Firstsite is 10!

24th September 2021

Our unique, golden building turns 10 on 25th September, 2021!

Firstsite began life in Colchester’s 18th century Minories building, back in 1994. Our innovative programme of exhibitions and professional development for international, British and local Colchester artists soon began to flourish, and by the early 2000s it was clear we needed a new, bigger home for our ever-growing audiences.

An ambitious building programme got underway, with Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly being chosen to design our new home following a worldwide architectural competition. Viñoly’s curved design was chosen from more than 100 entries worldwide.

We moved in September 2011, with our new space giving us an amazing venue to present larger exhibitions, deliver workshops and classes, and support our community by providing spaces for their events. 

Here’s just a few highlights from the time we’ve spent in our iconic crescent in the heart of historic Colchester!


Colchester Pageant posters (1909) courtesy Colchester and Ipswich Museums. Photo by Andy Keate.

‘Camulodunum’ was the first ever exhibition in our new building. The title came from Colchester’s original name, when it was established as a Roman legionary fortress!

Looking back on our town’s rich heritage as the first city of Britain, the exhibition was inspired by our place within a town where modern buildings neighbour monuments to antiquity.


Anthea Hamilton ‘Sorry I’m late’ (2021) photo by Andy Keate.


Anthea Hamilton’s exhibition, ‘Sorry I’m Late’, featured images of the human form and celebrities like John Travolta and Karl Lagerfeld, alongside seemingly random selections of objects, the artist’s installations throughout our building explored the surreal and seductive nature of images.


Agnes Denes ‘Work 1967-2013’ (2013). Photo by Douglas Atfield.


We hosted a retrospective exhibition of Hungarian-American artist Agnes Denes. From incredibly detailed drawings to a huge wheat field grown in the middle of New York, featured artworks spanning a 46-year period addressed a range of concerns and influences – including science, philosophy, linguistics, mathematics and sexual politics.


Bruce Mclean ‘Sculpture, Painting, Photography, Film’ (2014). Photo by Andy Keate.

Our exhibition of Scottish artist Bruce McLean’s artworks entitled ‘Sculpture, Painting, Photography, Film’ was spread across our entire building. It featured artworks of a range of media created over the course of 50 years, exploring his rebellious approach to what an artwork should be and how it should be displayed.


Open Exhibition (2015) Photo by Douglas Atfield.

We hosted our first Open Exhibition, showcasing a huge variety of artworks by over 650 local artists who responded to an open call for submissions.



Artist Rooms ‘Andy Warhol’ (2016) Photo by Andy Keate.

‘Artist Rooms: Andy Warhol’ exhibition presented artworks from across the artist’s 40 year career, including large silkscreen paintings, early ink drawings, self-portraits and his screen test series. Our building was also brought to life by designer Camille Walala’s bold and colourful geometric patterns, and Colchester-born Hattie Stewart’s ‘doodle-bombed’ magazine covers.


Grayson Perry ‘The Life of Julie Cope’ (2017). Photo by Alice Constance.

‘Grayson Perry: The Life of Julie Cope’ was a unique presentation of tapestries, woodcuts, ceramics and tiles designed by the Turner Prize-winning artist, Grayson Perry, for ‘A House for Essex’ (2015) – a building designed by the artist in collaboration with FAT Architecture. Overflowing with cultural and architectural detail, it explored social histories of Essex and modern Britain.

Holiday Fun Canteen. Photo by Aura Films.

2017 was also the year we launched our Holiday Fun programme, providing free meals and activities for families who require extra support during the school holidays.


Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere (2018) Photo by Katie Francis.

Our exhibition ‘Courage Calls To Courage Everywhere’ documented the creation of Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing’s statue of Suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett, situated in Parliament Square, London. The title of the exhibition came from Millicent Fawcett’s response to the death of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, knocked down by the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913.


‘Super Black’, An Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme Exhibition, Firstsite (2019). Photo by Maddie Pierce.

We launched our first ever Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme exhibition, ‘Super Black’ – led by people from Essex’s black community. It featured artworks from the Arts Council Collection which the group felt gave an expression of what it means to be black in England today, alongside artworks by Southend-based artist and activist, Elsa James, and objects from the Vanley Burke Archive.


‘My name is not Refugee’, An Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme Exhibition, (2020) Photo by Jayne Lloyd.

Our fourth Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme Exhibition showcased artworks chosen by a group of refugees and asylum seekers living in Colchester. Clients of Refugee Action, Colchester, worked together with the organisation’s staff and the Firstsite team to select artworks that explored ideas and stories that were meaningful to them. When we had to close due to UK lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we brought the exhibition into people’s homes through an online 3D walkthrough which can still be experienced here.


Art Fund Museum of the Year 2021. Image by PA Media.

Firstsite won Art Fund ‘Museum of the Year’, the world’s biggest museum prize! The win was huge recognition for our partners and funders, plus the communities and visitors we serve, who all make Firstsite such a vibrant, welcoming and essential place to be.

Wish us a special Happy Birthday by donating today
two children sitting at a table eating at Firstsite Holiday Fun

Firstsite Holiday Fun canteen. Photo by Aura Films.

A gift of £10 could help fund a child to attend Holiday Fun for one day – where they can take part in free art and sport activities, enjoy a hot nutritious meal with their family, and have fun with other children and families.

To donate text 10FIRSTSITE to 70085 to donate £10

Texts will cost the donation amount plus one standard network rate message. If you would like to donate but don’t wish to hear more from us, please text 10FIRSTSITENOINFO instead. See the full T&Cs

Welcome area at Firstsite. 'Big Hello' (2018) Peter Liversidge. Photo by Jayne Lloyd.

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