Manchester Art Gallery

Take notice

Every month, a group of us head off to Manchester Art Gallery to look at just one painting for 30 minutes.

The dictionary definition of mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations”. This is exactly what we try to practice in these sessions.

We arrive and take our seats in front of a painting and Louise, the gallery’s Health and Wellbeing Manager, goes through a short warm up exercise where we focus on our surroundings. We concentrate on what we can hear – this can be footsteps, voices, doors closing, air conditioning rattling – and how we feel – our backs on the chairs, are we cold, hot, hungry, anxious. If our mind wanders, we are advised to gently bring it back to the here and now.

Then onto the main event, a guided session on the painting by Louise. We are encouraged to think about how we feel about the painting, do we like it, what emotions does it bring up in us, what does it depict? Then we look at the colours, the texture of the paint, light and shade, the frame and setting.

In this way, we are encouraged to really “see” the painting and how it affects us, and it is amazing (and maybe obvious) that the more you look, the more you see. The painting can draw you in, challenge your perceptions and evoke feelings of sadness, curiosity, joy or peace. It can bring up memories and stories, and free the mind to wander where it will whilst focusing on this one image.

One example that stands out for me was a small, drab looking painting that I probably would not have given a second glance to. It was by Gwen John, and was a tea table in a sitting room, all browns and beiges. However, in concentrating on the image, the colours, the textures and how it made me feel, I became aware of what a beautiful painting it was, the harmony of colour and light. I left that session feeling a very deep sense of peace and contentment.

In our busy lives where we are always trying to juggle and fit everything in, rushing about and never stopping to think, this is a way to be kind to ourselves and nourish our body and mind and general well-being.

I relish this opportunity to sit still and use mindfulness in this unique way. It has opened my eyes to other areas in my life where I can use these techniques to breathe, to stop, to renew and recharge.

It has also had other benefits – getting out of the office, meeting like-minded colleagues and discovering the art gallery shop! I have bought a number of gifts for family and friends here, I can browse in a calm atmosphere and avoid the scrum of the Arndale Centre – result!

The next session will be on Tuesday 21 February, so if you’re interested meet at the Information Desk at 12.05pm for a mindfulness art adventure!

Sandra Robinson, National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE)


The Mindful Museum

For the past four years we have been developing mindfulness across our learning programmes and with different audiences, we have explored just how this valuable skill can be employed in the appreciation of art. In this way, we have helped people to engage more fully with our permanent collection as well as with our special exhibitions. In encountering familiar works as well as art that is entirely new to them, they have been able to reflect upon the importance of their own mental health.

Our learners

The people we work with are invited to learn, develop and practise it within our gallery walls. Through our projects and public workshops, we have been helping people to appreciate that mindfulness is both life-long and life-wide. But the most important outcome is that they are encouraged to develop it independently in their everyday lives.

Our learners include adult mental health service users, primary school children, older people, newly qualified teachers and people who are long-term unemployed and the general public.

Adults and communities

Our work with mental health service users saw mindfulness provide a much needed tool they when they were coping with difficult emotions and thoughts. It seems to give people something to draw upon whenever they feel overwhelmed by the events of their day. A resource for recovery on the journey back to good mental health.

In our work with public sector workers, we have seen that mindfulness can help people respond to the challenging changes they face and over which they feel that they have little control.

Our drop-in lunchtime sessions have provided city-workers with important nourishment as well as respite from the noise and over-stimulation of the modern world. This gives them a moment away from the many pressures of their working environments. Mindfulness can be used as a preventative measure, protecting and strengthening people’s mental health by helping them learn skills to manage stress better and thereby lowering the risk of developing a mental health problem.


Similarly our work with schools has shown that mindfulness can help children to build up emotional resilience and self-worth. Thus empowered, they are more inclined to accept and value themselves for being just the way they are.

With a quarter of a million children accessing mental health services in England today, we believe mindfulness is a necessary skill for children and young people today to learn in order to flourish and thrive as adults.

Older people

Older people have told us that mindfulness has helped them to see life in a new way and how they have become more aware of the curious, the strange and the beautiful. They are therefore enriched by the realisation that irrespective of age, there is still so much left to see and appreciate in the world. And they are able to do this with a renewed sense of wonder.

The future

As the Mindful Museum we will raise awareness of the clinical evidence behind the practice and its impact on people’s health, creativity and learning.


Having integrated mindfulness across our learning strands and with a mindfulness-based public health and wellbeing programme that is accessible to every adult, we would like to share our learning and experience with other museums galleries. In our studios, we will share practical ways for other museum and gallery professionals to integrate mindfulness into their programmes through a series of Continued Professional Development sessions. And, of course, we look forward to learning from others so that we can continue to develop our knowledge and improve our understanding in this field.

A mindful city is a healthy, resilient city

Most importantly, we will continue to support people to learn this wellbeing skill so that they can effect real and long-lasting change in their own health and wellbeing. In other words, as The Mindful Museum, we will continue to invite the people of Manchester to be mindful, one painting at a time.


Ten years of Making conversation at Manchester Art Gallery

A creative and social space

Making conversation has been an integral part of the adult learning programme at Manchester Art Gallery for ten years. There have been some magical moments of connection between the works of art on display at the gallery and people from all walks of life. It’s success lies in creating a workshop space, physically and conceptually where the fundamental elements of all creative activity are able to flourish amongst participants: inspiration, response, developing ideas, experimenting and creating. It has also become a very social space and participants return again and again because of the connections they feel to other people, to the artist, Naomi Kendrick and to the gallery during the workshop.

Making conversation is open to all adults and includes audio description and guides so that adults who are blind or visually impaired can access it fully.

Workshops take place monthly on the third Thursday of the month. You can see lots of images from Making conversation on Flickr.

Meg Parnell, Learning Manager, Lifelong learning and Volunteers.

Naomi Kendrick reflects on her experience as lead artist on the programme

When we have new people joining Making conversation, as participants, volunteers, researchers or managers, it is always a case of “just come along and participate, then you will know”. It is hard to define in words what makes this workshop so special.

It is a workshop for adults at Manchester Art Gallery that was established ten years ago by Lifelong Learning Manager Meg Parnell and myself. At the time I was running my arts council funded national project ‘Elephant’, for which I developed and delivered workshops and exhibition tours in museums, galleries and community settings for groups of people who were blind or visually impaired. This had grown out of my own art practice which was, and still is, rooted in a multi sensory approach, as well as research carried out during my desgree (1999) into what opportunities were available to people with visual impairments to access and create art (at the time this was incredibly limited).

Alongside this multi sensory approach I believe in enabling workshop participants to learn for themselves, to interpret art on their own terms, without being told how to think about it. (This had grown out of my earlier training with the French education organisation CEMEA whilst employed at Fabrica Gallery in Brighton).

A multi sensory approach

After a short time running Making conversation, Meg and I opened the workshop up to all adults, realising that what drew people to the session was a particular way of looking at and responding to art through making and that this appeal was not exclusive to those with a sensory impairment. In any one session we may have retired people, students, someone just visiting the gallery that day from another city or country, artists and those who haven’t drawn since their school days. Many of the participants are visually impaired, blind or have other disabilities.

Separating people into different workshops because of a disability doesn’t make as much sense as bringing people together through a common interest. Though it is an accessible workshop, sight loss has never been at the centre of Making conversation, it is people’s pre-existing relationship with art and their confidence in experiencing and creating it that drives it, this is the starting point and often the challenge.

I witness the participants who, like magicians, turn whatever we have to hand in the studio into something incredible.

Each workshop begins with an exhibition tour, where I provide audio description of a selection of the work. We then return to our studio for tea, coffee, biscuits and a discussion around our response to the exhibition. There is a multi sensory activity inspired by the exhibition around this time, where sound, touch, smell, taste are used in various ways to provide an additional ‘way in’ to the art works.

Our discussion is then continued through making, at this point the room becomes alive with action. Through choice, participants often work collaboratively in small groups with support, if needed, from volunteers and myself. The brief is always to make work in response to the exhibition and subsequent discussion, what has the work evoked? How can this be captured in what you make?. The results are incredibly diverse; performance, poetry, drawing, sculpture, sound art, painting and more. I witness the participants who, like magicians, turn whatever we have to hand in the studio into something incredible and often in a very short time frame. We then spend time at the end of each session discovering what has been made – a whistle stop tour of the fascinating, provocative, playful, moving, humorous, revealing and heartfelt. I think we are all, always, a little amazed at what has happened in those few short hours, of what has been discovered and said.

A supportive and collaborative environment

There are so many ingredients that come together to make Making conversation it is about the process of absorbing, discussing, sharing and creating (an end is less important). And we are a team, where the lines between volunteer, participants and workshop leader are happily blurred. Everyone supports each other and multiple collaborations are formed whilst making, perhaps just for one session or over months and years. New comers have been visibly moved by the welcome they receive and the joy in the room.

The art we all share a passion for has enriched us individually over the last 10 years but it has also been a catalyst for bringing us together – It provokes us to share our own stories, and as a consequence to know each other better.

Running Making conversation, being part of the group it has become, is such a privilege. The participants, managers, volunteers and myself are rightly proud of what we have achieved. Making conversation is a constant affirmation of how powerful art can be in this context, of its ability to move us, remind us, inspire us, test us and bind us. I can say with certainty, with the many remarks from participants, colleagues and researchers past and present still echoing in my ears, that it makes our lives better. Isolation is such a huge problem in our society and certainly for many involved in this workshop, and that is why Making conversation is special. It has people’s relationship to art and to each other at it’s core. We have created an extraordinary space where the two are interchangeable.

Making conversation is the people who have been a part of it over the past ten years. We are constantly joined by new people, new views and experiences, people have come and gone, sadly some have died during this time and we remember them always in what we do. Thank you to all of the participants who have attended over the years! We have also had amazing managers, invaluable assistants and an army of incredible volunteers. I would like to thank them all for their support and hard work, for ‘getting it’ and for standing by us all the way. Especially Meg Parnell, Rob Blundell, Kate Day, Helena Lee, Mary Gifford, Ticky Lowe, Ed Trotman, Helen Newman, Gemma Lacey, Charlotte Tupper, Elaine Matteer and Ronan Brindley.

What participants say about Making conversation:

It gets your brain working. You’ve got to respond to something and every month Naomi pushes us in a nice way to make something related to what we’ve seen. I really enjoy it when Naomi pushes us to think more. What’s classed as art, what you think about it.

I find I connect to programmes on the television, I’ve heard about an artist or something has come up in conversation at the gallery and then I see a programme about it. It stimulates me.

When someone first said to me do you want to go to the art gallery, I said why would I want to go to the art gallery, I can’t see the pictures, I don’t know what’s there. When I first heard about it, I thought, that wasn’t a place for me. And now I’ve been coming for 6 or 7 years, so somebody must be doing something right. I’m not sorry I started coming, I’m sorry I didn’t start coming before!

Tony, participant for 8 years

I enjoy everything about it, getting out the house. Meeting other people and I enjoy making and drawing things and seeing the art. The way that it gets described to us. I knew a bit about art before I started coming but I enjoy it more now that it is described to us. It’s important that there is both the appreciating art in the gallery and making responses.

The social side of Making conversation is important as well as the art. If you don’t meet people and if you live on your own you are isolated. It helps me to feel connected to people, they like to talk about and make art. It’s really interesting to hear other people’s opinions.

Nicola, participant for 3 years.


Art meets medicine

Annie Lowe, a fourth year medical student completed her 6 week degree placement with the health and wellbeing team. Here she shares her experience Mindful marks.

This week I volunteered at the Mindful marks workshop, I left feeling truly inspired. Based on the concept of mindfulness, this session uses music and mark-making to help people to de-stress and relax. This month it took place in the Boris Nzebo’s Urban Style exhibition. His vibrant paintings use strong lines and vivid colours to show the urban landscapes and the people of Cameroon.

The day began by transforming the gallery floor into a giant blank canvas which awaited people’s marks. Bean bags and cushions were scattered and Cameroonian music, selected by Boris Nzebo, was played. The space became a relaxing haven amidst the hustle and bustle of the gallery.

Music and marks

The sound of saxophones and African beats started the session and enticed people to the workshop. Whilst the music was upbeat and energised I felt it had soothing elements which connected the music to the the paintings and the people. At first I felt apprehensive at the thought of drawing in front of an audience. However, Naomi (the lead artist) reassured me that nerves are normal and, even after years of practise, she felt the same at the start of a session. With this in mind, I began.

With an oil pastel in each hand we settle into the session. Naomi advised everyone to close their eyes and focus on the music, letting the rhythm carry your hands across the paper leaving marks in their trail. This helped me to really listen to the music, engage in the present moment and relax. I have always been a bit of a perfectionist so this did not come naturally at first, but once I’d settled into the session it felt as though my hand had a life of its own!

Unwind with scribbles

From the cushions on the floor I watched the workshop unfold… one lady who, like me, looked uneasy about putting pen to paper, gradually became more confident in her ability to unwind with scribbles. It was wonderful to see the positive impact of the session. Some people chose to lie back on the bean bags, close their eyes and let the music wash over them, whilst others sat and drew on colourful clipboards. Someone commented that even though the gallery space was alive with people, the atmosphere was tranquil and they were able to switch off from the outside world.

So what did I learn? Mindfulness doesn’t mean sitting cross legged on the floor, it is about engaging in the present, listening to our senses and appreciating the here and now. I felt invigorated, relaxed, inspired and animated. I have learnt that art can have a great impact on mood and wellbeing and I am determined to make time for this in the future. And others agreed with me, describing the session as ‘inspiring,’ ‘relaxing,’ ‘insightful and calming to the mind’ and as an ‘extremely beautiful moment.’


Mindful marks: de-stress and draw for adults

Second Tuesday of every month


Free, no need to book.

Manchester to Edinburgh cycle ride

September 21-24 2016

This September an intrepid group of cyclists will make an epic journey northwards to raise awareness of urban beekeeping, tree planting and cycling. The ride will be a four day test of character from Manchester to Kendal, Kendal to Dumfries, Dumfries to Glasgow and then finally Glasgow to Edinburgh totalling 334 miles. The ride team, which includes Manchester Museums and Galleries Partnership staff, staff from Manchester City Council and invited guests, have spent the summer donning lycra and pounding out the miles in a desperate attempt to be ride fit for September.

Manchester Museums and Galleries Partnership Cycle jersey 2016

This year’s ride follows on from the success of a cycle to London in 2015 in collaboration with the Chelsea Fringe Festival. That journey culminated in an event at Bethnal Green where, quite literally hot off his bike, Visitor Services Manager John Mouncey gave a presentation about the urban sustainability work of Manchester Museums and Galleries Partnership.

The event is supported by Grow Wild, Manchester City of Trees and River of Flowers to promote the importance of tree and wildflower planting across the UK.

Launching the ride will be a tree planting event in Whitworth Park in conjunction with Manchester City of Trees. The ride will culminate with a celebratory event in Edinburgh in collaboration with Grow Wild Scotland and Cycling UK.

Along the route a bespoke mix of wildflower seeds curated specifically to provide flowers for bees will be given away.

We’ll be posting regular Twitter, Instagram and blog updates from the peloton as it ventures north.



My Favourite Decade

Woman in Vogue 100 exhibition

The Swinging Sixties, the Roaring Twenties, the Flying Forties, even the Naughty Nineties: the decades of the 20th Century have distinct characteristics, marked out as they are by their music, art, literature – and, most of all, by their fashions.

To mark the opening of Vogue 100: A Century of Style, we decided to highlight some of the people for whom a particular decade isn’t just a thing of the past. In our new Instagram series you’ll find men and women who identify with the style of a particular decade, from the sisters so inspired by their Land Army grandmother that they wear original 1940s outfits, to the friends for whom the 1990s never really went away, via those still buoyed up by the energy and the optimism of the Swinging Sixties.

We feature their portraits over the summer. Follow us on Instagram (@mcrartgallery) for updates, and let us know what you think.

Do you dress in the style of a particular decade? Would you like to have your portrait taken at the gallery? We’re looking for more people to take part in My Favourite Decade. Simply follow us on Instagram and leave a comment – we’ll pick things up from there.





Fashion Friday – Schiaparelli

Tunic by Schiaparelli

‘Schiaparelli, London’, summer 1937
‘Rococo Scrollwork’ jacket and dress

Elsa Schiaparelli was a celebrated fashion designer with showrooms in Paris and London during the 1930s. She was not only a couturier, but also a fully-fledged artist who associated with famous surrealist figures of the day, such as Salvador Dali. She created flamboyant outfits, and some of her clients, like Marlene Dietrich and Wallace Simpson, who became the Duchess of Windsor, relished the drama of wearing her bold, highly embellished costumes.

We actively collect fashion, and this midnight blue silk jersey ensemble was purchased in 2015 thanks to grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the V&A. The jacket is strikingly trimmed with cream patent leather in ‘rococo’ scrolls and it makes it a very dramatic piece. Our dress was worn by a British socialite but it’s the same model that Wallace Simpson chose for her wedding trousseau in 1937, and she was photographed wearing it by Cecil Beaton. We’re delighted to show both the outfit and the original Beaton photograph as part of the Vogue 100 show.

Dr. Miles Lambert, Curator of Costume

“I love this piece, it has a simple elegance with just the right amount of flourish and, whilst it is so of it’s time, I think it is equally wearable today… a classic.”

Janet Evans, part of Couture Collective, who have been meeting once a month at the gallery to discuss 20th century couture.

“The dress itself is a timeless classic, more suited to a slimmer silhouette. The outfit could easily be worn today without looking out of place, say to a formal dinner.”
Gwynneth Carville – Fashion Tutor at The Manchester College / Freelance Fashion Designer. Part of Couture Collective.




Fashion Friday

This summer it’s all about fashion at Manchester Art Gallery – from the First World War-inspired designs of Fashion & Freedom to the newly opened Vogue 100: A Century of Style, via the revolutionary Japanese fashion (and design) found upstairs in our Design Gallery. And, to mark the start of that summer, we’re launching Fashion Friday.

Every week (on a Friday, as the name suggests), colleagues from the Gallery of Costume will select a choice outfit from our collection – which happens to be one of the most important costume collections in the country. Ranging from 1950s Italian heels to a Pierre Cardin suit, via classic Dior and an eye-watering Versace outfit, their choices will be showcased on our Instagram feed and then rounded up here, on the blog. The selections are varied, with the only criteria that each item of clothing sums up one of the decades of the past 100 years – much as the Vogue 100 exhibition does at the gallery.

If you’re not following us on Instagram yet, look us up @McrArtGallery. And if you are: enjoy Fashion Friday and let us know what you think.

Volunteer voices

My name is Daisy Strang and I am currently studying my MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies with hope to seek out a career in the gallery setting. I’m particularly interested in education, interpretation and exhibitions within the gallery. I am also a practicing illustrator and I currently am developing my giftware range, yet also working on reportage projects from a new client and have also just ran a workshop with Rose Miller for June’s Family weekend! I began my MA following a number of voluntary workshops at the Manchester Art Gallery in which I realised how much I love being part of the gallery and engaging with visitors through diverse and exciting workshops.

I began volunteering with Manchester Art Gallery in December 2014 in which I decided to come along to Making conversationwith Naomi Kendrick to experience what is happening at the Gallery. I’d seen plenty about what was going on but not had first hand experience. I had such a great time at the sessions and felt that we all, both gallery visitors, volunteers and museum staff, benefitted from engaging in the workshop. I left feeling relaxed and chuffed to have met a group of new people whilst engaging in the gallery’s collection and collaborating creatively in response to artworks we discussed.

My role now at the gallery is mostly involved with Open doors, although I also have involvement in other family learning programmes. I have been volunteering at Open doors since around September of last year (I think). For those of you that don’t know, Open Doors is aimed at families with children who are on the autistic spectrum or other social communication issues. We interact with exhibitions in a reflective, multi-sensory workshop that runs prior to usual gallery opening times. I particularly enjoy Open doors as it is hugely playful, so great to have an empty gallery and we are able to really take our time with the old and new participants throughout the workshop in order to allow them to have an enjoyable and relaxing experience. I love how we have the same families returning to the workshops and how at home the children feel when in the Clore. It’s a truly special workshop.

Volunteering at Manchester Art Gallery has shown me that there is much more going on in the art gallery than first meets the eye. To me, the gallery plays a crucial role in our community enabling all to engage with artworks, exhibitions and programmes through truly unique, imaginative and interesting programmes. My favourite space is the modern Japanese design exhibition space! I love the high ceilings and the exhibition itself.

Daisy Strang, Adult and Family learning volunteer.



If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer visit our website and fill in the form. We’ll get into touch when the next opportunity comes up.

Volunteer voices

I have been volunteering at Manchester Art Gallery since March 2015. I work primarily with the exhibitions curators, but depending on the projects can do some work for the collections curators also if the projects connect and they offer to make me a cup of tea. My main reason for volunteering was to begin the process of initiating a career change. I had been a clothing retail manager for 10 years and felt that the road ahead was narrowing or non existent and knew that a return to ‘the arts’ which I had originally studied in was the direction I wanted to head. Over the previous 2-3 years I had also been involved in working on design and film projects as Art Director and developing my own art practice again and project management skills as well as my creative abilities and love for art and creative practice in general.

My roles at the gallery are varied depending on the stage of the exhibition development and which curator I am working with. The work can vary from detailed research into a particular artist or maker, putting together information for meetings with designers, cataloguing information for items within the collection, liaising with artist and their representative gallery to facilitate requirements to writing artist biographies and setting and cutting the labels for the artworks and writing a blog for projects for the gallery website.

The key for me and the reason I applied to the gallery was both the variety of work shown and also established nature of the gallery. I wanted to develop knowledge of how an established institution runs and works, and the roles the curators play within that institution. I started a Masters course at Manchester Metropolitan University in Contemporary Curating in September 2015 and wanted to gain as much experience as possible prior to the course starting but also to run concurrently to the theoretical side of the course.

It’s genuinely difficult to underestimate the amount of information, knowledge, contacts and experience I have gained in the year I have been at the gallery. It has made such a difference to my understanding of my course, but also the real world experience I am gaining is invaluable. There is always some interesting work to be done and just eavesdropping on the conversations the curators have with each other and other departments gives me such an insight into their roles. Seeing the artworks and archive files first hand and close up is fascinating. The generosity of the curators though, their time and trust in me and how inclusive they are with the projects and involvement in meetings and discussions has been great for me.

Favourite work in the collection (so far, that I know about) is Peter C by David Hockney. Though I did just discover that within the collection is a copy of David Bailey’s ‘Box of Pin Ups’ from 1965, and as a fan of sixties art, fashion, photography and rock and roll culture this may knock Hockney off the top spot, especially as he’s in the ‘Box of Pin Ups’ anyway!

Mat Bancroft, Exhibitions volunteer.



If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer visit our website and fill in the form. We’ll get into touch when the next opportunity comes up.