Manchester Art Gallery

Alistair Hudson appointed as new Director for Manchester Art Gallery and The University of Manchester’s Whitworth

The University of Manchester and Manchester City Council have today announced that Alistair Hudson, currently Director of the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima), will be the new Director of Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth.

Alistair will take up his role in the New Year. He succeeds Maria Balshaw at the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery following her appointment as Director of Tate earlier this year.

I am completely thrilled to be taking up this post in Manchester. The city’s cultural scene is one of the most dynamic and diverse in the country and Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth are at the heart of this. Maria Balshaw and her teams have established both institutions at the forefront of the democratisation of art, working for all of society. I look forward to driving this mission forward and working across the region in projects that have real impact in people’s lives.

Alistair Hudson

He brings with him a wealth of experience at the forefront of the culture sector and a strong record of championing art as a tool for social change and education. During the last three years as Director at mima, he set out the institution’s vision as a ‘Useful Museum’, successfully engaging its local communities and responding to the town’s industrial heritage, as well as placing it amongst the most prestigious galleries in the UK.

Alistair began his career at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London (1994-2000), before joining The Government Art Collection (2000-04) where, as Projects Curator, he devised a public art strategy for the new Home Office building with Liam Gillick.

As Deputy Director of Grizedale Arts (2004-14) in the Lake District, he helped the institution gain critical acclaim for its radical approaches to working with artists and communities, based on the idea that art should be useful and not just an object of contemplation.

Outside of these roles he is also Chair of Culture Forum North, an open network of partnerships between Higher Education and the cultural sector across the North and co-director of the Asociación de Arte Útil with Tania Bruguera. He was a 2015 jury member for the Turner Prize.

The full press release is available here.


MAGnet, news and views from our Visitor Services staff, volunteers and guest writers

MAGnet is a new blog from Iona and Beatriz in our Visitor Services team. With news and views from our Visitor Services staff, volunteers and guest writers, it taps into the wealth of knowledge in our teams; conveying the individual interests and personalities of the people who work at Manchester Art Gallery.

Read more at MAGnet.



Shirley Baker Manchester 1968
© Shirley Baker Estate

Entangling ourselves in knots of our own making

There was lots of noise in the gallery today.

The galleries are usually busy with school groups and visitors chatting to each other about art but today was a particularly noisy day due to essential maintenance being carried out in the building. Drills, hammers and voices filtered throughout and eventually into our mindfulness practice. Which ironically enough was all about noticing sounds in the gallery. Usually the sounds we hear though are slow footsteps on creaky Victorian floors, the far off distant clink and clatter of cups from the café and occasionally even the pitter-patter of tiny feet exploring the gallery perhaps for the first time. Today the sounds were different.

During this noisy practice I could tell a couple of participants were a bit put out, it seemed as though the noise was disrupting their experience. A natural reaction to something we do not like is annoyance or irritation. Here, I thought to myself, was the perfect opportunity to talk about acceptance, an important element in mindfulness practice. When we bring acceptance to everyday things that we find annoying like the sounds of drills in the gallery or the sound of someone on the tram talking loudly on the phone (this is a personal peeve of mine, ask any of my friends), we are more likely to bring a sense of acceptance to the big things in life such as overwhelming and intense emotions.

By the way, acceptance does not mean resignation or giving up; it means perceiving your experience and simply acknowledging it rather than judging it as good or bad.

A lot of our struggle as humans comes as a result of resisting difficult emotions. We do not like to feel afraid or hopeless or empty or enraged and so we fight against them – we rationalise, we bargain, we retreat, we try to neutralise and repress them  – as the poet Rilke so beautifully put it,

  We entangle ourselves in knots of our own making and struggle, lonely and confused.

But if we are our wisest, bravest and most self-compassionate version of ourselves, accepting the moment that we are in will help us manage and recover from those emotions more quickly.

But if we are our wisest, bravest and most self-compassionate version of ourselves, accepting the moment that we are in will help us manage and recover from those emotions more quickly.

We discussed this. Some members of the group nodded, some simply looked like they were taking it all in and a few looked unconvinced. Which is fine. And so we tried again. Listening, noticing the sounds of the hammering and the drills, noticing when this annoyed us and then trying our best to accept the sounds, letting them be there because there really was not anything we do about them. Cultivating a sense of acceptance of what was already here.

Afterwards, I asked the group ‘How do you feel?’ One participant, who I know is having a difficult time smiled for the first time in the session and simply said ‘Better.’

Louise Thompson, Health and Wellbeing Manager


Take notice

First and third Tuesdays of the every month

12:15 & 1pm

Free, everyone welcome

The great British toastie revival starts here

Chef Mary-Ellen McTague brings a whole new outlook to our café

The great British toastie revival starts here

Good food, made well. The return of the Breville toastie, Bury black pudding, bread and pastries baked on site, Derbyshire oatcakes and Manchester tarts – this summer, we welcome a new chef and a whole new outlook to our café.

Mary-Ellen McTague, best known for her award-winning restaurant, Aumbry, reopens the Gallery Café on 16 June. Expect local producers, a kitchen garden out front and everything made every day, from scratch. It’s a fresh start for us, and good food for you.

Until then, please bear with us while we update and improve the café. Follow developments @MAGallerycafe or speak to a member of our staff.

A new partnership: the gallery and Real Junk Food Manchester

We believe that good food should be available to everyone. We’ll be working with Real Junk Food Manchester in our new café to offer a pay-as-you-feel menu for children – delicious, healthy meals that are affordable for families.

Helping make family visits that bit easier

Why pay as you feel? Manchester Art Gallery is for everyone, a civic space in the heart of the city that’s open to all. But we know that families often struggle with the cost of eating out. By sourcing ingredients from Real Junk Food Manchester we can help make family visits that bit easier.

From 16 June, if you are visiting the café with children you’re welcome to order meals from our children’s menu. Simply pay what you feel at the till or by using the donation box in the kitchen.

Like the idea? Help us deliver pay-as-you-feel meals by making a donation during your next visit. Every penny goes towards supporting this project.

The Real Junk Food Project Manchester is a not-for-profit community interest company.

Please note, while we upgrade our kitchens in  preparation for the new café, the café itself will be closed. The Gallery Café will be open again Friday 16 June.

Gallery Café opening times

New café, from mid-June
10am-5pm Monday-Sunday (until 9pm Thursdays)

Follow developments @MAGallerycafe or speak to a member of staff for more details.

A Statement from Manchester’s Arts and Cultural Organisations

We have all been deeply saddened at the tragic events of Monday at Manchester Arena. Our hearts go out to the families, friends and loved ones of the victims, and to all of those affected by this terrible attack. The fact that the attack took place at a concert, where young people were gathered to enjoy music and each others’ company is a particular source of sadness.

While nothing can overcome the terrible loss, the determination and resilience of the people of Manchester has been remarkable, and Manchester’s cultural organisations will play their part in the city’s response. We will all be working closely with the police, the city council and other relevant bodies to ensure that our venues and events remain safe. We will also be following the advice of the City Council to continue, wherever possible, with all our planned activity, demonstrating the city’s spirit and strength.

Manchester is a city defined by its great culture. We all intend to play our part in continuing to build and share this culture, and to welcome visitors from the city and the world to our creative events and spaces.


AND Festival
Band on the Wall
Castlefield Gallery
Coliseum Theatre
Contact Theatre
Film Hub North West Central
Hallé Orchestra
Manchester Art Gallery
Manchester International Festival
Manchester Museum
Museum of Science and Industry
National Football Museum
Octagon Theatre
Royal Exchange Theatre
The Whitworth

George Frederick Watts, The Good Samaritan

Image: George Frederick Watts, The Good Samaritan

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.