[caption id="attachment_525" align="aligncenter" width="460" caption="firstsite at night"]
After a series of pre-opening events, including special previews for press, 15 Queen Street members, and lucky Golden Ticket winners (let us know if you were one) among others, firstsite has officially opened its doors to the public, Ana Grabova reports.
A week of various previews and tours all culminated in a grand opening party on Saturday night, for which The Colchester Circle got suited and booted along with hundreds of others, each clad supportively in something gold; be it a shimmering dress, metallic talons, or a simple tie, the guests (many of whom travelled from outside of Colchester especially for the occasion) interpreted the dress code with zeal.
Head Chef Paul Boorman whizzed round personally with trays of canapés, topped by salmon and caviar. He was however stopped in his tracks, as guests flocked towards him like bees to honey - and yes, I am one of the guilty ones. Whilst champagne was, of course, the order of the day, us cider fans could wash it all down with Suffolk-based Aspall Cyder in Dry Premier Cru, or as favored by the Circle team, Peronelle's Blush.
The multi-function learning room, which overlooks the new public park, was filled to capacity, as guests gathered to watch Vice Chancellor of the University of Essex Colin Riordan, the Director of the Tate Sir Nicholas Serota, architect Rafael Viñoly, and firstsite Director Kath Wood, all take to the stage to have their final say on the victorious completion of firstsite.
[caption id="attachment_527" align="aligncenter" width="460" caption="Inside firstsite"]
The theme of the evening, as well as the speeches made at the other events of the preceding week, was the rapid growth of both, Colchester, and more specifically its creative industries, which firstsite aims to support and nurture. Like cloth-making and clock-making before it, the creative industry is now Colchester's speciality. With 1,300 creative enterprises in Colchester, the ratio of people (one in six) who work in this field is twice the national average. Even more staggering is the fact that Colchester has more artists living and working here than any other area outside of London.
It is only fitting then that the opening exhibition, Camulodunum takes its title from the Roman name for Colchester, and has been curated with a celebration of the town's enthralling history and unique identity in mind; a Turner sketchbook, opened at a pencilled depiction of a Colchester view, sits alongside a sculpture of a helmet by Henry Moore, and photographs by Benjamin Stone capturing the Cymbeline Group in full medieval dress.
More explicit connections to Colchester abound in the form of photographs of past Oyster Feasts and the 1909 Colchester Pageant. Look out too, for Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon appearing in a specially commissioned piece by Aleksandra Mir, titled HELLO Colchester.
Now that firstsite has officially opened its doors, it is predicted that some 500,000 extra visitors will be coming to the town every year. At Thursday's press event, Councillor Peter Martin, the Leader of the Essex County Council described firstsite as "a symbol of Colchester," alluding to a pivotal moment in Colchester's history, one in which it is placed ever more firmly on the national cultural map. And I raise my local cider to that!