Manchester Art Gallery

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.

Manchester Together Archive

Within hours of the Manchester Arena attack in May 2017 members of the public began to show their respects for the dead and injured by leaving flowers, personal mementos, candles, balloons and written tributes in various locations around the city. These spontaneous memorials grew quickly, with the focus being at St Ann’s Square.

On 9 June 2017 different organisations in the city came together to remove the spontaneous memorial objects from locations around Manchester. Flowers were composted and some of this compost was used to plant the “trees of hope” during the first year anniversary in May 2018; plants were replanted around the city; soft toys were washed and donated to charities to be passed on to children in the UK and abroad; and candles were melt to create 22 new candles which were given to the families of the 22 people who were killed at the attack.

More than 10,000 items (such as notes, letters, cards, drawings, sculptures, toys, t-shirts) have been kept by Manchester Art Gallery to form the Manchester Together Archive, an archive of the public response to the Manchester Arena attack.

In July 2018 the Manchester Together archive project received a £99,700 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project will document, digitise and make available online more than 10,000 items.

The project is led by Manchester Art Gallery in partnership with Archives+ and the University of Manchester.

Visit the Manchester Together Archive project website

Manchester Together press release

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.

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.