Dedicated to contemporary visual art, firstsite occupies a striking crescent-shaped centre designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly – a work of art in its own right.
Sitting directly above Roman remains, the site is a fusion of old and new. One of the first things you notice on entering is the Berryfield mosaic, set into the floor below glass, which was originally part of a Roman townhouse. It's the only permanent item on show, as the centre has no art collection of its own. Instead, the three gallery spaces, radiating off a sweeping internal promenade, host a series of changing exhibitions and commissions from both local and international artists. Artists to have exhibited include Lubaina Himid, Grayson Perry, Ai Weiwei, Harold Offeh, Gillian Wearing and Ryan Gander.
Firstsite also hosts a wide selection of events, film screenings and courses, with a particularly strong focus on activities for children and families – in 1996, it became the first visual arts organisation to dedicate an entire gallery to schools’ art, and community engagement is at the heart of its programming.
In 2020 Firstsite launched the Art for Life exhibition in collaboration with key workers – the project was commissioned by the NHS and sought to aid understanding around the impact of Covid-19. They also lent their building to neighbouring charity Community 360 to deliver welfare packs to those in need and created downloadable artist activity packs benefiting 400,000 people.
In response to the Black Lives Matter movement Firstsite commissioned artist Elsa James to create a poster calling for the UK to stand in solidarity with black communities – WE STAND WITH YOU is available for you to download and display in your own window.
Firstsite is shortlisted for Museum of the Year 2021.