- Date: 17 September 2010
- Area: National, South East
firstsite, new building under construction, June 2010. Credit: Douglas Atfield
The East of England has been a hotspot for the arts throughout the summer months - and the cultural boom is continuing into autumn and beyond.
From record-breaking festivals, community arts events, to new centres for artistic excellence - the region has been a hive of activity.
On 29 June, the High House Production Park came a step closer to completion with the conclusion of renovation works to High House Farm buildings, part of the 14-acre site in Purfleet, Essex.
The Production Park is funded through a unique partnership between Arts Council England, East of England Development Agency, Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation and Creative & Cultural Skills. It will also house the Royal Opera House's costume and scenery-making facilities as well as dedicated spaces for small and medium-sized creative businesses.
The £60 million Production Park is due to launch on 6 December this year with a special performance by members of the local community called the High House People's Opera. The Park will be home to the UK's first national centre for technical skills, crafts and production for the performing arts and live music industries.
Meanwhile, another cultural landmark - firstsite's new home - is a step closer to opening its doors. A stunning new contemporary arts venue in the heart of the historic city of Colchester, the 3,200m2 crescent-shaped building, designed by award-winning architect Rafael Viñoly, will house changing exhibitions, workshops, lectures and community events as well providing space for artists to work and conference facilities.
firstsite is now taking bookings for conferences and other events from September 2011, when it opens to the public. Regional business leaders will be given a glimpse inside the iconic building on 22 September, after which local people will be invited on 'sneaky peek' tours of the venue.
Helen Lax, Regional Director, Arts Council England said: 'firstsite is set to deliver significant benefits to the local area: boosting the local economy and creating an important resource for the town's communities. And of course, firstsite will continue to present a visual arts and education programme of the highest calibre.'
firstsite has been delivering a programme of activities from a range of city venues since 1994 with a strong focus on education and community engagement. Most recently, an engagement project entitled ArC (Art reflecting Citizenship) Suitcase Show, featured six suitcases created by artists and schoolchildren of Colchester. The 'suitcase art' explored themes such as teamwork, sharing, identity, patriotism, healthy living and environmental issues. The children helped to develop and produce the artwork which has since toured 14 other schools in the city.
On 25 September, DanceEast celebrates the one year anniversary of the opening of the Jerwood DanceHouse. This £8.9 million development on the Ipswich waterfront comprises three dance studios, a 200-seat theatre and a range of community facilities. The first anniversary gala will feature pieces by acclaimed French choreographer Patrick Delcroix and Cuban dance sensation Havana Rakatan.
It will also be a moment to remember DanceEast's former chairman James Hehir, who passed away in 2009. In memory of Mr Hehir, DanceEast are dedicating their state-of-the art dance studio to him. Artistic Director Assis Carreiro said: 'We wanted to honour James and asked the family what they felt was appropriate; we were very proud that they wanted us to name the studio theatre after him. He was so important to us and I was just so glad he was there for the official opening; he never got to see us working in the building but now he will be remembered in the theatre.'
Elsewhere in the region, Norfolk & Norwich Festival celebrated its biggest and most successful festival to date. Nearly 300,000 people enjoyed an eclectic programme across 16 days in May which included music, dance, theatre, visual installations and exhibitions and a range of family and outdoor events - a staggering 450% increase in visitor numbers compared to 2009.
Another unique arts festival experience will culminate on 25 September at Chalkwell Park in Southend-on-Sea. The Metal's Village Green 2010 programme is bigger and better than ever, featuring five stages and performances from renowned musicians including Carleen Anderson and Steve Mason.
In the preceding week, Village Green gears up to the big day with a series of events which include green energy initiative The Big Charge and a creative skills and technology programme for teenagers, delivered in partnership with the BBC. Pupils from four Southend Primary Schools will also perform with the Royal Ballet.
The festival is curated by Metal in Southend-on-Sea, which delivers a year-round programme of arts activities. Senior Producer Sean McLoughlin said: 'The line-up for this year's Village Green stage is world class and incredibly diverse - it promises to be an inspirational day of music and the arts with something for everyone to enjoy.'
Arts Council England investment is also helping school children from across Peterborough to experience theatre in the best possible way this autumn - by taking part. More than 700 school children from across the city will perform a new site-specific theatre show from 6-16 October in an empty shop unit at the Queensgate shopping centre. Tales From The Middle Of Town, a co-production between New International Encounter and Eastern Angles as part of the Citizen Power Peterborough project, is based on ideas generated at creative writing workshops held at 11 local schools.