Firstsite Opens Its Doors!

On Sunday 25th September 2011, the iconic and sometimes controversial new firstsite building in Colchester opened its doors to the public. An incredible 3002 visitors came through the doors following the cutting of the ribbon by the Mayor and pupils from St Helena school.

Firstsite is a visual arts organisation based in Colchester, Essex and is led by founding director Katherine Wood. It is committed to commissioning and showing new art from around the world and is part of the Plus Tate group of UK regional galleries. The new building is the product of a partnership between Arts Council England, East of England Development Agency, Essex County Council, Colchester Borough Council, the University of Essex and Firstsite.

As an organisation, Firstsite is dedicated to supporting the creative community, growing local talent and enhancing Colchester as cultural destination. This has lead to the development of the firstsite Learning Programme. The Learning Programme is designed to develop critical and reflective practice among participants and to support creativity and engagement with contemporary art. It covers techniques such as drawing, painting, sculpture, printing, performance, live art, craft and design. The team also curates talks, discussions and critical debate on contemporary art and culture. On top of this, they also organise family film screenings in firstsite’s state of the art auditorium. The programme for schools, colleges and teachers, includes regular weekly sessions and after school, holiday and drop-in sessions for children, young people and families. Last year 9,514 children, young people, adults and families attending more than 300 Firstsite Learning events in Colchester and throughout Essex and the Learning team with more than 3000 pupils and college students at 25 educational institutions.

Firstsite prides itself in involving itself with the community. The organisation has consistently presented 25-30% of its work outside the gallery, working with challenging audiences to improve social cohesion in Colchester. The community programmes are devised in collaboration with Colchester Garrison, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Essex Children’s Services and Mercury Theatre.

The new firstsite building offers space for the organisation to expand while providing a much needed ‘living room’ for Colchester and a focus for the region’s contemporary cultural life.

The physical aspect of the building is equally impressive. The building plan is a modifed crescent that wraps around a D-shaped eighteenth century garden. It is built on a steel frame and is wrapped in TECU Gold which gives for an original and striking look. The various spaces within the building, provide individual sections for the work and projects to be displayed. These include the impressive auditorium, the Entrance space and the main galleries which are defined by an oak floor and curving plasterboard walls. There is also a learning space which can be used by schools, conference and administration facilities and a cafe/restaurant called MUSA.

Firstsite’s opening exhibition, Camulodunum (the Roman name for Colchester, after the Celtic war god Camulos), celebrates the cultural and artistic heritage of the town and the region which has become eastablished as the capital of Roman Britain. The exhibition shows important local historic artefacts alongside works by Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Grayson Perry JMW Turner, Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei. There are also four commissions by international contemporary artists which are Michaela Eichwald, Aleksandra Mir, Karin Ruggaber and Danh Vo.

Firstsite has something for everyone and the opening of the building offers a practical art space as well as programmes and information that are integral to using art as a postive social and educational tool within the local and national community.

For more information go to

Posted by Emily Richardson


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