Norwich - City of Stories

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The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

8 May 2016

Sainsbury Centre exterior Photo Pete Huggins use for SCVA events

At first glance, you might think Norwich is a sleepy, pretty little city: a charming maze of cobbled streets and churches, pubs and bookshops, a place where life is sweet and uneventful. You couldn’t be more wrong.

Behind Norwich’s tranquil façade is a torrent of creativity, flooding through every corner of the city and welling up in the most unexpected places. Here there are artists living and working, actors taking to the stage each night in the city’s theatres and playhouses, curators dreaming and collecting until their exhibition is a perfect whole. Together, they are making Norwich one of the most exciting cultural destinations in the UK.

If there’s one name to mention when talking about Norwich and the visual arts, its 'Sainsbury'. Voracious collectors of art, Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury accumulated vast numbers of works by European artists including Picasso, Degas, Bacon, Giacometti and Modigliani, before their fascination with historical cultures led them to start travelling the world in search of ancient art and artefacts. By the 1970s their collection was over a thousand pieces strong, spanning more than 5,000 years and every populated continent on earth.

The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

The futuristic front of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts building

The Sainsburys donated their still growing collection to the University of East Anglia in 1973, and five years later the Sainsbury Centre was opened on a quiet corner of the campus grounds. Students, professors and the visitors alike can contemplate the Sainsburys’ collection at leisure, far from the madding crowds of a city centre museum.

But it’s not just the collections that will get you breaking out in a sweat  of excitement, the building itself was the first commercial property from Norman Foster (we bow down in pure adoration of this creative genius). Just wandering the building and taking in its vastness, is an almost architectural spiritual experience and one that you might expect only in London. Built in the seventies, it remains looking space age today, so much so in fact that Avengers: Age Of Ultron used the Centre as a location, the results of which we saw on the big screen in 2015. So not only do visitors flock for a cultural pilgrimage they also come for a cheeky selfie where once stood Iron Man; Robert Downy Junior himself!