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Sunderland is to get a major new venue for music, dance and drama.

Just days after Sunderland Council granted planning permission for the new £8.2m venue, Arts Council England (ACE) has awarded a £6m grant through the National Lottery to the Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust towards the cost of the building. Construction work will begin later this year with the multi-use auditorium opening in 2019.

DELIGHTED … Fire Station Director Helen Green (front left)
is pictured on the site of Sunderland’s new £8.2m venue
with MAC Trustees, from left, Ross Millard, Paul Callaghan,
Marie Nixon and Chair John Mowbray
The new venue will be located at the heart of the city’s Music Arts and Cultural Quarter in central Sunderland. The site, at Garden Place and Dun Cow Street, is adjacent to the Fire Station, currently being redeveloped as a £3.6m arts and culture centre, with financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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 spoken word.

The venue will have retractable seating for 450 and will also be able to host 700 people standing. There will also be an outdoor stage and open area music and performance space to the rear of the redeveloped 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 and is currently leading the Wembley Theatre scheme. His other designs include the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and LiveWorks in Newcastle.

John Mowbray, Chair of the MAC Trust, said: “We’re obviously thrilled that Arts Council has chosen to support Sunderland with the new auditorium and believe it will have a transformational effect 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 for this very generous capital grant particularly considering the competition there is from other parts of the country for their limited budget. It shows they recognise the significant changes in arts and culture that are happening in the city and shares our ambition for Sunderland. We would also particularly like to thank Sunderland Council who have offered tremendous support during the development stage for this superb new cultural asset for the city.”

Helen Green, Director of the Fire Station, added “This will be a landmark building at the heart of our ambition to transform one of Sunderland’s most historic areas into an exciting and vibrant part of the city. It will be a 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. It will attract audiences from both inside and outside the city and is a statement of intent and evidence that Sunderland is serious about arts and culture. ”

Sunderland musician, Ross Millard, of the Futureheads and Frankie and the Heartstrings 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.”

Marie Nixon, Chief Executive of Sunderland Student’s Union and a musician who formerly played with Sunderland band, Kenickie, and is now in the Cornshed Sisters also expressed her support: “"It's a really exciting time to be in Sunderland. Our talented and creative people are having a huge, positive influence on the city - and this is being recognised nationally too. I can't wait to see amazing performances in our new venue - and perhaps take part in a few." 

Andrew Burnett of Buckley Burnett, Project Directors for the MAC Quarter, said: “The auditorium is another huge step in the regeneration of Sunderland.  Such a significant investment by ACE into the future of this city will help us to deliver a first class cultural venue for the people of this city.”  

Jane Tarr, Director North, Arts Council England, said “We’re excited about this landmark project in Sunderland’s cultural development and look forward to continuing to work with partners across the city to deliver the new auditorium. It’s an investment in the strong leadership which has seen the cultural offer blossom in Sunderland over the past few years and we hope people in Sunderland will have a new venue to be proud of.”

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 pub, and the second stage is the ongoing transformation of the old Fire Station off High Street West. Work is well on the way on the redevelopment of the fire station into a restaurant, cafe, heritage centre and dance and drama studios.

There will be further announcements regarding the MAC Quarter in the next few months.

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