From October 2023 we’re exploring 200 years of art in the city of Manchester.
In October 1823 a group of artists and patrons rethought what ‘art’ meant in the context of the city of Manchester. Recognising the benefits art and artistic endeavour would bring to their modern, industrialising city, they made their vision a reality and the Royal Manchester Institution came into being. By 1835 the RMI had become bricks and mortar on Mosley Street.
This was not ‘art for all’ as we understand it today. It was elitist and prejudicial in its inception. It was a white space and a male space. The echoes of these historic exclusions continue to be felt in the collection today, which we recognise lacks artistic representation of women, Global Majority and LGBTQ+ artists and subjects, among others.
Ideas, however, transform and grow. In 1883 the building on Mosley Street opened to the public, free of charge under the kind patronage and guidance of the Corporation of Manchester. The collection was now not only for the people, but of the people, held in trust and in perpetuity.
As the population of Manchester has changed so have the ideas of what we collect, what we value, and who gets to make those decisions. Today, with the privilege of hindsight, we reflect on the power of art to change us, empower us and spark creative joy. Working with the city’s diverse, global, population, we can reimagine what ‘art for all’ could be for the next 200 years of Manchester Art Gallery, as we collect, engage and care together, for the future.
Over the next year we’ll be exploring the idea of an ‘arts ecology’ in the city of Manchester past, present and future. Each month we will be creating blogs and hosting events to mark our historic milestone. Coinciding with our Taking Stock project, this anniversary is a moment to come together through our shared history and to see the world in new ways through creativity.