Firstsite marks its 10th anniversary as it reopens on May 17

Firstsite, Colchester.

Firstsite, Colchester. - Credit: Andrew Partridge

The wait is almost over as Colchester’s contemporary art gallery Firstsite prepares to welcome visitors again, when it throws open its doors on May 17. 

Art lovers will be treated to an exciting and diverse mix of exhibitions as well as a range of activities, courses and clubs to enjoy.


Firstsite was designed to be more than just an art gallery. It is a social space where people can meet - Credit: Archant

Adding to the mood of celebration there will be an extra buzz around the gallery, as the striking, crescent-shaped building is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Designed by award-winning Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly, Firstsite was envisaged to be more than ‘just’ an art gallery – part of its function was to also provide a creative and social space where people could meet. 

Under the direction of Sally Shaw MBE, it has become a leading provider of holiday activities for local families and a catalyst for people from all walks of life and different communities to come together and curate their own exhibitions. 

Sally Shaw director at Firstsite Gallery in Colchester has received an MBE in the Queen's Birthday H

Sally Shaw, director at Firstsite Gallery, has worked hard to make sure the gallery is inclusive and attracts a wide range of visitors from across the community - Credit: Su Anderson

When it reopens, visitors to Firsite will be greeted in the Welcome Area by Michael Landy’s eight-metre tall Essex Man sculpture, part of his Welcome to Essex exhibition (opening on June 26). 

New on display is Art for Life, a fascinating and poignant show of artworks made during the pandemic by contemporary artists Alec Finlay, Hannah Devereux, EVEWRIGHT, Hayley Newman and Roland Carline working with NHS key workers. 

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With themes such as the significance of nature, walking and touch, as well as notions of time and diary keeping, many visitors will personally connect with the exhibition from their own experiences of the past year.

Art for Life also features specially-selected loans from the Arts Council Collection - with whom Firstsite is a National Partner 2019-22. 

There will still be time to see the show ‘My Name is not Refugee’ - which closes on June 6 – a powerful exhibition co-curated by people seeking to build new lives in Britain. It reveals the experiences of newcomers to our shores in ways that are very rarely seen. 

From a fabulously surreal crocodile balancing a Lego brick on its tail while wearing a policeman’s helmet to a spectacular, large-scale painting of flowers displayed in an actual greenhouse, The Great Big Art Exhibition has been a creative sensation.

More than 5,000 contributions received during lockdown can be seen on a large digital wall in the gallery – and also online at - including artworks created by amateur and professional artists, from care home residents in Cambridge to a young boy from Kharkiv, in Ukraine. 

One of the biggest highlights of the summer will be a major exhibition of brand-new works by Michael Landy CBE. Appropriately titled Welcome to Essex (June 26–September 5), the show explores, celebrates and questions the recent history of his home county and its contemporary portrayal in popular culture. 

Firstsite’s hugely popular Holiday Fun programme is also set to return this summer – both in Colchester and Harwich – giving children and families in north Essex the opportunity to get creative, eat a healthy meal and enjoy physical activity, for free. Plus a series of talks, workshops and movie screenings will also form part of the summer of fun at the gallery. 

Safety measures will still be in place (eg: masks, social distancing, hand sanitiser stations, etc) and the café has also been given a makeover; freshly made meals and treats can be enjoyed on new comfy and versatile seating both indoors and on the tranquil outdoor balcony overlooking the Berryfield lawn.

Sally Shaw, the director at Firstsite Gallery in Colchester, is looking to help families combat lock

Sally Shaw hopes the new Michael Landy exhibition will correct the misapprehensions about Essex Man and Essex Woman - Credit: Su Anderson

Firstsite Director, Sally Shaw MBE said: “It’s so exciting to welcome people back and I think you'll love what we are showing over the summer and later in our anniversary year.

"Our re-opening programme has been led by feedback from our audience survey, where people said they would would like Firstsite to support the community by providing activities and events to encourage positivity and bring people together to have fun – such as The Great Big Art Exhibition.

"They also wanted to see an exhibition to help them process, reflect and recover from the pandemic, and Art for Life does this in an incredibly beautiful way.

“I’m also delighted that Michael Landy has chosen Firstsite to showcase his incredible body of new work. From the Romans, to the Mayflower and holidaymakers on board ferries, Essex has been a gateway into the UK and outwards to Europe for thousands of years, making it a vibrant and culturally rich part of the country where national politics are often writ large."

Firstsite reopens on May 17.

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