Manchester Art Gallery

Writers Takeover ii

Mapping the narrative in artworks

Carole Page – English teacher, teacher educator, gallery educator, writer

Over a series of three, repeated workshops, I have been trialling the use of story maps as a creative approach to developing writing drawn from a single artwork. The workshop activities begin with close looking, using elements of line, tone, light and shade to explore the painting and what they see, in close detail. These activities are designed to ‘slow the gaze’. Students are often surprised at what they do find in the painting; all the features that had been missed in a cursory glance. Discussions about tone and light and shade, lead on to thoughts about mood, atmosphere and genre.

The interrogation of the painting using ‘impossible’ questions always generates some interesting, potential storylines. I define ‘impossible’ questions as those which you cannot possibly know the answer to unless you leap into the picture and make something up. Students don’t answer their own questions, which I think helps them to be a bit more cavalier about issues of reality. They begin to leave behind what they can actually see and start to think about the unseen and the hidden. All the groups in the workshops have generated some startlingly original and unexpected questions but my favourite was: Where is the girl? In our close examination of the painting the students had identified both figures in the painting as male so the question provoked puzzled looks and shrugs.  When pushed to answer the question though, there was a palpable buzz as someone said, ‘She could be on the boat or on the train going over the bridge.’ The feeling of immersion in the world of the painting is akin to dramatic, spontaneous improvisation where you have to go with the flow and the story goes with you.

In a similar way, the character profile questions begin to open up further possibilities of action, motivation, setting and genre. This was most noticeable when we discussed how old their character might be. The question, ‘What would it mean for your story if your character was 420 years old instead of 42, prompted puzzled looks and then realisation that their character could be a ghost, a vampire, a time-traveller or a super-hero. This then led to a re-consideration of genre and it was noticeable that a number of students chose to locate their story in the fantasy genre, something not immediately suggested by our interrogation of the painting itself.

These activities generate a lot of ideas and possibilities, so why do I feel that a story map might offer a crucial element in this planning process?

Cressida Cowell (How to Train your Dragon) notes that:

A map is … a story starter, an idea generator. Drawing a map is a magnificent way of communicating with your unconscious … When I draw the map of my imaginary world, it will tell me the direction I want to be going in, even when I don’t yet know myself

Cowell, C. The Writer’s Map, 2018:85

What lies beyond the frame?

This idea of the map directing the thinking on an almost unconscious level, was an interesting idea to explore. We had the initial setting for the story, located in the painting; a gloomy urban scene of waterways, barges and a rusted iron bridge. These elements would certainly feature but there were more questions to be asked, which a map might answer. What was beyond the frame? Where did the bridge lead from and where was it going? One of the workshop participants suggested it had been blown up and so was only half a bridge. What were the implications of this idea? Another participant suggested that the bridge was the passageway to another dimension; perhaps the view from the bridge on the other side was very different to what we could see in the painting. These ideas suggested that the opportunity to draw a map beyond the frame of the painting, might open up new directions of travel for the characters and plot.

From listening to the students and looking at the maps they drew, I do think there was evidence, at times, of the story and the map working in synergy.  Some students drew quite elaborate maps and then proceeded to label them in detail so that the action of the story proceeded hand in hand with the drawing. One workshop participant said that as he drew the map, his ideas for the story changed considerably with a shift from an industrial landscape into a university town (complete with a university of the Dark Arts).

It had appeared that naming the different locations had proved time-consuming and a stumbling block for some in the first workshop. However, I wanted the students to provide place names which might be suggestive of the mood, atmosphere, history or function of the location, as I thought this might serve as a visual backstory which would ground the narrative in a sense of ‘reality’. David Mitchell notes that his maps provide research ideas for his writing even when the stories change course and the original maps are not used.

The knowledge gained is still present in passing references, in what we sense the characters know, in the absence of avoidances and in an authority of tone

Mitchell, D. The Writer’s Map 2018:123

The map as an organisational schema of the story

Consequently, in the following workshops, we spent more time at the start of the session identifying features in the original painting and recording words which conveyed a sense of mood, tone and atmosphere. Asking the pupils in pairs to use this vocabulary to name the features in the painting: bridge, dock, boat, river, meant that they already had some established locations to transfer to their map later in the session. This activity emerged quite fluidly from looking closely at the painting and so did not end up feeling like a vocabulary ‘add-on’ but a useful extension.

As the students identified and named their locations, new possibilities opened up that suggested their characters might travel far from this grimy canal, both mentally and physically. An active volcano appeared on one map, a bazaar on another; a structure like a giant King chess piece with the label: No game, no life, sounded ominous; alien crop circles made an appearance and, in a rather sinister vein, an underground ‘Kiddie Secret Science Lab’ promised danger and jeopardy, though for whom, it was not yet clear.

Importantly, these maps provided talking points, leading into more detailed discussion of plot, sometimes opening up ideas, other times, pinning them down. This last point, the need to begin to fix ideas into a coherent narrative from all the possibilities emerging, led into the last map activity.

The students were asked to identify with a cross, where on the map their story began. This would provide the setting for their opening paragraph. A dotted line would then show the journey their character made across the map. Some pupils chose to label significant points with actions, providing, in effect a skeleton plan of the story: Stole some valuables; Failed boat jump; Police chase; Running from cars; Police lost him; Runs the other way; Climbs. Others identified the sequence of events by numbering their locations. What the map was providing was a largely visual, organisational schema of their story that would offer a narrative structure.

Reflecting on using a map as an organising structure, David Mitchell writes:

In one chapter of my novel, Black Swan Green, the thirteen year old protagonist, Jason, is required to race across a row of back gardens in order to become a member of a shadowy village gang.  To avoid repetition, the gardens needed to be different in character – some manicured, others neglected, one full of gnomes … On nearby pages the numbered houses have their own sections listing the names, ages, social class and personalities of their residents, but it’s the illustrative map that serves as the chapter’s organizing principle.

Mitchell, D. The Writer’s Map 2018:123

It seemed to me that this was one of the key functions of the story maps the pupils had drawn in that it provided an organizing principle for their narratives.

In my final post on this topic, I will draw on the students’ evaluations and my own observations to consider the success of using story maps in the workshop and how the activity might be further developed and evaluated.

Writer’s Takeover

Art and Writing: Imagining stories through artworks

Carole Page – English teacher, teacher educator, gallery educator, writer

Some weeks ago, The Guardian printed extracts from The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, edited by Huw Lewis-Jones (Thames and Hudson). In these extracts, Robert MacFarlane wrote about the map of Treasure Island, that Robert Louis Stevenson drew to entertain his twelve-year-old stepson but which went on to inspire Stevenson to write his first novel. Frances Hardinge explored the map of Moomin Valley by Tove Jansson, that she had pored over and loved as a child and Miraphora Mina described being part of the team that produced the complex and beautiful Marauders’ Map for the Harry Potter films. These were all maps that I knew and had loved, either as a child or as a mother reading with her children. This was clearly a book I had to have, and I promptly ordered a copy. It sits on the table beside me now and what strikes me, apart from the beauty and intricacy of the maps within it, is the power they have to enthrall and engage. Story maps allow you to locate yourself within the landscape and make the journeys, either fraught with danger or wrought with wonder, which the characters have embarked upon. Nowhere, it seems to me, do visual imagery and words combine more powerfully with the imagination, than in a story map. Maps can sometimes seem to be deceptively simple but the connections we make offer up so much more. It is easy to get lost in a good map – figuratively speaking!

The map as a trailer

Personally, I have always loved a book which begins with a map. As you turn the first few pages and the map is revealed, it is like the literary equivalent of a teaser trailer for a much anticipated film. Where does the action take place? What journeys might the characters embark upon – both physical and mental? From here on in, the map becomes a reference point to be returned to as the novel progresses. In this way it is also a structural device at the heart of the reading process.

It is this latter aspect in which I have become increasingly interested. I have frequently drawn on maps in my teaching, often to provide a clear, visual overview of a complex narrative structure. What I have begun to consider in my own writing and teaching is the way in which a map might become a creative and structural device at the heart of the writing process. What I want to explore is the symbiotic nature of a story map in shaping, and being shaped by, the emerging narrative.

I have recently been reading my father’s ancient copy of Treasure Island, given to him as a gift in 1933 when he was ten years old. The map is there at the start, with its memorable locations: Spyglass Hill, Skeleton Island.  However, what particularly interested me was Robert Louis Stevenson’s own exploration of the role of the map in the process of writing, discussed in the introduction. Stevenson drew his map of Treasure Island first and the book emerged from this. As he notes:

… as I pored upon my map of Treasure Island, the future characters of the book began to appear there visibly among imaginary woods; and their brown faces and bright weapons peeped out upon me from unexpected quarters, as they passed to and fro, fighting and hunting treasure, on these few square inches of a flat projection.

For Stevenson, then, the ideas of the story emerged from the visual creation of an imaginary place, envisioned as a map.

Encouraging a new generation of writers in the city

The opportunity to explore these ideas further was presented by Manchester Art Gallery’s exciting and innovative initiative for Manchester schools – Writers’ Takeover – a series of workshops in partnership with Manchester Library, Manchester Literature Festival and the Writing Squad. The workshops were for KS2 and KS3 students, and were designed to enthuse and encourage a new generation of writers in the city. The initiative ran from Tuesday 16th to Friday 19th October 2018 and I was lucky enough to be part of this. I delivered a creative writing workshop for KS3 students, which was developed initially through a project funded by MaxLiteracy.  This workshop enables students to look closely at an artwork and begin to interrogate the images they see through a series of activities designed to open up a creative, written response to the painting.

Impossible questions

The painting used in the workshop is Under Windsor Bridge by Adolphe Valette. It is a murky, atmospheric, urban landscape of waterways and bridges in which a lone mysterious figure draws the eye.  Students’ initial impression of the painting tends to be that it is dull and not particularly interesting. The almost monochromatic tones make it difficult to distinguish significant features at a glance. The workshop activities draw on elements of tone, line and colour to slow down the ‘looking process’ and explore mood, genre, and personal connections with the painting. The opportunity to interrogate what they see using ‘impossible questions’ allows narrative plot lines to emerge and character to develop. What had been regarded as ‘a bit boring’ soon becomes a tense drama of potential spies, villains, dark deeds, danger, flight and melancholy as the questions spark imaginative responses and they begin to weave together the possible storylines.

The students are generally not short of ideas about what might be happening in this picture but I was keen to find ways to help them shape these ideas into a narrative structure. This is where I feel that story maps may have a part to play. In the series of workshops I delivered, I asked students to create a map of the landscape of their story as suggested by the painting. They named the significant locations and began to chart their character’s journey through this setting. In this way, I was hoping that story maps would enhance the students’ creative responses to planning and structuring their stories.

Robert Louis Stevenson was in no doubt as to the value of creating a story map prior to writing. He regarded this as an important resource for the writer: to generate ideas and plot development, to provide continuity and a sense of grounding the story in ‘reality’ and, crucially, as a lightning rod of creativity which will spark new connections and ideas each time it is consulted:

It is my contention … that he who is faithful to his map, and consults it, and draws from it his inspiration, daily and hourly, gains positive support … The tale has a root there; it grows in that soil; it has a spine of its own behind the words. Better if the country be real, and he has walked every foot of it and knows every milestone.  But even with imaginary places he will do well in the beginning to provide a map. As he studies it, relations will appear that he had not thought upon. He will discover obvious though unsuspected short cuts and footpaths for his messengers; and even when a map is not all the plot, as it was in Treasure Island, it will be found to be a mine of suggestion.

Over the next two posts I will reflect on how far the story maps the students created, offered up ‘a mine of suggestion’ in terms of plot development and narrative structure. I will also consider the synergy that may be created between the map and the writing process and how the idea of ‘mapping the narrative’ might be further developed.


A Statement Against Decree 349

In recent days the Cuban government has attempted to issue Decree 349 to restrict the activities of artists. It has provoked protests in Cuba and the detention of artists Amaury Pacheco, Michel Matos, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, Yanelys Nuñez Leyva and Tania Bruguera among others. Following arrests, the artists have now been released, yet they remain under police surveillance.

Under Decree 349, all artists, including collectives, musicians and performers, are prohibited from operating in public or private spaces without prior approval by the Ministry of Culture. Individuals or businesses that hire artists without the authorization can be sanctioned, and artists that work without prior approval can have their materials confiscated or be substantially fined.

It is important to highlight the situation in Cuba and to see it as part of a global phenomenon of repression of artists and freedom of expression. Recent cases demonstrate that governments feel newly emboldened to openly attack high profile figures, moving beyond the usual internal state repression which used to happen behind closed doors.

In response, Manchester Art Gallery reiterates its support for the right of all artists and citizens to free and independent expression and activity in the public sphere without political control and with limits on hate speech and indecency.

As an artist I feel my duty today is not to exhibit my work at an international exhibition and further my personal artistic career but to be with my fellow Cuban artists and to expose the vulnerability  of Cuban artists today.

From ‘Open Letter from Tania Bruguera to Kochi Biennial’, 10th December 2018.

Alistair Hudson, Director Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth.

#NoAlDecreto349 | #Sin349


The full text of ‘Open Letter from Tania Bruguera to Kochi Biennial’ is available here.

Arte Util.

Leuven and Paris: gallery loans into Europe this month

As we draw into winter, works from Manchester Art Gallery’s collections continue to travel across the UK and into Europe. Each loan is an opportunity for Manchester’s collection to be seen by new audiences and is often also a cue for much needed conservation work too.

Marion Adnams painting The Living Tree is out on loan again for the second time this year, this time to the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle.  The exhibition Exploding Collage includes work by contemporary artist Nadia Hebson who references Adnams work in an exploration of clothing and collage.

Self-portrait by Louise Jopling and Primulas by Winifred Nicholson are now on display at Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. This is the final venue of the Virginia Woolf exhibition showcasing works by over 80 artists that have been inspired by the author and her writings. The exhibition began at Tate St Ives and also travelled to Pallant House Gallery in Chichester.

The Olive Gatherers by John Singer Sargent has been loaned to the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm for the first ever Sargent exhibition in Scandinavia.

Grayson Perry’s Jane Austen in E17 vase is now on display at the Monnaie de Paris as part of the artists first major solo exhibition in France. The works in the exhibition include ceramics, sculpture and tapestry and tackle a wide range of themes from identity and sexuality to vanity and religion.

The ‘Enchanted Garden’ exhibition has now opened at it’s final venue, the William Morris Gallery in London. The display looks at how many different artists have portrayed gardens in their work and includes pieces by Monet, Pissaro and Burne-Jones, as well as our own painting An Idyll by Albert Moore.

The Arenbergs exhibition reunites works previously in the collection of the aristocratic family, many of which have never been on public display. Our work by Hendrick Jacobsz. Dubbels Shipping at anchor offshore in a calm sea; evening light was specially conserved for the exhibition with an old yellowing layer of varnish removed to reveal the much brighter colours underneath. The Arenbergs at M-Museum Leuven is on until 20 January 2019.

Hendrick Jacobsz. Dubbels Shipping at anchor offshore in a calm sea; evening light
Courtesy of Critchlow & Kukkonen Ltd

On the MAGnetblog: An Ode to Thursday Lates

As we celebrate the legacy of our Thursday Lates and look forward to the future of our First Wednesdays in October, Patrick from our VS team has written a heartfelt ‘Ode to Thursday Lates’.

Read this in full on the MAGnet blog by clicking here.



Taking inspiration from armadillos: an update on costume conservation

Student Becky Doonan from Glasgow University’s Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History explains how she “took inspiration from armadillos and the way that their overlapping plates allow them to curl and uncurl” during her conservation of a 1950’s Dior dress from the collection housed at Platt Hall Gallery of Costume.

Read Becky’s blog post here: Taking inspiration from armadillos: articulated forms as a way of creating rigidity with movement

How can art enhance public health services for young families?

In January 2017 I started working at Manchester Art Gallery as the Learning Manager, Families, a role that I love. I am responsible for making our amazing gallery as relevant and engaging as possible for all families in Manchester and beyond.

Our family programme consists of public events, like our school holiday art sessions and our Open Doors sessions for autistic children and their families. We also have the Clore Art Studio and Explorer Tool Belts which are available every day. You can find out more about our family offer here.

The environment as the third teacher

Much of our other work with families isn’t visible, this blog will give you an insight into the ways we support other services working with families across the city. For over a decade artists and museums have been exploring new ways of working with early years children, their families and teachers, much of this work has been inspired by the principles of Reggio Emilio, examining how the environment children inhabit can be the third teacher. At Manchester Art Gallery we have begun looking at not only how art can support the crucial development of 0-5 year olds but also how this knowledge can enhance the delivery of public health services for young families.

Since early 2017 we have been working in partnership with the Manchester Health Visiting Team and Sure Start. This collaboration came about due to the closure of Manchester Town Hall for refurbishment. St Peters Sure Start based at the town hall needed a new home and as the gallery is next to the town hall and part of Manchester City Council we offered our spaces.

Since previously being involved in another research project my primary school is at the museum, my dream has been to locate a Sure Start centre at an art gallery so I jumped at this opportunity. My primary school is at the museum tested the hypothesis that there may be beneficial learning, social and cultural outcomes for primary school children and their families when a significant portion of their learning takes place in a museum setting, as well as demonstrating the benefits for museums. I felt there may be similar beneficial outcomes for children and families who had a significant portion of their public health services delivered in a museum setting and was keen to test this out.

We now run a weekly Healthy Child Drop In and Sure Start Children’s Centre Baby Stay and Play session at the gallery. The families that come to the clinic are a diverse group from the Manchester City Centre ward and localities and most have not visited the gallery previously. This weekly health clinic is the first place where parents of babies access health advice and are often signposted to other agencies. Two Health Visitors and a Sure Start Early Years Practitioner are present at the clinic, both agencies work closely together welcoming and supporting parents, sharing observations and key data about families to ensure they receive a successful and holistic service.

Artist Naomi Kendrick is also present at the clinic. Each week Naomi is commissioned to build an immersive environment inspired by our exhibitions and her observations of the babies and parents. Using carefully selected materials Naomi creates a place for families to inhabit, playing with textures, light and space. The Sure Start Practitioner uses the environment as the setting for stories and songs.

Social and non-judgmental spaces for parents

However, in many ways the immersive environment is the waiting room for families to see their Health Visitor or Sure Start practitioner, some of the parents that come to the clinic are anxious about either their babies health or their own health. We are finding the environments Naomi creates are fantastic social and non-judgmental spaces for parents that promote interactions with their baby.

We are beginning to look at how the addition of creative and arts input has a positive influence on the health and well-being of child and parent and how both are better equipped for progressing together in life. Alongside Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) we have been successful in obtaining funding from the Economics and Social Research Council to fund a PhD that will explore the benefits of running this vital health clinic in a cultural venue with an artist present. This long term action research project will enable us to understand how culture and the arts can support the delivery of health services for young children and their families.

Since starting the clinic, other ideas for delivering services differently have arisen. Currently we are doing a trial at Clayton Sure Start looking at how we can take the positive aspects of the clinic’s immersive environment to enhance and innovate the delivery of developmental reviews for 2 year olds.

Developmental reviews for 2 year olds are ASQ tests, this is a clinical assessment and parental evaluation tool. The Health Visiting Team have a high proportion of families not turning up for these reviews. The health visitors believe this is partly due to the clinical nature of the tests. Parents are sent a form about their child’s abilities prior to their visits and this can put people of, parents worrying that their child can’t perform the tasks or thinking they can and that it is a waste of time attending. During the review children often feel unsettled in a strange scenario and parents feel under pressure for their child to perform.

We are exploring creative child-led ways we could perform the review in a specially designed artist environment. We hope by inviting families to this holistic play based session it will give children, parents and health visitors a more positive and productive experience creating opportunities for observation and active commentary. As a team we are looking for ways to ease parental social isolation, assess and improve maternal and infant mental health, promote attachment and confidence in feeding. MMU researchers are helping us evaluate and articulate the benefits and potential barriers of delivering the 2 year old reviews in this alternative environment.

We are exploring creative child-led ways we could perform ASQ reviews in a specially designed artist environment.

Working in collaboration with other agencies

Another collaborative project sees us working with young mothers who are living in a temporary housing unit in Clayton. The mums are a group that the Manchester Health Visiting Team and Sure Start workers struggle to engage with, appointments and important health checks are often missed. We have set up an art and creativity club at the unit which has created a new less formal environment for the mothers and their babies to meet with their health visitors. In the future we are hoping to extend this work to other units across Greater Manchester.

As our reputation for working in collaboration with other agencies grows so do our networks. In September we are exhibiting a new commission, The Other in Mother by artist Sarah Greaves that explores perinatal mental health and the impact of the transition into motherhood on women’s wellbeing.

We have also begun working with Salford University midwifery department using the galleries collection to support student midwifes with their mental health. We are looking at how art can be used as a provocation to discuss the stresses of working in a maternity unit and as a tool to manage stress. Later this year we hope to work with the Infant Feeding Team (Health Visiting Services Manchester Foundation Trust) and The University of Manchester Centre for Epidemiology to support an early intervention initiative in North Manchester that aims to reduce visits to A&E and referrals to paediatric units by offering extra support to families around nutrition and feeding.

I’m really excited about all the work we are doing, learning from others about the realities of delivering health services for families and exploring new ways of working. From a public health perspective, our collaborative projects rest firmly on the principles and policies of Health 2020: the European policy for health and wellbeing, with its emphasis on inter-sectoral collaboration and integration, as well as on the evidence base for the effectiveness of asset-based, co-production approaches to service development.

In November I will be talking more about this work at the engage conference.

Katy McCall
Learning Manager, Families

On the MAGnet blog: Movie MAGic

The MAGnet blog is a platform for reading and sharing ideas. Here, we tap into the wealth of knowledge in our teams; conveying the individual interests and personalities of the people who work at Manchester Art Gallery.

In Movie MAGic, we’ll be reviewing films with art or artist-related themes from Hollywood biopics to foreign art house movies.

Read the review in full by clicking here.

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.

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

So, according to the NEF:

  • A sense of individual vitality
  • To undertake activities that are meaningful and engaging and which make them feel competent and autonomous
  • A stock of inner resources to help them cope when things go wrong and be resilient to change beyond their immediate control

Also important :

  • 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.

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

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 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
  • Become 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_


Streetwise Opera Performance

Anita, participant in Streetwise Opera, writes here about their performance, The world is my Song on Thursday 19 July:

‘I love singing our workshops at Manchester City Art Gallery. We pass stunning artworks as we go in, and I’m already energised and full of anticipation. We’ve been lucky to have several tours in the gallery from curators and also dabbled in a bit of art for ourselves.

The floor is spattered with paint and we sing amongst half-finished works of art, so there’s a dynamic, creative vibe. We sampled the lovely refreshments provided by the gallery; so thoughtful of them. The superior cheese rolls with toasted seeds went down particularly well. There was anticipation and excitement bubbling away, slowly building.

We are standing in the centre of a large gallery room, surrounded by stunning paintings and ceramics. There’s that special hush, as though the room is waiting for us. There is a sizeable audience – in fact they run out of chairs. We begin with ‘Tamino’s aria’ from Mozart’s Magic Flute, 1791: Dies Bildnis ist Bezaubernd Schon. He sings to an image of Pamina and, as this is opera, falls in love immediately! It is easy to get inside the music, while gazing at the beautiful images all around us…

Next we sing two Spirituals: Soon I Will Be Done with the Troubles of the World, with lots of movement and singing in three parts, full of energy and rage. Then we sing ‘Steal Away’. Joy and despair are entwined, the music sublime and so moving. For me, they certainly crystallise the exhibition’s theme, Speech Acts. We sing in the voices of those that have been silenced.

We sing of ourselves and our own unique identity, and of our feelings about each other and Streetwise Opera.

“I am me; I am me…

We are like family

Living in harmony…

We are together;

We are as one.

We are Streetwise! “

I feel overcome by the feelings that we all express. Some of us spontaneously link arms and sing to each other. We raise our arms at the end and I see all the faces bursting with joy and pride.

We sing ‘The Prayer’, from Mose In Egitto by Giaochino Rossini, 1827. We have been working on harmonies this term and our work pays off, especially in this piece. I love the way Jonathan nudges us gently along to the next challenge; we get a great sense of achievement. Our confidence and skills grow and grow.

For our finale, we sing ‘Sunday’, from Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, 1999. The song is enchanting, breath-taking. I have a lump in my throat and it’s an effort to sing. Four of us sing a descant, which I absolutely relish. What is it about singing high and giving it some welly? At fortissimo we make a triumphant explosion of sound, arms raised: “Sunday!” Amazing! Joyful!”

What a splendid show! It is true: art has the power to transform the world. It has certainly transformed mine. For me, music is my solace and my joy. Many thanks to Manchester Art Gallery for giving us this beautiful place to sing. Sincere thanks to Streetwise, especially our leaders: Jonathan, David, Sarah, Gavin and Jenny; also thanks to Sally & Gavin, who always look after us so well. Do keep it up!

Bring on the next challenge!’

Streetwise Opera is one of our community partners. It is an award winning charity, that supports people with experience of homelessness to make positive changes in their lives.