What We Do

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.


We believe that art in all its forms offers fresh perspectives on modern life. By encouraging dialogues between artists and audiences we aim to fire the imagination and stimulate new engagement and practice.

Our History


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.

image of a children drawing.


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.

Image of the Firstsite building in daylight.

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.

Visitors in the gallery.

Our Building

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.

Aerial plan of the Firstsite building and surrounding location

The Site

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's auditorium
Inside Firstsite in the mosaic space
Firstsite in daylight

The structure

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.

Amazing spaces

The Galleries

Firstsite’s gallery spaces lie towards the rear of the building. They include the Giles and Sonia Coode-Adams Gallery and the Foundation for Sport and the Arts Gallery, a climate-controlled, museum-quality hanging space.

The Mosaic Space

At the heart of the Firstsite building is the Berryfield Mosaic, a Roman artefact unearthed in 1923 on the site on which the building now stands. The Mosaic has been painstakingly cleaned and returned to its original home, as Firstsite’s only permanent exhibit.

Available for Hire

The Cinema

Firstsite’s state-of-the-art cinema seats 190 people and boasts a six-metre tab tension screen.

Clad with overlapping cherrywood panels. Available to hire for your very own gallery cinema experience, film screenings, school visits, lectures, presentations and performances.

Available for Hire

The Meeting Rooms

We offer two meeting rooms that seat either 15 or 20 delegates. Featuring boardroom-style seating, 65″ LCD screens, wi-fi, video conferencing, basic stationery including flip charts, white boards and pens. Both rooms are generously lit by natural daylight and feature blackout blinds for screenings and presentations. These rooms are available to hire and are perfect for corporate events, business meetings and other such functions.

Available for Hire

The Function Space

Firstsite’s Learning studios transform into a stylish Function space that becomes an ideal venue to hire for banquets, awards ceremonies and celebrations. The Function Space can accommodate up to 160 people seated banqueting-style at circular tables.  Again this space is available to hire and you can find out more on our venues page.

The Gallery Shop

Discover a covetable range of design-led gifts at Firstsite’s shop, located at the front of the building. We stock a huge range of merchandise, from branded goods at pocket-money prices to designer jewellery and textiles.

Cafeteria and Dining Spaces

Our Café serves hot and cold drinks, cakes and light lunches and is an ideal place for a small, informal meeting – whether for business or pleasure.

You can hire these spectacular and high-spec spaces for your business meetings, conferences and events, Christmas parties, weddings and other celebrations.