The National Glass Centre, the Wearside attraction which welcomes more than 165,000 visitors to Sunderland each year, will add a new heritage gallery and exhibitions narrating the origins and growth of the glass industry in a £2.25 million series of enhancements between now and the summer.
Having been closed to the public since the start of the year, the University of Sunderland venue on the banks of the River Wear hopes to widen its reputation with a range of improvements and new spaces.
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The Arts Council England – which aligned itself with the Centre under its National Portfolio scheme last year – has contributed £750,000, with £337,000 coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The awards follow a £975,000 investment by the university.
“This investment will strengthen the Centre’s reputation as a centre for excellence,” explained James Bustard, the venue’s Director, who said organisers were “delighted” that funders had “invested so significantly” in their ambitious plans.
“It will enable us to play a major role in the growing cultural landscape of the City of Sunderland. We will celebrate the city’s rich glass-making heritage.”
Education spaces and new, environmentally-friendly electric furnaces in the on-site Hot Glass Studio feature in the building project.
“The National Glass Centre is such an important cultural venue for Sunderland and the wider North-East region,” reflected Professor Peter Fidler, the University’s Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sunderland, said:
“That is why we took over the running of the Centre in 2010 and put forward a vision that would make it a venue with national significance.
“We have been supported with this vision by a range of people and organisations. From day one the Arts Council backed our vision - firstly, funding the centre through the National Portfolio programme, and now with a £750,000 grant, for which we are extremely grateful.
“The new National Glass Centre is benefiting from investment that will raise the profile of the centre regionally and nationally.”
The Victoria and Albert Museum, in London, gave notable supporter to the Centre’s bid to the Arts Council.
“This is an opportunity for the National Glass Centre to fulfil its potential and bring the work of internationally significant glass and ceramic artists to wider audiences,” said Reino Liefkes, the V&A’s Head of Ceramics and Glass Collection, predicting that the development would “greatly enhance the visual arts and design infrastructure in England.”
“The re-modelled and expanded exhibition galleries and displays - together with significant investment in staffing and programme resource - will enable the Centre to deliver an improved and ambitious programme of exhibitions.
“We are looking forward to collaborating more closely with the National Glass Centre."
The impressive current audience figures are expected to grow to more than 200,000 visitors after the Centre re-opens. And two-other popular places – Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and Mansfield’s central museum – also have renovations to look forward to.
Ikon will modernize its Grade II-listed Oozells Street School building – its home since 1998 – with a £457,000 grant from the Arts Council.
“Our focus will be on making essential improvements to our galleries, such as upgrading our IT and lighting systems,” said Deputy Director Deborah Kermode, pointing to the gallery’s famous singing lift and an original artwork by former Turner Prize winner Martin Creed as initial beneficiaries.
“Many of these areas will offer substantial long-term savings to Ikon. We are extremely grateful to the Arts Council for supporting us. This was a very competitive application process.”
Local residents will be asked to assist the expansion of the central Arcade Gallery at the Mansfield Museum, with a series of Memory Days inviting them to share stories of the town’s industrial heritage as part of a project costing more than £467,000, helped by a £304,000 Lottery award.
“Our museum team has been working flat-out behind the scenes for more than 18 months to ensure our proposal was accepted,” said Kate Allsop, of Mansfield District Council.
“Competition for these grants is fiercer than ever in these cash-strapped times, so we are ecstatic to have been awarded the funding.
“The museum is a fantastic facility, run and maintained by the District Council.
“This new exhibition will provide an exciting addition to the museum's attractions, giving visitors a fascinating insight into our area's industrial past."