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Sunderland Culture

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As a student in the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries, you’ll be encouraged to take advantage of a range of opportunities to gain creative industry experience. Some of these opportunities may come from our close relationship with Sunderland Culture, an independent charity based in Sunderland which delivers a fantastic programme of cultural events and activities in the city’s cultural venues. We caught up with their Chief Executive, Rebecca Ball, to find out more about the organisation, what they do, and how our students get involved.

What is Sunderland Culture?

"Sunderland Culture brings together some of Sunderland’s most cherished cultural venues and activities and works to realise the ambition of a city brimming with creative potential. We are a partnership between the University of Sunderland, Sunderland City Council and the Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust, a registered charity and an Arts Council England Portfolio Organisation."

Several framed stained glass paintings connected together and hanging together as one large piece of artwork

‘Art by Post’ at Arts Centre Washington

What is the aim of the organisation?

"Our mission is to improve life for everyone in Sunderland through culture. To do so, we are driving five step changes: the raised outlook and aspiration of young people, improved health and wellbeing, a more socially cohesive city, improved profile and reputation of the city, and a more vibrant creative economy."

An artist applying powder paint to a printmaking plate

Artist Anthony Amoako-Attah whose new commission ‘Transition IV’ became part of the collection at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

What does the organisation do?

"Sunderland Culture delivers the creative programme in five venues in Sunderland: National Glass Centre and Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (which are owned by University of Sunderland), Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens and Arts Centre Washington (which are owned by Sunderland City Council) and The Fire Station (which is owned by the MAC Trust), as well as with communities around the city.

Sunderland Culture offers a year-round programme of everything from music, theatre, spoken word and dance, to exhibitions and creative workshops. We bring world-class artists and performers to the city whilst also showcasing exciting local talent. And people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds get involved in our programme.

A large part our work is delivered in local communities too. For example, our Creative Ages groups, work with local schools, social prescribing activities, and our Unlock programme, which is focused on supporting the city’s creative community."

A singer and a band performing on stage while being conducted by a conductor

National Youth Jazz Orchestra perform Amy Winehouse at The Fire Station. Photo: Victoria Wai

Where are you based?

"Our teams work across all five venues, and in communities. Our main office is in National Glass Centre. We’re a relatively small team, but very ambitious and passionate about what we do!"

A large group of people standing outside National Glass Centre smiling to camera

Volunteers, students, and staff gather outside National Glass Centre to install Antony Gormley’s ‘Field for the British Isles’ at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art

How is Sunderland Culture connected to the University?

"The University of Sunderland is one of our founding partners and has been pivotal in driving the city’s cultural regeneration. National Glass Centre is owned and operated by the University, which is where its Glass and Ceramics courses are based.

We have a close working relationship with the University and deliver some exciting projects in partnership with the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries to enable students access to the world-class art featured in our programmes, as well as our resources, experience, unique creative partnerships and hands-on experience and opportunities.

For example, in the past year we have seen fantastic performances by students as part of The Fire Station Auditorium’s opening programme and a student takeover project with the prestigious Arts Council Collection at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, to name but two.

We also work with the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing on ground-breaking research activity around social prescribing, through the Sunderland Social Prescribing Partnership. The project tests how we can work with partners to help people engage with community activities to improve their health and wellbeing.

Sunderland Culture also champions the work of the University’s alumni as well as current students. For example, many graduates of the University’s glass, ceramics and photography courses have featured in our exhibitions alongside established artists or have even had solo exhibitions."

What opportunities are there for students and graduates and how can they get involved?

"Sunderland Culture is hugely invested in Sunderland’s students, the role they play in the city’s culture and development and supporting them to thrive here.

We regularly offer different opportunities which respond to our current programme, for students to get involved, gain new skills, experience, or support. This may include:

  • Professional development opportunities, such as internships in partnership with the University’s Graduate Internship Scheme
  • Volunteering – recent opportunities have included the installation of Sir Antony Gormleys’ monumental ‘Field for the British Isles’ at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art
  • Creative opportunities, such as student takeovers of our main exhibitions, or community cast opportunities for an exciting production with The National Theatre at The Fire Station
  • Financial opportunities including bursary schemes for graduates
  • Career inspiration through the Young People's Hub on the Artsfix platform

Some of these opportunities may come through your department but to avoid missing out be sure to subscribe to Sunderland Culture’s social media channels and keep an eye on our Opportunities page.

And of course, we’d love for students, graduates, and staff to come and enjoy our programme of events across the city, where we hope there is something for everyone!"

Hear from our staff and students

The University and Sunderland Culture work closely to nourish and support the creative potential of students and young people across the city. From learning and development opportunities to becoming part of their cultural programme itself– here are some examples from recent years:

Jenny McNamara, Spaghetti Factory

Spaghetti Factory is Eve Cromwell and Jenny McNamara, a grassroots curatorial project that has since expanded to include events, workshops and the guest curation of galleries and pop-up spaces.

Jenny and Eve are both graduates of The University of Sunderland who met in 2014 whilst studying their glass and ceramics degree at National Glass Centre.

In 2019, Spaghetti Factory began an internship with Sunderland Culture through their Unlock programme which supported skills development within Sunderland’s cultural sector and opened up more opportunities for creative professionals in the city.

As part of the internship, Spaghetti Factory worked with the Sunderland Culture team to curate and present a series of three exhibitions called HOT NEW IT which featured local contemporary talent. The first two exhibitions were on show at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens and the third was a commissioned billboard located in the city.

Spaghetti Factory went on to win Best Newcomer at the Journal Cultural Awards 2021 and are currently in residence at The NewBridge Project in Newcastle.

Jenny says, “The internship with Sunderland Culture was really important to me. Having the chance to curate exhibitions at Sunderland Museum was my first project working with an institution as a new university graduate. It gave me something solid to focus on while building up my skills and finding out how things work formally in a museum context, as we worked on a live project.

“We curated two exhibitions and, because of Covid, the third was adapted as a billboard commission. I was really proud of the work we did during the internship, and it helped us as Spaghetti Factory to build our freelance curation portfolio, gain more experience collaborating with artists and museum professionals and take on more opportunities later down the line.”

Eve Cromwell and Jenny McNamara standing side by side and smiling towards the camera

Dan Appleby, Learning and Engagement Assistant, Arts Centre Washington

Dan is currently the Learning and Engagement Assistant at Arts Centre Washington – a two-year internship post working with young people in the area to become involved and engaged with different creative projects. As well as working with young people, his role involves a diverse range of responsibilities from recruiting creatives or liaising with venues to website admin and social media.

Dan, who is from Sunderland, originally studied Film Production at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham and his current graduate internship follows two previous internships with Sunderland Culture.

Dan’s first internship was a joint role working on Sunderland Culture’s Unlock project to support artist development in Sunderland and fundraising and development. After this, Dan got the opportunity to work with Sunderland Culture’s Communications team via a Google Arts Internship – planning and producing stories and projects to be shared on the Google Arts platform. As part of the role, Dan also received training with Google via workshops with the Arts Council’s Digital Culture Network. He says, “My internship at Sunderland Culture has been life changing - the experience and confidence I have gained have been invaluable and the opportunity has focused and strengthened my desire to pursue a career in the sector. It’s a privilege to be able to walk into work every day and play some small part in helping people to enjoy arts and culture.”

Dan Appleby helping a young person with something on a computer

Tamsin Austin, Director of The Fire Station

Following the opening of The Fire Station Auditorium in December 2021, Performing Arts students from the University of Sunderland were invited to ignite the city’s new multi-million-pound entertainment venue with their musical production of Sister Act.

The feel-good show took place over two nights and was the first musical production to be performed at the new state of the art £18 million auditorium.

Tamsin says, “It’s important to us that The Fire Station is seen as a community asset where local people can perform and develop. It’s a platform for emerging talent to shine and be inspired by the more experienced acts we can now bring to Sunderland.

As a core partner of Sunderland Culture, we’re thrilled to be working with University of Sunderland and hope to develop a long and meaningful relationship with both faculty leaders and students.”

A group of students rehearsing a performance of Sister Act in the Fire Station Auditorium

Published: 22 May 2023