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’.


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:, so if you haven’t already put our reopening date in your diary, then do so now!

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

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 16.22.01

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:

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

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 21.21.00
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.

Whitworth: Past, Present and Future: An outdoor tour

9 06 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 13.38.21

With warmer weather on the way we invite you to join us for Whitworth: Past, Present & Future: An outdoor tour for those interested in finding out more about the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester’s gallery in the park, whilst we undergo a £15 million redevelopment (opening Autumn).

Sarah Sanders from the Visitor Services team leads the first tour

Sarah Sanders from the Visitor Services team leads the first tour

The Whitworth’s very own Visitor Team will take you back through the Gallery’s illustrious 125 year history, from its humble beginnings as Grove House, a gallery established ‘for the perpetual gratification of the people of Manchester’, right up to the present day. Hear about what the redeveloped Whitworth will offer: brand new exhibition spaces, a fabulous art garden designed by Sarah Price, the innovative Clore Learning Studio and more… All this whilst taking a stroll through Whitworth Park, with views of the original façade of the building and encounters with some of the Whitworth’s collections of outdoor art.
Dates and times

Thursday 5 June, Thursday 3 July, Thursday 7 August, Thursday 4 September and Thursday 2 October
12.15 – 1pm
*Tours start at The Anchor, 508 Moss Lane East

Saturday 7 June, Saturday 5 July, Saturday 2 August, Saturday 6 September and Saturday 4 October
2 – 3pm
*Tours start at The Anchor, 508 Moss Lane East

Tours are wheelchair accessible

All tours are FREE, but booking is essential.

Please contact the Whitworth to book a tour at:

Tel: 0161 275 7450

These parkland tours will go ahead even if it is raining – please wear appropriate footwear for a walk in the park, and be prepared for the Mancunian weather!


Talking sustainability in San Francisco

30 05 2014

Talking sustainability in San Francisco

This week, the city of San Francisco is hosting the American Institute of Conservation’s 42nd Annual Meeting, and this year with 1,212 delegates, it is the largest conservation conference organised in the US. The theme of the meeting, is ‘Conscientious Conservation: Sustainable Choices in Collection Care’, and during the four days sees over 200 presentations, workshops and roundtable discussions on topics ranging from LED lighting, to the use of lime based grouts for the conservation of historic masonry, and from the dilemmas posed by collecting Digital Video Art, to the Conservation of a 17th century convent in downtown Lima, Peru.

My own paper – part of the opening session on day one, was the perfect place to promote the work of the Whitworth’s collection care team and in particular the sustainable elements of our building project; titled, ‘Being a Gallery in a Park: Balancing Sustainability, Access and Collection Care’, it sat neatly amongst other presentations, including ‘Sustainable Collections Care on a Budget – a New Museum Store for Bolton, UK’ from conservation colleague, Pierrette Squires, ‘Precaution, Proof and Pragmatism: 150 years of expert debate on the Museum Environment’, and one that felt very familiar, ‘ A LEED primer for Conservators, Or, What Should I Do When the Architect Proposes Introducing Daylight in Our New Galleries?’


At the end of day one, the general consensus was that there had been some excellent presentations – many of a usefully practical nature, and well orchestrated opportunities for networking, including great hospitality at a reception at the de Young Museum situated in the beautiful Golden Gate Park.

Exquisitely clean, calm, light and airy paper conservation lab at the Legion of Honor Art Museum

Exquisitely clean, calm, light and airy paper conservation lab at the Legion of Honor Art Museum

In addition to the conference, I joined a tour earlier in the week to the de Young and Legion of Honor – both part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The tours took us into the galleries, but also behind the scenes to the objects, paintings, textiles and paper conservation laboratories – this was a great opportunity to talk to colleagues and compare notes on conservation materials, equipment and treatments.

I’ve also done a spot of benchmarking for the Manchester Museum in the Naturalist Center at the California Academy of Sciences, and since sustainability is the main theme of the conference, I’ve also been checking out examples of good practice – see the photos below:

The huge green roof on the California Academy of Sciences

The huge green roof on the California Academy of Sciences

60,000 photovoltaic cells in the roof canopy supply energy as well as shielding the building from the sun

60,000 photovoltaic cells in the roof canopy supply energy as well as shielding the building from the sun

Beautifully explained waste management options on the recycling bins!

Beautifully explained waste management options on the recycling bins!

Publicly displayed building energy information at the Exploratorium

Publicly displayed building energy information at the Exploratorium

Creating a new Volunteer Programme

27 05 2014

Creating a new Volunteer Programme

Whitworth Volunteer Coordinator Fee Cariss is busy recruiting and training a team of volunteers to assist at the Whitworth when we reopen in Autumn 2014 – here she tells us all about it.

‘After heading up the volunteer programme for the Manchester International Festival in 2013 and managing a portion of the thousands of Games Makers for the Olympics London 2012, I am very excited to produce and develop a new volunteer programme for the redeveloped Whitworth Art Gallery.

I want to create and give opportunities for volunteers to learn, develop and make a difference when volunteering for the Whitworth. Recruiting an enthusiastic and dedicated team of diverse individuals, bringing them together in creating the best volunteers in Manchester!

Volunteers will be at the heart of the new Whitworth and anyone can get involved in lots of different ways from supporting artists, getting hands-on and creative, intimate workshops through to large scale events, behind the scenes, art-gardening and helping with our children, family and adult programmes.

New roles to support our future plans are currently being developed and one of the roles we have in place will be Volunteer Art Gardeners; the maintenance and upkeep of the landscaped areas created by Sarah Price will be down to team of dedicated and enthusiastic arty gardener volunteers. They will get the chance to work closely with Sarah, be fully trained by gardening professionals and get their hands dirty being outdoors in our glorious Manchester weather!

The new Collections Access Area will also be key to volunteer input and assistance. The purpose of this role is to support the widespread use of the Collections Access Area and provide increased access to the collections of the Whitworth Art Gallery for all our visitors. Trained volunteers will encourage direct engagement with collections and create a meeting with visitors of all ages. This is an amazing opportunity to get to know the Whitworth’s Collection and work alongside our curators.

We will also be launching teams of Family volunteers. Getting families together of all ages from grandma’s to dad’s and from teenagers to toddlers, the volunteers will be involved across the board from helping deliver sessions, peer to peer learning, to family bloggers helping promote and reflect on our sessions for other families.

And of course, to support our producer Alex Rinsler in the launching of the Gallery’s opening weekend, Event volunteers will play a crucial part in assisting with the expansion of the Gallery and importance of getting the word out to the general public. They will then go on to assist with the other events, big and small, which we will be holding throughout the year.

Other opportunities will include volunteer assisted Walking for Health tours and lots of creative roles alongside our Learning and Engagement Team.

My aims have always been for volunteers to have fun and ensuring everyone achieves their motivations for getting involved so I will be making sure I meet and chat with everyone coming onboard and putting them in a role I hope they love!

Team Volunteer at a recent Whitworth Pub Quiz

Team Volunteer at a recent Whitworth Pub Quiz

We are looking to recruit over 100 volunteers, providing training and inductions throughout September ready for our opening in Autumn,

Being from Manchester and having visited the Whitworth Art Gallery since I was a little girl I am very much looking forward to seeing, and working in, Manchester’s new gallery in the park!’

Register your interest in volunteering by emailing or phoning Fiona at:
Fiona Cariss | | 0161 275 8459