Manchester Art Gallery

All this talk of wellbeing – but what does it actually mean?

Wellbeing is everywhere. Well, at least talk of it is. I’ve seen books on happy salads, the zen art of washing your face and even mindfulness for dogs! I remember the days when I had to scour the internet for books on mindfulness and now Waterstones has an entire section on it. This is great for wellbeing nerds like me, I’m not complaining.

All this talk of wellbeing is good – it’s the conversation we should have been having years ago, especially in the cultural sector, and one most of us are eagerly having now. These are exciting times. But what does wellbeing actually mean?  

A colleague asked me this very question recently and it made me think others might be wondering it too. So, if you are thinking of developing a health and wellbeing programme in your cultural institution or even if you simply work in a museum or gallery these days, then it would be wise to know an answer.

What is wellbeing?

Here at Manchester Art Gallery we found a definition many years ago that we like and, more importantly, that we trust. I’m not usually a fan of definitions, they can be limiting and prescriptive but I think this calls for one.

It comes from the very clever people at the New Economics Foundation (NEF). We think these guys are pretty smart and having done a lot of research around this topic they have come up with a clear, robust and highly respected definition of wellbeing. I thought some of you might find it useful too.

So, according to the NEF:

Wellbeing: as well as experiencing good feelings, people need:

  1. A sense of individual vitality

  2. To undertake activities that are meaningful and engaging and which make them feel competent and autonomous

  3. A stock of inner resources to help them cope when things go wrong and be resilient to change beyond their immediate control

Also important :

  1. A sense of relatedness to other people. The degree to which they have supportive relationships and a sense of connection with others.

Another way of putting it is a person who has good levels of wellbeing is feeling good and functioning well.

In short, wellbeing is comprised of the four main components listed above: joy, confidence, resilience and connection.

Joy, confidence, resilience and connection. Write that on a post-it and place it somewhere on your desk where you will read it again and again.

Oh and health? That’s an easy one…

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.   – World Health Organisation

Why is this important?

Why is it important for cultural organisations to understand what these words mean? It’s really very simple. If you don’t have a good understanding of what wellbeing is then you won’t recognise it when you see it. 

If you can’t recognise it then you can’t capture, document or measure it. If you can’t measure it then you can’t report back to your funders that what you’re doing works, and you know, they should give you some more money to keep doing it.

The NEF goes on to say –

People with high levels of wellbeing are more able to:

  • Respond to difficult circumstances

  • Innovate and constructively engage with other people and the world around them

  • Achieve positive emotions, such as happiness

Resilient, creative, empathetic and happy (non-fearful) people. Now that sounds like the kind of world I want to live in.

The future of museums rests very much in how we impact on the nation’s wellbeing. This is why any cultural institution worth its salt should have a good, solid understanding about what the term means. Then, and only then, it can focus on how, through the use of its spaces, collections and learning from others, it can go about creating conditions for it to thrive.

Next blog: How can we prove that wellbeing has been improved?

Louise Thompson, Health and Wellbeing Manager

Twitter: @Louise_Tea_


New acquisition: Work, by Leah Jensen

Now on display in gallery 7, Leah Jensen’s porcelain vessel Work, represents 103 hours of work by the artist.

Jensen made this vessel in response to Ford Madox Brown’s painting Work. Her process involved first hand coiling and forming the vessel. Following this she surrounded the unfired pot with paper reproductions of Brown’s painting and pressed dozens of pins through the paper into the clay at points of visual and narrative interest in the painting. Through this process of remapping the original work onto a new form Jensen establishes marker points which themselves become the guides for the facets which she carefully carves with a scalpel. Jensen’s carving transforms Work’s composition into an abstract pattern, not unlike a digital code. The surface looks 3D printed but it is in fact the result of days of careful, precise labour by hand.

There’s something circular in the relationship between this process and the message-laden painting by Brown, both in their different ways celebrate the virtue of hard work, the work of the hand in particular. Jensen speaks of her work as “anti-digital” and we think Brown would appreciate her work ethic.

Purchased with the kind assistance of the Contemporary Art Society.

Leah Jensen, Work, 2018





The Chatty Cafe

From Monday 16 April our gallery cafe will host a Chatter & Natter table to encourage people to start conversations. Whether it is for a five minute natter while you take a brew break from wandering around the galleries or an hour of good conversation, everyone is welcome.

The Chatter & Natter table aims to create a space for people to interact and maybe make that little bit of difference to someone’s day. Anyone can join in… if you’re on your own, with a friend, learning english, a carer, mums and babies, dads and babies, grandparents and grandchildren, young people, older people and anyone in between.

So if you’re happy to talk to other customers, look out for the Chatter & Natter sign on one of our tables and take a seat. The sign will be out 10 – 12pm and 3 – 5pm on week days and during term time only.

The idea is part of the Chatty Cafe scheme and supported by: Age UK, The Jo Cox Loneliness campaign, Costa community, Oldham, Tameside and Rochdale councils.

To find out about how the Chatty Cafe started or if you interested in finding other venues that host a Chatter & Natter table please visit their website:

New acquisition: Khushamdeed by Waqas Khan

Khushamdeed’s meaning is to salute a newcomer with kindness, to receive and entertain hospitably and cheerfully, and to welcome a visitor or a new idea.

We’re pleased to announce that Manchester Museums & Galleries Partnership has acquired three artworks by Lahore based artist Waqas Khan.

Created in neon, the Khushamdeed series was conceived by Khan to evoke feelings of anonymity and a judgement-free passage. By positioning these works in Urdu script at the entrance of Manchester Art Gallery, the Whitworth and Manchester Museum, Khan extends the notion of hospitality and welcomes all visitors into our venues.

Khushamdeed II, III and IV were created as a series of works to unify a programme of exhibitions across Manchester in September 2017 organised by the New North and South network, made up of eleven organisations across the North of England and South Asia exploring shared heritage across continents.

Alistair Hudson, Director of the Whitworth and Manchester Art Galleries said:

It is a perfect fit for us to acquire Waqas Khan’s work Khushamdeed II and IV at Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth. The Khushamdeed series are operational not representational, acting as a sign to welcome people into our cultural institutions, as public places for people of all walks of life to come together. We hope the word Khushamdeed will be adopted by residents of Manchester as a symbol of kindness.

On the acquisitions Waqas Khan said:

It is a great honour for me that the Manchester Museums & Galleries Partnership have chosen to acquire Khushamdeed II, III and IV. The works represent openness, something that I have always felt on my visits to Manchester.

We Make the City

Conversations about Manchester – Lahore – Karachi

Why do people live in cities?

What does it mean to live in a city now?

What is our relationship with people who live in cities across the world?

What purpose does art have in a city?

These are some of the questions that surfaced to our minds when we first started thinking the New North South partnership programme. As Learning Managers at Manchester Art Gallery we have both been interested in how conversation can function in the gallery learning programme. The gathering together of people in front of an art work to spend time sharing views, exchanging ideas, challenging each other and exploring the world together have been central to many of the adult learning events for the past few years. This partnership opened up the possibility of those conversations having a global reach.

Inspiration from international partners

Over several months we got to know, through Skype conversations, the education programmers at Karachi Biennale and Lahore Biennale. Finding out what they were interested in, how they were connecting with audiences in their cities and their views on learning programmes. Both cities have their distinct characters. Karachi – a megacity with nearly 25 million people living in it with a dynamic art scene, but very few public art spaces. Lahore – an historic city with a rich and long tradition of artists and art schools.

The education programmers were also thinking in quite different ways. Varda Nisar in Karachi was focussing on an extensive schools outreach programme encouraging teachers to bring their students to see art during the Biennale. Her focus was also on family art days encouraging families to express themselves and connect in with some of the elements of Karachi connected to the spice trade and the city as a port. In Lahore the engagement team had been working on a series of conversations in public spaces and physical interventions in the city such as bus stops designed by artists. These conversations and interventions were with the overall aim of raising into people’s minds the impact of art in our cities leading up to the biennial. We were very inspired by Lahore Biennale’s conversation programme ‘Stories we Tell’ which engaged with people on the streets of Lahore.

Manchester and Pakistan

In Manchester we are always excited by the rich and diverse audiences from around the world that make up our city. 2017 was a difficult year for Manchester and it felt as if we needed to be pro-active about making connections across communities.  13% of the people who live in Manchester have a connection to South Asia and 9% of them with a connection to Pakistan. At Manchester Art Gallery we have shown the work of 4 artists from Pakistan : Adeela Suleman, Risham Syed, Waqas Khan and Mehreen Murtaza. These demographics and the work of these artists gave us an impetus to focus this work on Pakistan and to draw out the connections between Manchester, Lahore and Karachi.


We ran a series of conversations two in community settings – Cheetham Hill and Rusholme, and one at the gallery. These conversations aimed to bring together people who had never met each other, some who had connections to Pakistan and some who didn’t to talk about the relationship or perception of three cities : Manchester, Lahore and Karachi. Through each conversation we drew out ideas of belonging, living in cities, and what people’s perceptions were of how art and artists create connections in cities. Our first conversation took place in Cheetham Hill and it was soon clear that people love to talk about Manchester and their love for this city. This was a common theme across all the conversations, cities hold people, especially a city like Manchester which, for most, represents a tolerant and welcoming place. It also became clear that art and creative industries help that sense of connection – people gather around art and in that find shared connections. One participant expressed their thought that it showed a maturity to a city – having an artistic output. Adeela Sulemen, exhibiting her work art Manchester Art Gallery talked about Karachi giving her a need to make art, to cope with the challenges of her city. Each conversation was a moment in time and took it’s own direction and character according to who was there and what people wanted to talk about.

This film captures the spirit of these conversations.


Linking schools – Manchester – Karachi

We also ran a project with St. James’ CofE Primary School in Rusholme and their link school in Pakistan : Karachi High School. We spent time asking Year 5 to think about what a city is like across the other side of the world, imagining what it might feel like to be there. Some of the children had experienced Karachi, as they had family connections. For others it was about imagination. Students from Karachi High School did a similar exercise thinking about Manchester. Both classes created square images that were imagined representations of the other city. These art works were than swapped, some images made by school children in Manchester were taken to Karachi and some images of Manchester made by school children in Karachi were brought back. Both groups of students explored how each other’s city’s were perceived. It also created a sense of belonging and pride in the ‘home’ city.

St. James interpretations of ‘Karachi’

Karachi High School interpretations of Manchester

Professional exchange

The project also gave the opportunity for professional exchange, Varda Nisar from Karachi Biennale spent time in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool talking with learning teams here. We, were also able to visit Karachi and Lahore, seeing for ourselves the context in which the Biennale staff were working. This visit, made at the end of October 2017 to the opening of the Karachi Biennale enabled us to witness first hand the start of an exciting time for contemporary art in Pakistan. 180 artists were exhibiting in 12 venues across the city and the Karachi audiences were delighted that art was being shown on such a scale across their city. We were able to observe school, college and family sessions in the Biennale venues. It was great to talk with young Pakistanis about how they view art and what it might say to them about their city. It really felt as though discussions were just warming up and teachers, students and parents were starting to embrace in a public way the creative side of their city.

For us, it helped us to understand a bit more, Pakistan, as a country and, as a consequence, our audiences here in the UK. We were able to reflect on the rich and diverse cultures within Pakistan and the long histories of art and craft making, but also the lack of public spaces to share this culture.

Things happen in bubbles…we weave through them and the bubbles can remain. There is a communication that can happen and communities set up. Community building, visual arts and the interconnecting of these bubbles and various energies that exist are imperative. And I think they must be woven. Because otherwise, you’re living in a big city and isolation is a very natural component of it. But through these connections they make you feel like a community.

Comment from a participant in one of the conversations

Continuing the conversation

We will be continuing the conversations throughout 2018 and beyond. If you would like to get involved, please get in touch

Meg Parnell and Ruth Edson : Learning Managers, Manchester Art Gallery.

0161 235 8855

0161 235 8877

Works on loan: Dhaka to Tennessee

JMW Turner’s monumental painting Thomson’s Aeolian Harp was lent to The Lightbox in Woking for the Turner in Surrey exhibition. This is the first exhibition to focus on the work that Turner produced in and around Surrey and also features Newark Abbey on the Wey and View of Richmond Hill and Bridge from the Tate collection.

Woman with Cantaloupe by Robert MacBryde travelled to Edinburgh for display in A New Era: Scottish Modern Art 1900-1950. This exhibition considers the responses of Scottish artists to the modern art movements of the early 20th Century.

Our two Marion Adnams paintings L’ Infante Egaree and The Living Tree went out on loan to Derby Museum and Art Gallery for display in Marion Adnams: A Singular Woman, a retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work in her hometown.

William Blake in Sussex: Visions of Albion at Petworth House (National Trust) brings together a collection of original works with a connection to the county. Manchester Art Gallery has lent two portraits of the poets John Milton and Edmund Spenser from a larger series of 18 that Blake was commissioned to decorate the library of the new house, called The Turret, of William Hayley (1745 – 1820), the poet and patron of the arts, at Felpham, Sussex.—visions-of-albion-exhibition

Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom by Walter Sickert was on display at the London Art Fair in January as part of the Art UK display, Art of the nation: Five Artists Choose. Art UK, the online catalogue of the UK’s public art collections, invited five artists to each select five works from the website. Mat Collishaw’s selected the Sickert for display alongside works by William Orpen and Caroline Walker from other UK public collections.

Lady with a Mantilla by Augustus John has gone out on loan to Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Tennessee, USA. The painting is on show as part of The Real Beauty: The Artistic World of Eugenia Errázuriz exhibition which looks at the life of Errázuriz and her involvement in and influence on modern art and design.

Thomas Dugdale’s painting Night is currently on display in Rhythm & Reaction: The Age of Jazz in Britain exhibition at Two Temple Place in London. The display marks 100 years of jazz in the UK and considers it’s impact on Britain from 1918 onwards.

The Gallery’s Korean Dragon jar (c. 1500 – 1600) has travelled down to Hauser & Wirth in Somerset for display in The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind. This eclectic display explores the connection between humans and the land around them and has been curated by Adam Sutherland, Director of Grizedale Arts in Cumbria.

Tate St Ives have borrowed two works from the collection – Self-portrait by Louise Jopling and Primulas by Winifred Nicholson – for display in the Virginia Woolf exhibition. The show includes works by over 80 artists that have been inspired by the author and her writings. The exhibition will tour to two other UK venues, Pallant House Gallery in Chichester and The Fitzwilliam Museum

Two Hiroshige woodblock prints, Pine Tree and Moon Pine, Ueno, travelled to the Dhaka Arts Summit in Bangladesh to be included in a collaborative presentation by the artist Raqib Shaw as part of the Bearing Points exhibition.

Presenting the female body: Challenging a Victorian fantasy

A barometer of public taste

8 February 2018

Following a fantastic response to its seven day absence – both at the gallery itself and on-line – Waterhouse’s masterpiece Hylas and the Nymphs returned to public display at Manchester Art Gallery over the weekend.

The painting – part of the gallery’s highly prized collection of Pre-Raphaelite works – was temporarily removed from display as part of a project the gallery is working on with the artist Sonia Boyce, in the build-up to a solo exhibition of her work at the gallery opening on 23 March 2018. Boyce’s work is all about bringing people together in different situations to see what happens. The painting’s short term removal from public view was the result of a ‘take-over’ of some of the gallery’s public spaces by a wide range of gallery users and artists on Friday January 26th.

The event was conceived by Boyce to bring different meanings and interpretations of paintings from the gallery’s collection into focus, and into life. The evening included a series of performances, all filmed by Boyce’s team, addressing issues of race, gender, and sexuality, culminating in the careful, temporary removal of the Waterhouse painting. In its place, notices were put up inviting responses to this action that would inform how the painting would be shown and contextualized when it was rehung. In the course of this last week the space where the painting was has become filled with post-it notes from individuals wanting to contribute to the discussion.

Hylas was chosen because the painting has been a barometer of public taste since it was painted in 1896 and continues to be so.

Since its removal, the painting and its temporary absence from the gallery has captured the attention of thousands of people not just in Manchester but everywhere, and in so doing has opened up a wider global debate about representation in art and how works of art are interpreted and displayed.

There has been an incredible response over the last week – it’s encouraging to see that so many people care so much about our historic collection, and about Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs in particular, and we want to thank people for taking the time to respond.

Given the sheer volume and breadth of discussion that has been sparked by the act of removing the painting, the gallery is now planning a series of public and live streamed events to encourage further debate about these wider issues, and is looking forward to welcoming people to these, and hearing what they have to say.

The first of these events will be a chaired panel debate, inviting speakers with a broad spectrum of opinions to discuss the issues raised. More details about this event will be released shortly. To register your interest in attending the debate please contact us here:


Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece back on public display after its temporary removal

3 February 2018

Well, there’s no denying it’s been an interesting week. We anticipated a heated debate but were amazed by the huge response to the temporary removal of Waterhouse’s Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece. As of this morning, following seven days in our art store, this important painting is back on display.

The comments section on this post has received well over 700 posts, we’re working through them and all aside from the merely abusive will be published. Please feel free to continue the debate here, we genuinely value your input.

Thank you.

The full press release is copied below.

Press release

Following a fantastic response to its temporary removal – both at the gallery itself and on-line – Waterhouse’s Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece Hylas and the Nymphs will be back on public display at Manchester Art Gallery from tomorrow, Saturday 3 February.

The painting – part of the gallery’s highly prized collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings – was temporarily removed from display as part of a project the gallery is working on with the contemporary artist Sonia Boyce, in the build-up to a solo exhibition of her work at the gallery opening on 23 March 2018.

Boyce’s artwork is all about bringing people together in different situations to see what happens. The painting’s short term removal from public view was the result of a ‘take-over’ of some of the gallery’s public spaces by gallery users and performance artists last Friday January 26th.

Since its filmed removal as part of the Boyce project a week ago, the painting and its temporary absence from the gallery has captured the attention of people everywhere, and in so doing has opened up a wider global debate about representation in art and how works of art are interpreted and displayed.

Given the sheer volume and breadth of discussion that has been sparked by the act of removing the painting, the gallery is now planning a series of public events to encourage further debate about these wider issues.

Amanda Wallace, Interim Director Manchester Art Gallery, said: “We’ve been inundated with responses to our temporary removal of Hylas and the Nymphs as part of the forthcoming Sonia Boyce exhibition, and it’s been amazing to see the depth and range of feelings expressed.

“The painting is rightly acknowledged as one of the highlights of our Pre-Raphaelite collection, and over the years has been enjoyed by millions of visitors to the gallery.

“We were hoping the experiment would stimulate discussion, and it’s fair to say we’ve had that in spades – and not just from local people but from art-lovers around the world.

“Throughout the painting’s seven day absence, it’s been clear that many people feel very strongly about the issues raised, and we now plan to harness this strength of feeling for some further debate on these wider issues.”



We have left a temporary space in Gallery 10 in place of Hylas and the Nymphs by JW Waterhouse to prompt conversation about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection.

How can we talk about the collection in ways which are relevant in the 21st century?

Here are some of the ideas we have been talking about so far. What do you think?

This gallery presents the female body as either a ‘passive decorative form’ or a ‘femme fatale’. Let’s challenge this Victorian fantasy!

The gallery exists in a world full of intertwined issues of gender, race, sexuality and class which affect us all. How could artworks speak in more contemporary, relevant ways?

What other stories could these artworks and their characters tell? What other themes would be interesting to explore in the gallery?

The act of taking down this painting was part of a group gallery takeover that took place during the evening of 26 January 2018. People from the gallery team and people associated with the gallery took part. The takeover was filmed and is part of an exhibition by Sonia Boyce, 23 March to 2 September 2018.

To be continued…

Get involved in the conversation

Add your thoughts using #MAGSoniaBoyce.

Objects of Obsession: A new digital series in partnership with the Royal Academy and The Space

We are excited to announce our new digital video series in partnership with the Royal Academy and The Space featuring leading British artists and their Object of Obsession: a work of art by another artist that has great meaning to them.

As part of the Royal Academy’s 250th anniversary celebrations, three Royal Academicians will take part in a series of talks with broadcaster and RA artistic director Tim Marlow about their chosen Object of Obsession. The work may be one that has transformed or transfixed them, provoked an emotional response, inspired them, or perhaps changed their work.

Each talk will be hosted by the gallery or museum which houses the piece, and we are delighted  that artist Sonia Boyce has chosen Othello, the Moor of Venice Created by: James Northcote  from the Manchester Art Gallery collection.

Sonia will visit the gallery on Thursday 8th March to explore the reasons why Ira Aldridge’s portrait holds a personal meaning and relevance to her artistic process with broadcaster and RA artistic director Tim Marlow.

The revelatory encounter will be filmed and streamed live across our Facebook and YouTube page to art fans across the globe on the dates below. We will also stream the other talks from the series.

The series of talks aims to set up new and lasting collaborations between regional galleries to build their digital presence. The series aims to seed set up a new distribution network of shared digital content and shared effort between arts organisations to attract new online audiences.

The Royal Academy, an international institution that has pioneered/embraced the opportunities that digital technology has brought; both in its relationship with global audiences and in the potential for collaborations with other institutions.

Talk dates

Friday 16th February
Cornelia Parker on Sketch of an Idea for Crazy Jane (1855) by Richard Dadd at Bethlem Museum of the Mind

Thursday 8th March 
Sonia Boyce on Othello, the Moor of Venice by: James Northcote  at Manchester Art Gallery

Wednesday 21st March
Bob and Roberta Smith at New Art Gallery Walsall

Donors help us continue to grow our collection

We are pleased to welcome a new group of donors who have helped us to acquire works for the collection from the Manchester Contemporary 2018.

A gift to the city from The Manchester Contemporary Art Fund.

The Manchester Contemporary, the only UK invitational art fair for critically engaged contemporary art outside London, today announced artists William Mackrell and Emma Price as the first to benefit from its newly-launched The Manchester Contemporary Art Fund.

Created by a set of local business people passionate about their city and its cultural heritage, The Manchester Contemporary Art Fund seeks to support rising artists, providing them with a platform through which to achieve critical acclaim and greater popularity.

William Mackrell, represented by The RYDER, and Emma Price, represented by Two Queens, were selected from over 150 artists by Fund founders and the curatorial team of Manchester Art Gallery following an exhaustive panel discussion. William’s piece – Aquarius, and Emma’s pieces – Mike I and Mike II, are to be displayed in the gallery.

Continue reading at The Manchester Contemporary.


See paintings differently.

#MAGfiction is a new weekly series of very short stories inspired by the paintings in our collection, from Patrick, one of our Visitor Services team. We’ll be posting these on Twitter and Instagram every Friday. See the full series here.


John Everett Millais Winter Fuel

The woodcutter and his daughter were collecting firewood for winter. He wouldn’t let her accompany him into the forest. “It’s too dangerous,” he said. “Wait here. I won’t be long.” She waited patiently for hours but he didn’t return. A howl rose from the trees. The wolf, too, needed winter fuel.

Words © Patrick Kelleher in response to Winter Fuel John Everett Millais, 1873
Currently on display in gallery 7.