Progress on our Oxford Road entrance

9 10 2014


Its been a while since the last blog post, but there has been much progress on site, with the biggest difference being visible at the Oxford Road side of the building. A month or two ago, staff ceased to be able to enter the building through the original portico and we currently have a temporary side entrance. From then onwards, our new contractors, Manchester & Cheshire have been busy reconfiguring the stone steps, removing the brick and terracotta walls and levelling out the ground to make our new landscaped frontage and sculpture terrace.

The following images chart this progress:

Each stone step is numbered before removal

Each stone step is numbered before removal

This one is number 38!

This one is number 38!

The brick structure beneath the stone steps revealed

The brick structure beneath the stone steps revealed

The Mike Lyons sculpture 'Phalanx' is carefully removed from site

The Mike Lyons sculpture ‘Phalanx’ is carefully removed from site

Foundations are put in place for siting sculpture and for the new steps and disabled access

Foundations are put in place for siting sculpture and for the new steps and disabled access

New stone steps are carefully aligned and laid in place

New stone steps are carefully aligned and laid in place

The base for a new set of steps is constructed near the gates onto Oxford Road

The base for a new set of steps is constructed near the gates onto Oxford Road

While the new build element of our project is still somewhat hidden behind the hoardings at the park side of the Gallery, everyone passing can enjoy progress at the Oxford Road side. We are now counting down to our reopening to the public on Saturday 14 February 2015 and excitement is growing – we can’t wait to welcome everyone back into our lovely building, both the old and the new.


Keep off the grass? Don’t think so…Cultural Park Keeper at the Whitworth

8 09 2014

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This week, a post from Esme Ward, our Head of Learning & Engagement…

One of the most frequently asked questions of my team over the last few months has been ‘What’ve you been doing with yourselves with no Gallery and no visitors during the closure?’ It’s a perfectly fair question. Have we had our feet up and taken time out as our colleagues decant collections, prepare exhibitions and get the building ready for reopening?

Far from it! The team has popped up far and wide with activities from art pubcrawls to events and exhibitions in Selfridges, Asda, local schools, nurseries and hospitals to name a few.  We’ve also valued the opportunity to step out of the everyday, with each member of the team developing new programmes by ‘living’ with another organisation or community partner for one day a week. These have included placements within the NHS, Student Union senior management team, volunteering in a local wood school, running the coffee morning at a local residential home and working in a Surestart nursery. We’ve tested ideas for programmes, co-developed resources, chatted and drunk a lot of tea and sometimes just got to know our neighbours better.

There has also been a little time to dream, think bigger and differently. We have long held the belief that the Gallery and park should be a unified experience for all our visitors. The expansion of the Gallery connects us to the park and unlocks the potential of our existing building. But, how might we take this one step further by working with people beyond our usual visitors, those who actively and regularly use the parks – dogwalkers, slackliners and families picnicking – and those who live and work nearby?  With so many new improvements made by the Friends of Whitworth Park working with the city council, the park is ready and waiting to be a place where great things happen.

Whitworth Weekending firework display

Whitworth Weekending firework display

When we closed for redevelopment in September 2013, we held Whitworth Weekending; a 3 day festival in Whitworth Park.  Over 23,000 people visited and nearly a third of visitors interviewed had never been to the Gallery before;

This weekend has been the best thing I have ever been to with my kids. I have a 10, 6 and 1 year old and all have loved it. We just live a few minutes away so we have been to all 3 days and both Friday and Saturday nights.. We’ve never been to the Whitworth Art Gallery before but we hope to come to more events in the future.

Weekending showed us there is great demand for this type of activity and more widely, there is a clear and growing demand for participatory events, volunteering and activities in our parks.  We started looking at who was using the park and for what purpose.

Whitworth Park was originally dedicated to ‘children and neighbours’ and we seek to rekindle this. In fact, looking to the past provided some clues and ideas for how we might shape the future of the park and its Gallery. In the 1890s, during the most prolific period of park building this country has ever known, the role of park keeper became firmly established. In its original form, the park keeper’s role was more focused on community engagement than keeping visitors off the grass. So, we wondered, how might a park keeper employed by a cultural organisation (rather than usual parks or leisure teams) engage children and their neighbours?

Victorian postcard - a park for children and our neighbours

Victorian postcard – a park for children and our neighbours

We are soon to find out. We are delighted to announce that the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation has awarded just over £250,000 to develop The Cultural Park Keeper, a three year post and programme dedicated to reaching new audiences by bringing nature, culture and people together.

We want to work across sectors (including health and education) and create new opportunities for people to get involved – the park keeper reimagined for 21st century Manchester.

To find out more and apply, visit

If you would like to be a part of our work in the park, you may also be interested in our Landscape & Sustainability Technician

Or if you would like to be a park volunteer, email or phone Fiona Cariss at: | 0161 275 8459

The Whitworth’s grand stairs inspire musical intervention

30 08 2014
The Grand Stairs protected during the building work

The Grand Stairs protected during the building work

While building work progresses at the Gallery, the beautiful 100+ yr old staircases at either end of the textile gallery facing onto Oxford Road are encased in plywood and correx to protect them from damage.  The historic lighting, featured in an earlier post are currently being refurbished (more news to follow soon), and with most of the building closed up and empty, the stairs patiently await the moment when they will be opened up to public view and once again take visitors up to the Grand Hall on the first floor.

For many staff whose offices or workshops were at one or other end of them, the stairs were often an exhausting feature of the working day, and with no lift access between stores in the Gallery basement and study rooms on the upper floor, the stairs were the only means of access when moving works from the collection.

Carrying a large rolled drawing during the collection decant

Carrying a large rolled drawing during the collection decant

Kira O'Reilly - MIF 2009

Kira O’Reilly ‘Stair falling’ – MIF 2009 (Photo credit: Marco Anelli)

At other times though, the Whitworth’s grand stairs have taken centre stage, and many visitors will recall being mesmerised by the sight of performance artist Kira O’Reilly as she slowly descended the staircase, naked and over a 4 hour period during the Manchester International Festival in 2009.

Another artist, this time musician Chris Butler, has been inspired by the staircases as a setting for creativity.  Chis is one of a talented group of freelance technicians who regularly support the Gallery’s Collection Care & Access team and as such is familiar with slogging up and down the stairs carrying heavy loads!  In 2012 Chris Butler teamed up with musician Sam Lench and producer Seadna Mcphail to record the limited edition single ‘Anger’ in the stairwells of The Whitworth Art Gallery. Both Butler and Lench have been involved with the Gallery over the years – with the encroaching redevelopment and extension of the building, they were given the unique opportunity to record a track within one of the original stairwells of the Gallery dating back to 1889. Recorded live in an afternoon and filmed by Mark Kendrick, the aim was to capture the ambient sounds and natural reverb of the space allowing the building to become part of the song. The track was released as a free single featuring a remix by Manchester’s Out Of The Basement.

For more about Chris’s work with ‘We Are Willow’ go to:

What links The Whitworth Art Gallery to a Manchester Football club?

11 08 2014


The Whitworth’s new earth tubes are the latest bit of kit being installed to boost our sustainability credentials, and part of the building project’s bid to achieve a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating.  The ground-air heat exchanger takes advantage of the fact that the temperature of the ground, 1.5 to 2m deep, remains a relative constant temperature between 7ºC-12°C throughout the year.


Incoming outside air passes through an underground pipe system to pre-heat it in winter and to pre-cool it in the summer.  By using the embodied ground energy to pre-condition the incoming ventilation air, it is possible to improve the quality of the air inside the Gallery, as well as saving both costs and energy.

The biggest issue facing the construction team with the installation was sourcing the soil for the back fill around the tubes.  The required soil mix was based around a German specification, fairly new to us in the UK – one of the Ameon engineers explained the problem: ‘… we spent a good few days trying to source the same spec within the British isles – in the end It was right under our nose all the time.  Football grounds have heated pitches and use the mix of soil we required, so the soil the Whitworth’s project now has around the earth tubes, which are buried 1500mm down, is re-claimed soil from Manchester United’s football ground.’


Back-filling around the earth tubes with reclaimed soil from Man Utd

Back-filling around the earth tubes with reclaimed soil from Man Utd

So there you are – never did I expect to be using the words Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester United in the same sentence!

Art in the Park 5

3 08 2014

Six White Horses by Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson

Six White Horses by Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson 

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Two and a half acres of grassland, a paddock, a set of floodlights, six white horses and versions of a famous country and western song came together to make an unforgettable one-night-only spectacle that provided the climax for our Whitworth Weekending events in late-Summer 2013.

Artists Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson were commissioned to create an artwork that would mark the end of one stage of the gallery’s life and the start of our current period of temporary closure, the continuation of building work as part of our capital redevelopment. The result was a serene, pastoral landscape with a twist, being in the middle of our own urban oasis, Whitworth Park.

Assistant Curator Helen Stalker described the scene in early evening: “The setting was romantic and beautiful, and then eerie and magical as the light started to fade and the moonlight and theatrical lighting took over – a lament”.

The gathering of crowds echoed the scenes in one of the works in our renowned collection of Victorian landscapes, Welsh Funeral by David Cox. Furthering this link Curator of Fine Art Mary Griffiths commented on the symbolic imagery of 6 white horses, who would traditionally pull a funeral carriage and take a person on their ‘final’ journey – the representation or embodiment of an ending.

Welsh Funeral by David Cox

Welsh Funeral by David Cox

Find out more about Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson’s work via their website

Spent Matches by Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson is also is featured as part of our Art Auction sale, which is currently raising funds for the redevelopment of the gallery

Our next teaser question will also test your memory of summers past: ‘Which park artwork possessed the trees of Whitworth Park during Manchester International Festival in 2011?’

Culture Makes a Difference – +Culture Shots 14-18 July 2014

15 07 2014


While building continues both at the back of the Whitworth Art Gallery, and now too at the front facing Oxford Road. Opposite us at the hospital and at other NHS sites nearby, +Culture Shots is in full swing.

+CultureShots is a week-long series of free events, planned to fit around a busy working day, offering a chance for you to become enthused by culture. Our ambition is to encourage individuals to find out why culture works, by discovering how the expertise within Manchester museums and galleries can be used to improve professional practice as well as patient’s health and wellbeing. For the full programme, a comprehensive guide to what’s on, where to find us and how you can get the most out of your +Culture Shots 2014 experience! See: for more information.

Last year +CultureShots hosted Trees for Me, a photography competition, which was a great success! Congratulations to our 2013 competition winners: Steven Roper (see his wonderful image of decorated trees from the Whitworth’s South Gallery windows, above) Sally Thelwell and Nicola Walker, and a big thank you to all 37 who entered. The eight most striking photographs were carefully selected to sit centre stage in the exhibition beautifully framed in the nuclear medicine corridor, situated just off the link corridor, adjoining to St Marys (see images below). The theme of the competition tied in exceptionally well with the Manchester Museum’s vast collections relating to trees and the uses of wood.

Tree and rooftops by Sally Thelwell

Tree and rooftops by Sally Thelwell

Silver Birch at Dunham Massey by Nicola Walker

Silver Birch at Dunham Massey by Nicola Walker

Winning entries displayed  in St Mary's Hospital Manchester

Winning entries displayed in St Mary’s Hospital Manchester

This year, +CultureShots will be hosting Changes, a creative writing competition. We are calling on aspiring writers to pen a poem, a short story or even write a song. The modern world never stays still for very long and it is this dynamism of change, renewal and rebirth that we would like staff to harness in their writing. What does change feel like? Does it inspire and energise everything around it? Or does it create nostalgia for the past and what once was?
For a more detailed outline of events go to:

New Landscaping design facing Oxford Road

29 06 2014

New Landscaping design facing Oxford Road

With only four months to go before the Whitworth reopens its doors, life for everyone at the Gallery has ramped up a notch or two. Last week saw the arrival on site of our Phase II contractors, Manchester & Cheshire Construction Co Ltd., who will be joining ISG on completing the overall building project for the new Whitworth. The second phase of the project focuses on the original frontage of the Gallery facing onto Oxford Road which will be completely re-landscaped, combining an architectural design from MUMA, a new lighting scheme by engineers, Buro Happold, garden design by Sarah Price and the installation of existing sculptures and new commissions onto a sculpture terrace.

In anticipation of the Oxford Road Corridor scheme, which will see private vehicles removed from a length of Oxford Road, including directly in front of the Whitworth, there will be no vehicle access into the Gallery grounds. Instead, visitors arriving by car or coach will approach the building from Denmark Road, while anyone using public transport, cycle or on foot will be able to use either the new Parkside entrance or the redeveloped entrance as shown in the architect’s drawing above.

All the existing gates will remain, but the current road (due to be dug up over the next few weeks) will be replaced by a gently sloping stone and bound gravel route, and reconfigured step-free entrance, providing level access from the outer pavements all the way into the building. There will be a terrace area for events, gatherings and the display of artworks; all the existing trees will be retained and complemented with new formal planting, lawns, seating and soft landscaping.

Tibetan Cherry

Tibetan Cherry

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The soft landscaping designs by Sarah Price will include loosely clipped ‘cloud’ hedging to create a low rolling structure, formal trees such as Tibetan Cherry providing interest with decorative flowers, leaves and bark, and year round colour through flowering bulbs.

'Cloud' hedging and flowering bulbs

‘Cloud’ hedging and flowering bulbs

So far, much of the work on site has been at the back of the original building, but there will be great changes to the site facing Oxford Road over the next few months. This final part of the scheme is being funded mostly by Arts Council England and will link both sides of the Gallery and the surrounding Whitworth Park through the landscaping and lighting designs – watch this space.