Published on 19 May 2021
Keith Merrin, Sunderland Culture’s first Chief Executive, left last month to become Director at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums.
Now, the search is on for his successor.
“It’s a great opportunity for the right person to come and join us and we think it’s one of the most exciting jobs on offer in the world of arts and culture right now,” said Jane Earl, who chairs Sunderland Culture.
“Keith did a great job in establishing Sunderland Culture and making it work, and now we’re looking for his successor to take us forward to the next stage. The timing couldn’t be better as we’re busy preparing our next five year strategy, The Fire Station Auditorium will open over the coming months and there is a vast array of outstanding arts and culture projects being delivered across the city,” she added.
Sunderland Culture is a unique partnership between Sunderland City Council, University of Sunderland and Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust.
It delivers the creative programme in National Glass Centre, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, Arts Centre Washington and The Fire Station, as well as with communities across the city.
In 2018 Sunderland Culture became an Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio Organisation (NPO).
Jane, who was appointed Chair in January, explained what characteristics the Sunderland Culture Board was looking for in the new CEO: “We want someone with energy, enthusiasm and an entrepreneurial attitude. The successful applicant will be able to demonstrate inspirational leadership and will have the experience, skills and ability to continue our successful and exemplar model of partnership working.
“We’ve launched a national recruitment drive, but we want someone who will understand and buy into the Sunderland partnership model – and they’ll also need to care deeply about the city. A passion for the arts is more important than deep experience of working in the sector, as the CEO sits alongside our Creative Director, who has vast experience. However, we’d expect a good degree of knowledge and an understanding of our curatorial approach in venues such as National Glass Centre and Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art."
Sunderland Culture’s mission is to improve life for everyone in the city through culture. To achieve this aim, the organisation has five areas of focus: improved profile and reputation of the city; more vibrant creative economy; raised outlook and aspiration of young people; improved health and wellbeing; and a more socially cohesive city.
In 2019-2020 (pre-pandemic) 800,000 people visited a Sunderland Culture venue or event, 63,000 took part in one of its programmes or projects; the organisation delivered 313 exhibitions, performances or events and worked with 375 volunteers.
In 2019 Sunderland Culture was chosen as one of three regional partnerships by Arts Council Collection to present and curate exhibitions drawn from its Collection, as part of the National Partners Programme until 2022.
Funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, the programme is enabling communities in the city to enjoy highlights from the largest collection of modern and contemporary British art in the world.
This, alongside other partnerships with national organisations such as Royal Collections Trust has meant exhibitions such as Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing, and Antony Gormley’s Field for the British Isles are easily accessible for Sunderland and regional residents.
“As well as the work we show in our venues, we deliver a city-wide programme offering an exciting range of activities and events for everyone to experience and benefit from. Our work extends into the heart of Sunderland communities, including schools, older people living in social isolation, dementia sufferers and their carers, young carers, people with additional needs and/or autism, and ethnically diverse communities,” said Jane.
“We’re leading the way in some areas, such as our collaboration with Sunderland Carers Centre, Groundwork North East, Equal Arts and Sunderland GP Alliance. This newly- established Sunderland Social Prescribing Partnership is an ambitious and ground-breaking approach to ensuring residents can engage in community activities to support their health and wellbeing.
“We’ve come so far in five short years, but there is more to do to maintain the momentum of our cultural regeneration. Our new CEO will have a chance to make a real difference in the city, working with the city council and university to increase pride in Sunderland. We want to increase the numbers of Wearsiders engaging and participating in art, bring more great art to the city, promote individual artists and creatives and improve the local cultural economy while at the same time improving and developing our venues.
“We’d also expect our new CEO to be seen as a leader within Sunderland while helping to raise the artistic profile of our city regionally, nationally and even internationally."
For more information about the CEO’s position, go to www.sunderlandculture.org.uk/opportunities.
The deadline for applications is 5pm on Wednesday, June 16 – first interviews will be via Zoom on Friday, July 2nd and second interviews in Sunderland on Wednesday, July 7th.