A thriving art gallery and cultural centre based in Colchester.
Our mission is to inspire people through innovative art and culture – contributing to our region’s well-being, learning and economy.
Our inclusive and evolving programme immerses audiences in a wealth of visual arts that aim to bring art into the heart of our diverse community.
We present exhibitions from both local and internationally renowned artists, run events, activities and learning workshops and show a wide range of films and live opera and ballet screenings.
Firstsite began life in 1994 in Colchester’s 18th century Minories building. Our innovative programme of exhibitions and professional development for international, British and local Colchester artists grew and flourished.
In 1996, Firstsite became the first visual arts organisation to dedicate an entire gallery to schools’ art; and education and participation remains central to our mission, making it ideal for school and educational trips in Colchester, Essex.
Firstsite’s success in reaching out to new audiences for contemporary art attracted tens of thousands of visitors, and by the early 2000s, it was clear that the organisation had outgrown its Minories home.
In 2003 a capital partnership was formed, that included Arts Council England, Colchester Borough Council, Essex County Council, the East of England Development Agency, and the University of Essex.
The partnership agreed that a new centre for the visual arts should be the linchpin of a masterplan to develop a creative quarter to the east of Colchester’s historic centre.
An ambitious building programme got underway, which would provide a permanent home for Firstsite, and form part of Colchester’s future heritage here at Lewis Gardens.
2011 and beyond
Today, Firstsite is a national leader in commissioning new art, providing innovative learning opportunities, and supporting the professional development of local and regional artists, as we fulfil our role to bring the transformative power of art to everyone.
In 2011 we moved into a building that’s a work of art in its own right, a spectacular golden crescent. This marvel of contemporary architecture ‘floats’ on a base without traditional foundations to protect the rich archaeology beneath, and every inch of its golden shell was applied by hand.
The promenade leads you from a vast entrance through the curve of exhibition and workshop spaces, besides an auditorium and meeting rooms.
Our building was designed by the Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly, after his design was chosen from more than 100 entries in a worldwide architectural competition.
Rafael Viñoly Architects PC are also creators of the Curve Theatre in Leicester, and the masterplan for London’s Battersea Power Station redevelopment.
For more information visit Vinoly’s website here.
The building’s crescent shape was designed to wrap around the existing historic D-shaped garden of East Hill House, leaving intact the established arc of mature trees.
Its low-lying, single-storey design nestles in the landscape, with minimum disruption to Colchester’s historic roofscape.
Firstsite is built on a steel frame, and clad entirely in TECU Gold – a malleable copper-aluminium alloy that had to be applied by hand by a team of plumbers!
The site is Scheduled Ancient Monument land, with archaeological artefacts buried beneath. This meant a ‘no-dig’ policy: conventional foundations could not be dug. Instead, the vast 3,200 square metre building is supported by a giant concrete ‘raft’, which floats above the ground.