Work begins on new £11m auditorium

A new £11m venue for music, dance, theatre and comedy is being constructed, just moments from City Campus.

The auditorium is being built adjacent to the newly-restored and re-purposed Fire Station on the corner of Garden Place and Dun Cow Street. When it opens in 2021 it will be the centrepiece of the city’s Music Arts and Cultural Quarter. 

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The Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust is behind the development and secured a £6.25m award from Arts Council England‘s Capital: Large Grants programme, funded by the National lottery. The Arts Council’s capital programme supports organisations to develop resilience and to become more sustainable businesses and the grant will help to make the vision of a new, mid-scale venue for the city a reality.

Together the new auditorium and the renovated Fire Station will provide an integrated centre for the performing arts that will sit next to, and very much complement, the hugely successful Sunderland Empire. While on a smaller scale than the Empire, it will present an exciting programme of music, dance, drama and comedy.

Sunderland construction company Brims has been chosen to build the new venue and has already started on the development. Recent Brims projects include the Tombola HQ building on the Sunderland Riverside and the refurbishment of Gilbridge House on Keel Square as headquarters for Hays Travel.

The new auditorium will have retractable seating for 450 and will be able to host 800 people standing. The glazed foyer at the front of the new building will be clad in terracotta, matching the colour and tone of the red-brick fire station.

The award-winning architect behind the design of the auditorium is Jason Flanagan, who was project director for the iconic Sage building in Gateshead. His other designs include the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and LiveWorks in Newcastle.

Following completion of the auditorium, the MAC Trust will pass programming, operation and management of the auditorium to Sunderland Culture, of which MAC Trust was a founding partner.

Paul Callaghan CBE, Chair of the MAC Trust, said: “We’re delighted that work on the auditorium has started and are excited by the transformational effect we’re sure it will have on the city’s arts and culture sector. It will be a game-changer in terms of the cultural offer the city will be able to deliver.

“We’re extremely grateful to Arts Council England for their generous capital grant, and I would also like to thank Sunderland Council who have offered tremendous support during the development stage for this superb new cultural asset for the city.”

Rebecca Ball, Creative Director of Sunderland Culture, added: “The auditorium will be a landmark venue of which the city can be proud, presenting local, regional, national and international artists to local audiences and giving new and emerging artistic talent a platform on which to shine. We’re sure it will attract new audiences into the city – from across the region and beyond.”

Sunderland musician, Ross Millard, of the Futureheads and Frankie and the Heartstrings, and a MAC Trustee, was delighted by the news: “The music scene has always been really healthy in this city and a brand new venue of this size will be a great way to support our local musicians and performers. It will also allow Sunderland to regularly attract top touring musicians, too, which is a massive boost.”

Nicholas Baumfield, Senior Relationship Manager at Arts Council England, added: “We are delighted to be supporting Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture Trust with National Lottery investment from our capital programme, which helps organisations build dynamic spaces for great work and develop their sustainability. The new cultural quarter will firmly establish Sunderland’s identity in the North and we are very excited about the creative opportunities that it will bring for artists and audiences. Along with the Fire Station, the new auditorium will attract more people to the city and will raise the profile of Sunderland’s contribution to arts and culture in the UK.”

Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. Arts Council supports a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Between 2015 and 2018, Arts Council plans to invest £1.1 billion of public money from government and an estimated £700 million from the National Lottery to help create experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

The new auditorium is the third phase of the MAC Trust’s transformation of the area. The first phase was the award-winning renovation of the historic Dun Cow and Peacock pubs, and the second stage was the transformation of the old Fire Station into a restaurant, heritage centre and dance and drama studios.

Graeme Thompson, Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sunderland and Chair of Sunderland Culture, said: "The auditorium is an important development in the University of Sunderland's campus strategy and we are talking to Sunderland Culture about how we may use the auditorium and its fantastic facilities.

 "I'm sure our students will also be looking forward to enjoying the music, drama and spoken word performances that will be coming to the amazing venue - it will certainly enhance the cultural offer of the city."

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