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firstsite Colchester opens

  • Date: 6 October 2011
  • Artform: Visual arts
  • Area: South East
firstsite gold modern building from above firstsite, Colchester, Rafael Viñoly Architects, Photograph © Richard Bryant /

Iconic new visual arts centre firstsite, in Colchester, has recorded a massive 10,354 visitors in its first week of opening, marking the beginning of a new era for the organisation.

The new building launched on 25 September, and the day was a significant moment not only for local and international audiences, but also for firstsite and its partners as it marked the culmination of a collaborative capital project.

From the seed of an idea to the cutting of the ribbon at the opening ceremony, firstsite has worked closely with Arts Council England, Colchester Borough Council, Essex County Council, East of England Development Agency and the University of Essex to create this major new centre.

Founded in 1994, and formerly based at The Minories on Colchester High Street, firstsite has encouraged thousands of people to get involved in contemporary art over the years, nurturing new talent and providing a network of opportunities for the community to participate in ambitious learning programmes.

firstsite's new structure will help it feed into Arts Council England's mission of Achieving great art for everyone, ensuring that more people experience and are inspired by the arts for the benefit of both the sector and local communities.

As one of our new National portfolio funded organisations from 2012-2015, firstsite will also become one of a national network of visual arts centres across the country. The organisation will be one of the country's leading new visual arts destinations, alongside Turner Contemporary in Margate, The Hepworth Wakefield, Towner in Eastbourne and BALTIC in Gateshead.

In particular, it will be asked to lead on developing talent in the visual arts, collaborating with other galleries across the area. It is hoped that through cross-sector partnerships, arts organisations like firstsite can encourage innovation and leadership, and help to make the cultural sector more resilient.

The launch of firstsite is part of an ongoing cultural investment programme in the East of England, which has included the opening of DanceEast in Ipswich, the expansion of performance facilities at Aldeburgh Music, the restoration of the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, and the upcoming development of Kettle's Yard in Cambridge, providing a major regional focus for culture in England.

firstsite in the news...

'This brave new structure transcends its utilitarian surroundings...' Simon Calder, The Independent

'[The] sweeping promenade space may turn out to be superb for big sculptures...' Jay Merrick, The Independent

‎'1960s New York may seem like a long way from a provincial market town in Essex, but the inaugural show at Firstsite bridges the gap with ease.' Mark Sheerin,

'[The] Rafael Viñoly-designed building, [is] a swoop of glass and metal beside and on top of the remains of the first Roman town in Britain...' Maev Kennedy,

'The nay-sayers will always knock big, expensive ambitious projects like firstsite, but it is another significant landmark in Colchester's rich cultural heritage and one to be celebrated.' Darryl Webber, Essex Chronicle

'It's got the wow's certainly impressive, I must say I quite like it...' Andrew Graham-Dixon, The Culture Show

'I love the 'Golden Banana' is our Golden Banana and we should use it.' Martin Newell, East Anglian Daily Times