occasion we have had cause to celebrate, having already secured £1.25million from the Great Places fund, which will really elevate the city’s reputation as a hotbed for creative talent.

“There really is a sense in Sunderland that we are building towards a future in which culture will be at the absolute heart of the city’s economic and social development. We are becoming a poster child for how arts can reinvigorate a city and bring about hugely positive change, and funding support like this really will help us to further the momentum we have already established.”

The funding, which will be pumped into the organisation over a four-year period is another welcome boost to Sunderland's UK City of Culture Bid, which will assess the city’s capacity to deliver a year-long programme capable of bringing about major regeneration.

Mr Merrin added: “Of course this is great news in the context of our City of Culture bid. This backing really could prepare the ground for a successful year in 2021, ensuring we have the venues and capabilities to host a huge year of celebration. However, win or lose, I think we can now be confident that the future for the city is very bright, and that culture will be front and centre in the regeneration of Sunderland.  The impact of the City of Culture competition really will leave a lasting legacy.”

Sunderland Culture was formed thanks to a partnership between the Music Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust, Sunderland City Council and the University of Sunderland to deliver major projects such as the City of Culture bid and bring together the main cultural venues of the partners. 

Through ‘joined up’ working, it is expected that the company could increase the volume and strength of bids Sunderland makes for support from arts and cultural funds, which will help to improve the city’s cultural offer and bring more jobs to the city.

An announcement is expected from the Department of Culture Media and Sport over the next few days about whether Sunderland’s City of Culture bid has been shortlisted to go through to the next stage of the competition.

To find out more about Sunderland Culture, visit sunderlandculture.org.uk