Families & Early Years

In an art gallery, a toddler balances on a row of colourful cushions, a baby reaches up to the ceiling lights and a small girl puts a finger to her lips and creeps quietly round the corner so as not to wake a sleeping lion. Children participate in galleries in a myriad of ways that are sometimes predictable, sometimes completely surprising.  

At Manchester Art Gallery we offer families a free and welcoming space in the heart of the city that enables people to be creative and play together. You can access our family gallery The Lion’s Den during opening hours.  

In The Lion’s Den we run a varied programme of events and activities for children, parents, carers and early years providers. We also collaborate with other agencies in the city that work so hard to improve outcomes for families in Manchester.  

Shh, dont wake the sleeping lion…

Our youngest Manchester residents helped design our family gallery. For several months we researched with 2 and 3-year-olds from Tiddlywinks Nursery and Martenscroft Nursery School and explored the gallery together. By following the children’s lead, we were able to discover which artworks and spaces the children were interested in. 

Young children’s drive to learn is powered by their own fascinations and interests. When we acknowledge and build on children’s interests, we help them feel valued and become experts in their own life experiences. Unsurprisingly, depictions of animals were exciting to the children, especially our huge lion painting which is displayed in the gallery alongside drawings by the children and a selection of 18th century bonbonnieres. 

How can art and culture support the delivery of health and education services for families? 

In The Lion’s Den we are exploring how our collection can be used to better understand child development. Black and white artworks have been selected to stimulate babies sense of sight and aid health visitors’ clinical assessments of new babies.  

You can also see collection works on display that have been selected with partners to support healthy infant feeding agendas. Prior to the pandemic, Sure Start outreach workers, health visitors and infant feeding specialists ran weekly support services for families at the gallery. These sessions are part of a city-wide agenda to improve access to breast feeding and good oral health, to lower obesity rates and eradicate child food poverty. 

Daily Activities

The Lion’s Den is open for everyone during our opening hours, but occasionally we use the space for private family events. Please see our Visit page for updates.

In the Lion’s Den you can:

  • Check our What’s On guide to see our family activities.

Open Doors

Open Doors is a series of creative sessions especially for autistic children, their families and carers.

Each month we explore different artworks and ideas with our artists and volunteers. You can get hands-on with a variety of making activities, explore the art gallery or just spend time together in our new children’s space, The Lion’s Den.

A quiet room is available.

Our sessions are run by Nadia from Autism for the Arts. Nadia is passionate about creating access to cultural venues for autistic people. Artists Rox and Rachel also support the sessions.

Open Doors Autism friendly workshop - adults and children sat at a table drawing on easels in a bright room with large windows

Artist Led Activities

Art and art making can be a powerful way for children to explore, understand and articulate their thoughts about the world we live in. We work with a team of friendly artists with varied art practices and interests to deliver hands on creative sessions in The Lion’s Den.

Keep an eye on our What’s On guide for activities and events led by artists.

draw a loopa

Creative Families Draw-a-loopa!

February half-term 2024

During February half-term, our Creative Families Team will be exploring playful ways to make drawings.

The Lion’s Den (Clore Art Studio) at Manchester Art Gallery is a space in the heart of the city, for families to make and meet!

Artists will be running creative making sessions in The Lion’s Den 1-3.30pm. No need to book, just turn up.

Next sessions:

Mark Gertler, Fruit, 1922

Family Friendly Café

Our gallery café is great for families. Food is served throughout the day (hot dishes between 11am and 3pm). Children’s menus are available. 

High chairs are available, just ask a member of our café staff. 

Still Life with guitar, c1925

Getting around 

For buggies, there’s a ramp leading to the main entrance on Mosley Street. There are lifts to all floors or you can leave your buggy in the glass Atrium.

For more information about physical access to Manchester Art Gallery see our Plan Your Visit page. 

Mark Francis, Release

Baby changing and toilets 

There are baby change facilities on the ground floor in both men’s and women’s toilets next to the entrance hall. We also have accessible toilets in the ground floor atrium and on the first floor. 

Things of the Least:
lively exhibition-making through the material encounters of under-3s

Things of the Least will create a series of gallery and live public experiences to stimulate the connection between artefacts and everyday life. The project aims to explore how very young children interact with the physical world, allowing children’s priorities to challenge powerful ideas about what’s valuable, who should see it and how it should be seen.

Things of the Least

Families of the World

Families of the World is a project for young families seeking sanctuary in Manchester, and is generously funded by the Oglesby Charitable Trust.

This project is rooted in: the spirit of welcome; a focus on refugee children and families; improved access and inclusion to cultural and civic spaces; a trauma-informed dimension to cultural activity;  cross cultural learning and sharing including food.

Families of the World
Baby Social

Working with families across Manchester  

As a third of all children in Greater Manchester are living inpovertywe want to ensure our family programme is accessible, relevant and supportive of other agencies working across the city to fight inequality.  

Did you know we run a health visitor clinic for new parents at the gallery? Working in partnership with the Manchester Health Visiting Team and Sure Start, we deliver creative health and education services for families of 0 to5 year olds. We’re also working with researchers from the Education and Social Research Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University to examine how access to art and culture can help us understand child development.

Research: Affecting space | Manchester Metropolitan University

Platt Hall Playgroup

Alongside the work we do at our Mosely Street Gallery we are also developing plans at Platt Hall. During June and July 2021 it was such a joy to welcome ‘babies born in lock down’ who are now toddlers and their parents from Fallowfield and Rusholme Sure Start Children’s Centres to Platt Hall. During this pilot project we are looking at how, this historic hall in the middle of Rusholme, can be used to support early years child development and be used as a space to deliver family support services. 


Decolonisation Work

Our youngest Manchester residents helped design our family gallery. For several months, we researched and explored the Gallery with 2 and 3 year-olds from Tiddlywinks Nursery and Martenscroft Nursery School. By following the children’s lead, we were able to discover which artworks and spaces children are most interested in.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, depictions of animals were exciting to the children, especially our huge lion painting which is now displayed in the gallery alongside drawings by the children and a selection of 18th century bonbonnieres.

Bonbonniere is a French word meaning container for ‘bonbons’ or sweets. These tiny boxes would once have held small, breath-freshening mints. At the time, sugar was still a highly valuable commodity and could only be afforded by the wealthy. The sweets were almost certainly made from sugar cane that was cut and processed by enslaved Africans on British-owned plantations in the Caribbean.

To find out more about our work around decolonisation, the bonbonnieres, and how they are represented in the Lion’s Den, see the iJade paper below.

Bonbonnieres in the gallery: (re)presenting sugar in a family gallery space

Animating exhibition-making through the material encounters of under-3s: in collaboration with Manchester Art Gallery

This project offers a PhD opportunity in experimental exhibition making, curating practice, exhibition display research or fine art practices to work with Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) fine art and education research staff and in partnership with Manchester Art Gallery.

The project will explore how the material and spatial encounters of children under 3 can inspire ways to engage with museum collections differently, and to generate inclusive exhibition-making practices for all audiences.


Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)