Press and Publicity – 2 weeks to go!

31 01 2015
Poster at Euston Station, London

Poster at Euston Station, London

Things are really hotting up and this last week has seen the architectural press descend on the Gallery, as well as our reopening publicity campaign hit both the streets of Manchester and the capital. The poster above was spotted by eagle eyed Florence, 11 year old daughter of MUMA architect Simon Usher – she was chuffed!

Architectural Press launch

Architectural Press launch

Gallery Director, Maria Balshaw together with Stuart McKnight of our architects, MUMA, hosted a press launch at the Gallery on Wednesday including presentations, in-depth interviews and tours of the new building. Although the final hanging of the Gallery’s collections and exhibitions is still on-going, staff and contractors at the Whitworth had gone to great lengths to make existing spaces and the new building look its best, and there was a highly positive vibe to the day.

We are truly counting down now to our reopening on 14 February – be prepared to ‘Fall in Love Again’.

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One month to go!

16 01 2015
Client Coordinator's new office!

Client Coordinator’s new office!

Having had a much needed break over Christmas and the New Year we have now all come back to the last great push to get the Whitworth ready and open for the public on Saturday 14 February. Both of our contractors, ISG and MCC are working hard on the finishing touches and everyday sees another element completed. At the same time, Gallery staff are busy finalising events and activities for the opening and following weeks, ensuring that our shop and cafe will be up and running, talking to the world’s press and launching our opening campaign, and in addition to our exquisite new building making our existing galleries look beautiful too. Some of us are still off-site in temporary office accommodation, while others are camping out within the galleries – yesterday while escaping the noise of floor sanding, I was snapped sitting cross-legged on site!

Art returned to the Gallery from off-site stores

Art returned to the Gallery from off-site stores

Support for Cornelia Parker artwork in our opening exhibition

Support for Cornelia Parker artwork in our opening exhibition

Our paper conservator condition checking loans-in

Our paper conservator condition checking loans-in

Curator, and Registrar problem solving in a  gallery office

Curator, and Registrar problem solving in a temporary gallery staffroom

Watercolours from the Gallery's internationally renounced historic collection being installed

Watercolours from the Gallery’s internationally renowned historic collection being installed

One of the biggest jobs currently facing us is to install the full programme of opening exhibitions. Works of art are being brought in from off-site stores and lenders, complex structures being built to support new artist installations, individual objects condition checked and finally art being hung on the walls.

There is a great buzz in the Gallery and a huge excitement growing – its great to see art going back on the walls at last. This week, Manchester (and the Whitworth) was 26th in the New York Times list of ‘Places to visit in 2015’ (see: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/manchester-named-new-york-times-8430806), so if you haven’t already put our reopening date in your diary, then do so now!





Architectural references

7 12 2014

It is almost two months until we reopen our doors to visitors and a good time to reflect on the wonderful MUMA designs for our new building and how, in part, they reference the earlier architectural design intervention of John Bikerdike and Partners in the early 1960s, and in turn Scandinavian design. The original gallery had developed in phases during the period 1889-1908 and little else done until the major modernist redevelopment soon after the gallery was handed over to the University of Manchester.

1960s Bikerdike redesign of the Whitworth

1960s Bikerdike redesign of the Whitworth

As described by the Architectural History Practice: “Bickerdike travelled in Scandinavia and was interested in Olof Olsson’s 1958 work at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, perhaps partly because this too was an adaptation of a Victorian building in a park. There is anecdotal evidence that the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen was another influence. This museum is housed in a mid 19th century villa set in wooded grounds which was extended from 1958 by Jorgen Bo and Wilhelm Wohlert, initially with pavilions linked by glazed corridors. The villa origins, use of simple natural materials and engagement with the grounds offer an obvious parallel with the Whitworth Art Gallery.”

Gallery at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art designed 1958

Gallery at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art designed 1958

When MUMA first visited the Whitworth, during the architectural competition in 2009, they commented on the quality and beauty of the natural materials used by Bikerdike – stone, elm panelled walls and loliondo hardwood flooring. These materials were a modern equivalent of the terracotta, marble and oak parquet floors from the original Edwardian building, and MUMA were determined to continue this tradition of working only with good quality materials and the highest standards of finish.

Sofa in the library at Louisiana

Sofa in the library at Louisiana

New oak seating at the Whitworth

New oak seating at the Whitworth

The Whitworth's South Gallery made the greatest connections with the surrounding park

The Whitworth’s South Gallery made the greatest connections with the surrounding park

In addition the brief to MUMA was to reconnect the Gallery with the external landscape – providing new views out to Whitworth Park and bringing the outside in. And, as the new building development nears its completion, there is no doubt at all that this latest architectural intervention is meeting the brief. We are currently deliberately avoiding publishing too many photographs of the new building – excitement is growing and we don’t want to spoil the surprise!

On Friday of last week, I visited the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, just north of Copenhagen; it was my first visit, and I absolutely loved it. The parallels between each of the three architectural visions are obvious – the placement of the building within the surrounding parkland, the play of light, natural materials, the connections between the art and the landscape – the list goes on. I spent over 8 hours at Louisiana and took hundreds of photographs – it was impossible to decide what to include here, but in the end I was taken by an evening view into the gallery that almost replicates a view of the amazing new window that looks over Denmark Road in Manchester!

View at Louisiana from the garden into the gallery at night

View at Louisiana from the garden into the gallery at night

Night-time light and trees at the new Whitworth

Night-time light and trees at the new Whitworth





Progress on our Oxford Road entrance

9 10 2014

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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 https://www.jobs.manchester.ac.uk/displayjob.aspx?jobid=8478

If you would like to be a part of our work in the park, you may also be interested in our Landscape & Sustainability Technician https://www.jobs.manchester.ac.uk/displayjob.aspx?jobid=8481

Or if you would like to be a park volunteer, email or phone Fiona Cariss at: Fiona.cariss@manchester.ac.uk | 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: http://www.wearewillow.com/anger/4586074063





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

15 07 2014

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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: http://www.healthandculture.org.uk/ 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: http://www.healthandculture.org.uk/programmes-artists/programmes/changes/