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


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.

Whitworth: Past, Present and Future: An outdoor tour

9 06 2014

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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!


Whitworth Park: Pleasure, Play & Politics

22 05 2014

Whitworth Park: Pleasure, Play & Politics

A new exhibition opened to the public today at the Manchester Museum charting the history of Whitworth Park, and based on work carried out over the last couple of years through the Whitworth Park Community Archaeology and History Project, funded in part by a Heritage Lottery Fund Your Heritage grant. A huge number of people have been involved with the project, including staff and students of the University of Manchester, led by the Department of Archaeology, as well as the Friends of Whitworth Park, staff from the Museum, as well as the Whitworth Art Gallery and the Ahmed Iqbal Race Relations Resource Centre.


Lots of local school students joined in the archaeological dig that uncovered a whole host of finds – sadly lost toys, including a lead soldier, and marbles, fragments of pottery and numerous glass ‘pop’ bottles, all of which bring together a picture of how the park was used over the decades.


The exhibition runs until 5 October, and the Museum is running a series of events over the summer, including ‘Conservation on Show’ (23 July 12-2pm) – which I’m plugging here, as its my fabulous team at the Museum who assisted the archaeologists and students with the conservation of artefacts, and our technicians who, as ever, have built a great exhibition set!

Art in the Park – 4

20 05 2014

Art in the Park - 4

Last month’s teaser question made reference to an artwork that has been a permanent fixture of the Whitworth’s grounds since 2009. The sight of Gustav Metzger’s striking installation Flailing Trees will be very familiar to those who travel along Oxford Road day-to-day. The road, upon which we are situated, is reportedly Europe’s “busiest bus route”, and channels those based in South Manchester into and out of the city centre for work, hospital appointments, lectures at the universities or evenings out.

Originally a commission for Manchester International Festival (hyperlink:, the work consists of 20 upended willow trees, heads plunged into a base of around 7 tonnes of concrete. It occupied a space in Manchester Peace Garden for the duration of the 2009 festival before being moved (with the assistance of a crane) down to its existing spot outside our Oxford Road entrance. It is now part of our permanent collection and is viewable through all seasons, against the changing backdrop of Whitworth Park.

Described by Metzger when speaking to the Guardian (Hyperlink: as a “protest piece,” he justifies the ‘violent arrangement’, the roots unnaturally exposed, bare and jutting towards the sky – in juxtaposition with the living lushness of the trees of Whitworth Park, as a stand against the brutality that humans display towards the natural world.

Gustav Metzger is a hugely influential artist and political activist who pioneered the concept of Auto-Destructive Art in the 1960s and the Art Strike of the 1990s. A new exhibition focusing on Metzger’s “auto-creative” work will open later this month at Kettle’s Yard (Hyperlink:

And so for our next month’s teaser question – ‘Which one-night-only park artwork was inspired by this song?’


9 05 2014

Anyone who visits the Whitworth Art Gallery will know that it is situated in the nearest and largest area of green space directly south of Manchester city centre, and in recent years a number of initiatives have gone a long way to integrating the Gallery with its adjacent parkland, whether that is removing the fence separating the two, installing artworks in the surrounding landscape, or encouraging children’s activities in the park in true forest school style (see:

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The first page of MUMA’s concept sketchbook illustrated the importance of the Inside/Outisde, alongside a quote from previous Gallery Director, Margaret Pilkington, who following a visit to Oslo in 1932, wrote:

“I have come to the conclusion that a good museum or gallery should be a place where people feel comfortable. If it stands in a garden or park, the visitors should be able to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors as a counterpoint to what is within.”

In 2011, the Southbank Centre commissioned the Eden Project to create a roof garden on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall where people can relax, eat and drink. In the following film, Gallery staff on a research visit discuss the effects of creating open, green spaces within buildings for the arts. The team from the Whitworth Art Gallery reflect on the importance of the Whitworth Park as the setting for the redeveloped Gallery, and the importance of location in developing both the Gallery programme and visitor services.

Inside/Outside from Belle Vue Productions on Vimeo.

Art in the Park – 3

17 04 2014

Art in the Park - 3

Are you becoming an expert on all the marvellous artworks that surround the Whitworth already or that have made a temporary appearance in the Gallery grounds or Whitworth Park? Or were you baffled by last month’s ‘Art in the Park’ teaser question?

The image above, taken by photographer, Alan Seabright, shows visitors to Whitworth Park responding to both the sight and sound of Emeka Ogboh’s ‘Lagos Soundscape’.

Throughout the summer of 2012 a stretch of Whitworth Park reverberated with the sounds of a market in Lagos, due to Emeka’s carefully placed barrel speakers in the trees. This was all in aid of We Face Forward, a summer of contemporary West African art and music across the city, celebrated in galleries, gig venues, via a roving ‘Art Bus’ and events and installations which permeated some of Manchester’s public spaces.

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This work had the ability to transport you thousands of miles in an instant, and for many caused a split-second of confusion or recognition. Sister works based on sound recordings from other locations in Lagos ran as an one-off in Piccadilly Gardens and throughout the festival outside Manchester Art Gallery.

We Face Forward co-curator Bryony Bond says of the project, which is part of an ongoing series: ‘Lagos Soundscapes captures the ever-changing sounds of Africa’s most populous city and the artist’s own hometown, Lagos, Nigeria. The city is described by Ogboh as shaped by globalisation, a combination of “new and old, modern and archaic, first and third world”.’

Follow Lagos Soundscapes on Twitter @goslowlagos
Via their website:
Subscribe to their Soundcloud:

And so to this month’s teaser question: ‘Which Whitworth artwork comprises this unusual forest of trees?’

A new destination Gallery

14 04 2014

A new destination Gallery

For many years the South Gallery with its huge picture windows overlooking Whitworth Park was regarded as a destination gallery – a space for quiet contemplation – where one could sit and relax, enjoy the art as well as the views, and get away from the flow of visitors through the rest of the building. Over time, however, as demands for spaces increased and the types of activities and events offered by the Gallery grew in both number and ambition – anything from Toddlertastic dancing to Iranian wrestling – the likelihood of finding quiet in the South Gallery diminished.

This change in usage is also set to alter further, as a new opening and doorway will be created at the far western end of the South Gallery, leading visitors along the promenade towards the Cafe.

So where will the future destination gallery be?

Potential for greater load bearing capacity in the new Landscape Gallery

Potential for greater load bearing capacity in the new Landscape Gallery

The answer is the Landscape Gallery – a new peaceful space, designed to be an end point on a visitor’s journey through the building. The Landscape Gallery is large; similar is scale to the South Gallery, and again with a wonderful view out to the park. As this gallery is newly built, it was also possible to design it to cope with greater floor loadings, and therefore allow the Gallery greater flexibility with art installations and exhibitions in the future.

Installing the glazing in the Landscape Gallery high level window

Installing the glazing in the Landscape Gallery high level window

At high level, a vast window, invisible from the inside, will bring diffused north light down into the room. It is this window that passers by on Denmark Road cannot fail to have noticed over recent weeks, as the glazing was finally installed – with the help of enormous water bags!

Sources of inspiration and Visitor Services – Million Pound Team

11 04 2014

Sources of inspiration and Visitor Services - Million Pound Team

As the Whitworth Art Gallery is currently on a journey of major redevelopment and transformation, the physical changes to our new building, new spaces and expansion into our surrounding park are obvious, but what would a team devoted to the visitor experience be doing without a building or any visitors? Chad McGitchie provides the answer:

During the closure the Visitor Services team has a unique opportunity to regroup and strategically plan what our new identity will be when we re-open. Our aim is to streamline our training and development, enhance and polish our skills and work with other organisations/sectors to gather new and innovative ideas on delivering exceptional visitor experiences. As a university gallery in a park, we are really interested in the relationship between the indoor/outdoor experiences and how we connect not only with our visitors but also people who use the space around us.

The first thing we needed was a game plan. During the months leading up to the Gallery closure we devised a document called ‘Visitor Services – Million Pound Team’. “If you had a million pounds to construct a new Visitor Services team, what would you do and how would you do it?”

Of course we don’t have a million pounds just for us, but if we’re investing in millions and building with millions then we as a team should be thinking in millions. This activity plan is geared towards outlining what our new Visitor Services team will look like and what we need to accomplish during the closure and re-opening of the Gallery. It sets out to radically change our approach to deliver a world-class and truly Whitworth experience whilst raising our standards in quality and performance.

Members of the VSA team at a ‘Choon it Out!’ meeting

Members of the VSA team at a ‘Choon it Out!’ meeting

So how do we do this? Well, using our Gallery values of intelligent, accessible and quirky, we got creative! We started off with a series of team focused sessions, which involved each individual bringing their best music playlist on their iPod/iPhone and earphones and we asked a series of questions to answer on large pieces of paper on the walls. What has worked really well? What would you like to change? How would you change it? Why do you enjoy working here? We call it our ‘Choon it Out!’ meetings. You can’t help but get inspired and creative with your answers when your favourtie music is playing! Using everyone’s answers we then collaborated and created a basis for our activity plan with key focal points: Team Branding & Operation Systems, Recruitment & Inductions, Team/Individual Development & Projects, Sustainable Access & Accessibility and Green Impact.

Now that we have a plan we wanted to make sure we covered as much as we could, so we got out of the office! Successfully securing funding from Manchester Consortium Professional Development Grant scheme, we organised research visits to connect with our colleagues around the country looking at cultural institutions, parks, heritage sites and gardens to explore the relationship between inside and outside and the visitor welcome – see #WAGontheMove. The team visited Cornwall – Eden Project, Leach Pottery, Lost Gardens of Heligan and Tate St. Ives, and Scotland – Scottish National Gallery, National Galleries of Scotland Modern One/Two, Jupiter Artland, The Burrell Collection (see the top ‘outside/inside’ image) and Kelvingrove.

Gina (centre) and staff from the Eden Project

Gina (centre) and staff from the Eden Project

Chad at the Lost Gardens of Heligan

Chad at the Lost Gardens of Heligan

It was a great opportunity to meet new colleagues, to tell them more about our redevelopment and learn new ways to engage our visitors both inside and outside our building. We also wanted to visit places that have been, are going through or have completed a major redevelopment to learn from their experiences – the good, the bad and the ‘if we could go back we would change…!’. We were blown away by how inviting and generous people were with their time in talking to us and show us around their venues. We met some fantastic people doing amazing work!

Along with leading in all our social media outlets, which have been integral in keeping people up to date on all things ‘Whitworth’, our next big focus will be on our recruitment drive for new members of the team, which will be launching over the summer.

We still have a lot to complete before the grand re-opening of the Gallery and our planning continues!

Creating a Real Buzz about Bees and our Bio-diverse roof

31 03 2014

Creating a Real Buzz about Bees and our Bio-diverse roof

Last week you could say the bee lovers of Manchester swarmed into Manchester Museum for the first in what we hope will be a series of events to discuss the development of a more joined up strategy for Greater Manchester’s urban bees. The fact that so many people are training as bee-keepers and siting hives in the most unusual of places is fantastic for the bee population – but might just prove too enthusiastic. The problem is that bees don’t really like to fly too far from the hive to collect pollen – and Manchester just doesn’t have enough green space to provide them with places to forage. The more bees we have, the more plants we need to help feed them!

That’s where the idea of a River of Flowers comes in. Some of the great cities of the world have been creating ‘roads for bees’ and Kathryn Lwin, Founder Director of London’s River of Flowers was on hand at the meeting to provide some inspiration. When Kathryn founded the London scheme (which you can find more about here: she knew hardly anything about bees. She certainly knows plenty about bees now – and was generous in sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm.

For two hours a room full of beekeepers, building managers and bee enthusiasts, discussed how we can make Manchester a more bee-friendly city. Lots of ideas for hive sites, forage sites, communication and education came out of round-table discussions. It was clear that there is enough enthusiasm to make something really great happen and The University of Manchester’s Sustainability Team , together with a whole host of partners, will be looking at how we can take forward the ideas from the meeting.

Anyone interested in joining the ongoing discussion should contact Emma Gardner, Head of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Manchester on

Areas designated for the Bio-diverse roof on the new Promenade

Areas designated for the Bio-diverse roof on the new Promenade

In the meantime, the Whitworth remains a great place, situated as it is in Whitworth Park, as a bee forage destination and work is progressing, as the image above shows, with creating a bio-diverse roof (alongside our existing green roof) – more information to follow, so watch this space.