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The notion of BALTIC began in 1991 when Northern Arts (now Arts Council England North East) announced its ambition to achieve ‘major new capital facilities for the Contemporary Visual Arts in Central Tyneside’.

Under the auspicious guidance of BALTIC’s inaugural Director Sune Nordgren construction began in 1998: only the south and north facades of the original 1950s building were retained.

Dominic Williams of Ellis Williams Architects, London oversaw the redevelopment of BALTIC from a flour mill into the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

A new structure consisting of six main floors and three mezzanines was secured between the facades which contained 3000sqm of arts space (four galleries and a flexible performance space), artists' studios, cinema/lecture space, shop, a library and archive for the study of contemporary art and the Rooftop Restaurant on Level 6. An additional two-storey structure: The Riverside Building, was constructed to the west of the main building, providing the main entrance into BALTIC, which looks out across Baltic Square and the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art opened on Saturday 13 July 2002. The inaugural exhibition, B.OPEN, featured work by Chris Burden, Carsten Holler, Julian Opie, Jaume Plensa and Jane & Louise Wilson, and attracted over 35,000 visitors in the first week.

Since then BALTIC has presented over 226 exhibitions of work by 476 artists of 64 nationalities and welcomed more than 8 million visitors.

The founding director, Sune Nordgren was appointed in 1996 and after close to 6 years, left to take up a new post as founding Director of the National Museum for Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway. He was briefly succeeded by Stephen Snoddy, who went on to become Director of The New Art Gallery, Walsall and from 2005 Peter Doroshenko, who went on to accept the role of Director with the prestigious PinchukArtCentre in Ukraine. In November 2008 Godfrey Worsdale was welcomed as Director, following an immensely successful time as Founding Director of mima, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. Godfrey Worsdale left BALTIC in July 2015 to become Director of The Henry Moore Foundation.

Sarah Munro was appointed Director of BALTIC in August 2015 with 20 years experience of cultural leadership. Munro joined following a distinguished career in Glasgow as both Artistic Director of Tramway and Head of Arts for the city, where she led the bid to bring Turner Prize 2015 to Scotland for the first time.