Sunderland: Culture in the City

Peter Lathan

A new book celebrating Sunderland’s cultural renaissance, Culture in the City, is published following the submission of the UK City of Culture bid.

The bid was submitted to the DCMS on Friday 29 September and on Tuesday 10 October the MAC Trust, one of the bid partners, launched the book which is, as editor Paul Callaghan, who is also chair of the Trust, said, “a celebration of the transformation that Sunderland is currently experiencing in both its cultural confidence and capacity.”

Rebecca Ball, Project Director for the Sunderland’s City of Culture bid, is one of the authors, as is Keith Merrin, Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture, the newly-created body that will manage most of the city’s cultural assets. Other contributors include Helen Green, Director of The Fire Station and former Director of Arts Centre Washington; John Mowbray, Chair of the University of Sunderland and the Sunderland Education Leadership Board; Graeme Thompson, Pro Vice Chancellor at the university and Chair of Sunderland’s City of Culture Steering Group; Futureheads guitarist Ross Millard; Iain Rowan who runs Holmeside Writers and Helen Connify, Co-ordinator of Sunderland Cultural Partnership.

As Callaghan explains, the book is in two sections. “The first includes a general look at some of the challenges facing post-industrial cities and a detailed discussion of the nature and advantages of cultural and culture-led urban regeneration, addressing examples from throughout the world. The second section is much more specific to Sunderland and the changes that a culture-led regeneration strategy has made and will make to our city.”

The 320-page, hardback book came about as a result of a conversation between Callagan and Darren Henley, Chief Executive of Arts Council England.

“Darren was impressed by how the city was using culture in economic and social regeneration,” he said, “and suggested a book could showcase the ‘thought leadership’ coming out of Sunderland’s cultural sector.

“The book makes it clear that culture, in all of its diverse forms, makes Sunderland a better place by enriching people’s lives and providing greater opportunities for its children and young people and enhancing its image and reputation.”

It includes chapters on the city’s music scene, Wearside’s venues, the role of the university in Sunderland’s culture, the Cultural Spring project, the Music, Arts and Culture Quarter, visual arts in the city, Sunderland’s cultural heritage, culture and women in the city and the National Glass Centre.

Winning City of Culture status would not only greatly enhance the city’s cultural offer but it would also deliver a multi-million-pound boost to the city’s economy. The UK City of Culture is designed to use culture as a catalyst for economic and social regeneration and to raise the profile of arts and creativity. It also helps cities develop a broader arts and culture sector, as well as attract increased business investment and boost tourism.

“Reading the book gave me two distinct feelings: pride and excitement,” said Rebecca Ball. “Pride in how far we’ve come and excitement about how far we can go. It sums so much up about the city: who we are, where we’ve come from and our ambition of where we’d like to be.”