In mid-2012, a consortium of organisations – the University of Sunderland, the Sunderland Music, Arts & Culture (MAC) Trust and The Customs House Trust – came together to create a ten year vision to radically change the way that people in South Tyneside and Sunderland consume, experience, influence and make excellent art.

In June 2013 the consortium was awarded £2million from Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places programme to deliver an exciting and ambitious creative programme between January 2014 and December 2016.
The Cultural Spring has now started, and over the next three years and beyond, will make a real difference for our communities, providing the opportunity for residents, communities, businesses, schools and colleges, artists, and cultural organisations to celebrate, participate in, and create inspiring art and culture in South Tyneside and Sunderland.

The Cultural Spring 2013 from alius media on Vimeo.

What is ‘Creative People and Places?’

Arts Council England wants more people to experience and be inspired by the arts, irrespective of where they live or their social, educational or financial circumstances. The Creative People and Places fund focuses investment in parts of the country where people’s involvement in the arts is significantly below the national average, with the aim of increasing the likelihood of participation and involvement.

Arts Council are investing a total of £37 million in 21 locations in the UK where there is the greatest need to establish what they refer to as ‘action research partnerships’. This investment is intended to encourage new and innovative long-term collaborations between local communities and arts organisations, museums, libraries and other partners such as local authorities and the private sector.  To find out more visit the Creative People and Places website.

Why Sunderland and South Tyneside?

Arts Council England are keen that their Creative People and Places funding supports local communities and, while the impact of the Cultural Spring Programme will be felt across South Tyneside and Sunderland and indeed the broader region, our target communities are ten wards – five in North Sunderland and five in South Tyneside.

In North Sunderland we will specifically target: Castletown, Red House, Southwick, Fulwell and Roker/St Peter’s wards; in South Tyneside our target wards will be Biddick Hall and All Saints, Boldon Colliery, Cleadon and East Boldon, Whitburn and Marsden and Whiteleas.

With a population of almost 100,000 across all age groups, the above ten wards were identified as a representative area where an impactful arts and culture programme could make a long term difference. Importantly, it comprises a suitable geography where the impact of the programme can be measured as part of an extensive approach to evaluating the results of the investment.

What are we looking to achieve?

Our vision is to establish a new cultural ecology and a new cultural calendar for Sunderland and South Tyneside that opens doors to all art forms, encourages everyone to get involved, provides opportunities for people to enjoy new experiences, discover new passions, and learn new skills. By co-developing a rich programme and catalysing previously untapped partnerships and opportunities, we will consciously seek to instil a long-term vision and sustainable legacy.

  1. Increase participation in our wards
  2. Enable more excellent art to happen in our wards
  3. Create a lasting social and cultural legacy for Sunderland and South Tyneside
  4. Reflect and share learning

What’s happened already?

Since our business plan was signed off by the Arts Council in early February 2014, we have:

  • Broadcast live to the nation with our partnership with the BBC;
  • Hosted a four programmes of arts workshops in all of our target wards and communities;
  • Delivered a popular and successful community music festival in Sunderland;
  • Transformed some of our wards through a street art programme which brought national and international artists to Sunderland and South Tyneside;
  • Delivered an innovative and engaging project mapping happiness across our wards which culminated in three live performances;
  • Delivered a spectacular mass movement performance, the culmination of weeks of workshops and rehearsals in local communities;

The Great North Passion was developed and delivered in partnership between the BBC and The Cultural Spring. The live event took place at Bents Park, South Shields on Friday 18th April and was broadcast live on BBC1. It was one of the BBC’s largest outdoor broadcasts of the year and featured the work of over 20 artists and arts organisations across the North – including Richard Broderick, Bad Taste Cru, Gem Arts, Julian Germain, Kate Fox, Graeme Danby, Will Todd, Garry Hunter, BAIT, Patrick Murphy, Joseph Hillier, Sage Gateshead – alongside a community choir of over 300 people.

We estimate that over 200 members of the local community engaged in these projects with over 150 participating in the creation of the Cultural Spring commissions across the 8 community locations in Sunderland and South Tyneside – including schools, churches, community associations and heritage sites. Participants ranged from primary schools children to pensioners.

The event was the culmination of a 6 week community arts project which saw artists and communities across the region working to explore the different themes of the Passion Story. Each community became the guardian of a theme – Truth, Burden, Exhaustion, Loss, Kindness, Falling, Hope, Humility, Forgiveness and Self Sacrifice – and one of 12 red shipping containers which they transformed, in partnership with the artists, into a work of art.

3,500 people attended the Great North Passion event and at its peak 1.3 million people watched the Great North Passion live on the BBC with an average audience of almost 800,000. The programme obtained an 11% share of viewers nationally and in particular obtained a 30% viewer share in North East.

Local Communities and co-development

As part of our programme we are organising workshops in a variety of art forms, including stained glass making, local storytelling, ceramics, dance, learning to play the ukulele, proggy mats, drawing, creative writing and many more.

These two-hour sessions in a range of local venues aim to provide local residents with the opportunity of trying something new, having fun and taking part alongside friends you might not have met yet!

Click here to see the full programme –  Spring/Summer Workshops

Summer Streets Community Music Festival

Our community music festival catered for many tastes – and all ages. Futureheads singer and guitarist Ross Millard was our creative director and pulled together a programme which included rock, pop, jazz, opera, swing and rap – all performed in Thompson Park, Southwick. The event will take place again in 2015 – again in Thompson Park, over the weekend of July 18 and 19.

Street Art Heroes

Artistic Director of Street Art Heroes, Garry Hunter, brought together some of the world’s best Street Artists to create murals in the streets of Sunderland and South Tyneside. Between September and November 2014 we welcomed artists from all over the world to create great art on the streets of our local communities.

The project was inspired by streets named in honour of great artists and some of the street art reflected the works of these artists.

View the guide maps to the artwork here

Bring the Happy

Working in partnership with Leeds-based Invisible Flock, our Winter Tales project started collecting memories in January 2015 and asked people to pinpoint geographic locations they associated with a happy memory. Each memory was recorded on a ‘happiness map’ and formed part of a digital archive of happiness from around the world. Many of the happy memories donated were used in three funny, moving and very musical live shows hosted at North Shore in Sunderland in late February 2015.


More than 150 performers were involved in our Cultural Spring project – Rush. This was a spectacular, one-off dance performance against the iconic backdrop of St Hilda’s Engine Shed in South Shields on Easter Sunday 2015. The event was produced by Event International and Southpaw Dance Company and was the culmination of months of dance workshops held in local communities. The dramatic performance, using water cannon, prams, coloured dust and video produced by Novak, explored how arts and culture can provide a voice for those who feel excluded from society. More than 550 people attended the performance.


In Autumn 2015, Artist and Inventor Dominic Wilcox encouraged hundreds of people in Sunderland and South Tyneside to return to their inventing roots. From October 2015 Dominic worked with schools, community groups and the public across the Cultural Spring wards to inspire as many new INVENTORS! as possible. A selection of the 500 drawings were chosen by Dominic and a panel of local makers, expert trades people and manufacturers to be made in to real life objects that featured in a pop up exhibition in Fawcett Street Sunderland throughout January 2016.

Mr. Drayton’s Human Jukebox

An award-winning author singing Elvis, bellydancers and a BBC radio presenter belting out Frank Sinatra were all part of a spectacular ending to Mr Drayton’s Human Jukebox, a commission from the Cultural Spring, had its grand finale at a packed Hylton Castle Workingmen’s Club. The project had been working in Sunderland and South Tyneside for the past six months, capturing people’s most memorable songs – and the stories behind their choices. It was the brainchild of freelance director for the BBC Helen Spencer and her partner BBC Producer Steve Drayton, and more than 300 people were interviewed across the Cultural Spring’s ten wards.

For a video of what we have done in our first year … take a look at the videos of our first year, and second year.


What’s being planned?

Central to the three year Cultural Spring programme is the design and delivery of a Cultural Calendar.

Taking inspiration from the changing seasons we are building a calendar that becomes a natural part of the lives of our local communities. A high quality annual arts programme that people will look forward to, expect, plan for, prepare and work towards – in the same way that they look forward to the evenings getting lighter, expect the clocks to go back, or plan for the summer holidays.

Our programme will include four main commissions per year:

Summer Streets

Autumn Lights

Winter Tales

Cultural Spring

It will be a cultural calendar that will generate a lot of local pride and we hope will become a national exemplar. Most importantly, it will be a Cultural Calendar that will continue to grow long beyond 2016.


In order to successfully and creatively deliver the Cultural Calendar we will be offering a series of commissions to artists, arts organisations and community groups working across a broad range of art forms in order to create a series of exceptional new art projects which inspire, entertain and encourage people living in the ten Cultural Spring wards to get involved in the arts. These commissions will feature on this website.

So, what does this mean for me?

We believe that by working together we can develop truly inspirational arts and cultural programmes that increase levels of social engagement and participation, producing a demonstrable impact on both the opportunities available to local people and their wellbeing. We will also, through our communities and partners, respond to an increasing appetite to develop a growing cultural infrastructure that Sunderland and South Tyneside can be proud of, enabling a legacy of increased appreciation of a sustainable local arts and cultural provision.

We will provide the opportunity for individuals to progress through our activities, work across ages and locations, and capture the impacts of the project on peoples’ lives, especially around skills development, aspiration and what arts and culture means to them.

We will broker quality interventions by professional artists from the commercial and subsidised sectors, who excel at working alongside local individuals and organisations. Together they will make and define great art, and build the creative skills base in the area. From small, local ‘street-level’ projects to spectacular and inspiring outdoor events involving thousands from our communities, we will seek to achieve a marked shift in the profile of and engagement with arts activity in South Tyneside and Sunderland.

But at the heart of this grand adventure and ambition is a guiding principle. We can’t and won’t do arts and culture ‘to’ our local communities. It will be with them, and alongside them, and by them. We’re passionate about this driving sense of inclusion, which is why we’re so keen to extend an invitation to all to join us on this incredible journey.