30 November 2018

An innovative arts scheme will see the traditional Christmas grotto turned on its head, to make way for some of the North East’s most talented creatives.

The Artist’s Grotto will be opening its doors in Sunderland’s Blandford Street on 29 November, which will see painters and poets holding sessions up until 23 December.

The scheme, which is being curated by former University of Sunderland graduate Vincent R Todd and financed by the city’s Business Improvement District, working in partnership with Sunderland Culture through their Great Place scheme, will also give shoppers and families the opportunity to make their own artistic contribution.

The grotto, which will be created from a garden shed, will have an outside wall comprised of a blackboard which passers-by can use to draw or write a message and another wall which is to be used for “Christmas graffiti”.

Vincent, a former curator in residence at Mackie’s Corner, funded through Sunderland Culture, during The Tall Ships Races earlier this year, believes the project will be something unique. “It’s a very different slant on a traditional grotto and a great way to get people involved in the arts who might not want to go to a more traditional venues,” he said.

“We’ve got some very different artists who are going to be there every Thursday to Sunday so hopefully people will become regular visitors to see all the different things that are going on.”

Among those taking part is poet Ian Horn who will be writing poems on a typewriter in the shed and handing them out to the public, as well as painters Jessica Browne and Jayne Parker Johnson.

Sharon Appleby, Head of Business Operations at Sunderland BID, believes the unusual grotto – which has also been nicknamed the Culture Shed – will add a different element to the festivities.

“At the busiest time of year it’s fantastic to be able to give artists an opportunity to showcase their skills and to bring something unique into the city centre, which everyone can participate in,” she said.

“We hope people will take the trouble to head to Blandford Street to see everything that’s going on and also join in.”

The project is also supported by Sunderland Culture as part of their Great Place scheme. Helen Ross, Producer at Sunderland Culture, said: "We're excited to be working with Vincent Todd and the BID on the Culture Shed project. Our aim is to use creativity to attract more people into one of the city centre's main shopping streets.

"The Culture Shed will be an 'artist's grotto' providing space for artists to work, run workshops or create performances. It will be a talking point, a source of curiosity that will draw people into Blandford Street.

"This commission forms part of our Unlock Sunderland Cultural Spark project, in which we're working with Sunderland's Heritage Action Zone to bring underused spaces back to life though creativity and culture."

The Great Place programme is jointly funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England (ACE) and Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to put arts and culture at the heart of local communities.