Empty building in downtown Sunderland to become ‘North East’s finest gallery’


The Athanaeum building is transformed
The Athanaeum building is transformed

The Athenaeum building, which is on the corner of Fawcett Street and Athenaeum Street, was opened in 1841 by the Literary and Philosophical Society.

Later rebuilt in 1900 with shops on the ground floor and offices on the first floor, the building has since housed several businesses, including a nightclub and an Italian restaurant.

Now, arts organization Breeze Creatives is redeveloping part of the Athenaeum building on Fawcett Street, with plans to open their new gallery and studio this summer.

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It will house the main gallery of the arts society, having recently moved from Bamburgh House in Newcastle city center. It will also house 40 artist workshops, accessible to players in the creative sectors, such as visual arts, writing, game design and video arts.

Zoe Breeze, who heads the organization alongside Alex Breeze and Daniel Gibson, said the converted Victorian building would be the “most beautiful gallery in the Northeast.”

She said: “I am delighted to be working in Sunderland as I feel like a lot is just beginning here. This is the perfect location, and I honestly think it will be the nicest gallery in the North East.

“It was not an easy task to undertake, as the building looked like an old brick shell with crumbling walls and hardly any floors. So the whole thing had to be completely renovated, but everyone on the board was very supportive in making this happen.

(lr) Daniel Gibson, Director of Breeze Creatives, Cllr Graeme Miller, Head of Sunderland City Council, Alex Breeze, Director of Breeze Creatives inside the Athenaeum building.

“The first day we were to start the redevelopment was actually the first day of the first lockdown. We were so upset by Covid, even bringing in artists because no one could travel or send their work. However, we now have creatives moving into the studios and are hoping the gallery will open this summer. “

The gallery, which will have a predominantly international focus, will host artists from around the world to showcase their work and inspire residents and visitors to the city.

Alex Breeze said: “There will be six shows per year, each lasting four to six weeks. In the first year, there will be more interactive exhibits led by installations. So when you enter the space, you will be able to browse it differently from a traditional gallery.

“We have been working with Sunderland Culture to organize the next shows and we are looking forward to welcoming a Chinese artist based here in the UK who creates lots of screenings and interesting work. We also have a Canadian artist who will be presenting an installation of a Mongolian slum in the gallery space, with all the smells and smoke to create a truly interactive experience.

The building will house a gallery and workshops

Zoe added, “We also hope to hold workshops and bring back the old series of public lectures that would have been here when it came to the Sunderland Literary and Philosophical Building.”

“I love the idea that children and young people see something that is completely outside their normal realm and are impressed and inspired by something so big. Hopefully this inspires people to stay in the arts and creation, but also to show people an alternative and that there are more than certain jobs in life.

“The more culture we have in the city, the better. I think it will bring excitement to the arts and add to the diversity of art that people are exposed to in the North East. It’s so important to keep it in the city center as well, where people might accidentally see us and spend five minutes to see something completely different.

The redevelopment was made possible through the support and partnership with Sunderland City Council, Creative Culture Trust CIO and Social Investment Business.

The building has many original features

Councilor Graeme Miller, Head of Sunderland City Council, said: “We are delighted to welcome Breeze Creatives to Sunderland and look forward to seeing the diversity of works of art they will bring to the city from around the world.

“Sunderland is transforming itself and, with continued investments in our downtown area, as well as in our heritage and historic buildings like the Athenaeum, local creatives, residents and visitors alike can enjoy all that we have to offer.

“We are delighted to have supported the redevelopment of this new gallery and studio complex and believe it will add to the cultural excellence of our city and be a great addition alongside the new Maison de la culture and the ‘Auditorium.’

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