Manchester Art Gallery

Understanding Manchester Art Gallery’s Contribution to Pandemic Recovery

Here in Manchester, like many regions across the north, we have been preparing for the transition next week from lockdown to Tier 3. While we are not surprised by this, the cultural sector is devastated by the news that museums, galleries, theatres and other public venues will not be able to open. This is particularly galling as non-essential retail (and even our own museum stores), gyms and hairdressers have been given the green light to resume their trade. From 2 December we can hit the shops and the treadmill but we cannot find solace and wander freely in a spacious 3000 sq metre art gallery with carefully timed and limited entry.


Not only does this defy logic, it seems to penalise specifically cultural organisations that have worked so relentlessly and invested so heavily to make ourselves safe and secure places to visit – and all with generous Government support.


This is not about the visitor economy, it is about the lifeline that art and culture provide to so many people, especially now, to provide an environment of care and consideration and wonder.


Today Manchester Art Gallery publishes a report in response to Neil Mendoza’s call to arts organisations to demonstrate how they can contribute to the nationwide recovery, as the sector “finds it very hard to quantify” the positive impact it has on communities when making its case to the Treasury.

98% of visitors reported feeling completely safe and 58% said that their visit had given them more confidence to return to other public spaces.


Since re-opening our galleries to the public in mid-August, we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of thanks from our visitors, who see these free, safe public spaces as the first step to re-engaging with the world, seeking an opportunity to engage with things that offer joy, even while feeling anxious about returning to public spaces. 98% of visitors reported feeling completely safe and 58% said that their visit had given them more confidence to return to other public spaces. As lockdowns and isolation continue, re-socialisation and re-connection becomes an even more pertinent issue.


This crisis has exposed many fissures and inequities in our society, but it has also exposed our fundamental need for art at the centre of our lives, in all its forms from cooking to Caravaggio. This week I have had many calls from workers in the health sector, exhausted by relentless demands of caring, desperate for our doors to be open; “just to have some joy in all this”, as one said.


We therefore call on government to reassess this decision, and for a wholesale re-evaluation of the way the arts are considered. As we move towards some kind of life beyond Covid, we do not need a baseline economy, but a generative and inclusive one that capitalises on our creativity, and in this mix, museums and galleries gymnasia for the soul.

Alistair Hudson, Director of Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth. 27 November 2020

8 responses to “Understanding Manchester Art Gallery’s Contribution to Pandemic Recovery”

  1. Ben Borthwick says:

    This perfectly articulates a confused mass of exasperated thoughts, anxieties and frustrations that have haunted me since the first lockdown. Give us access to culture as an essential not a luxury

  2. Kate Baldwin says:

    This is so sad and so awful for the gallery and staff too. I hope the government will see sense soon. I was looking forward to visiting the gallery and enjoying not only the permanent collection but the Grayson Perry exhibition. The gallery re-opening would lift so many people’s spirits. Is there anything we can do to help your lobbying?

  3. […] Manchester Art Gallery put it best when they said: “”From 2 December we can hit the shops and the treadmill but we cannot find solace and wander freely in a spacious 3000 sq metre art gallery with carefully timed and limited entry.” Cultural institutions have worked hard to make their spaces safe to welcome people back. When I visited Joy Yamusangie’s exhibition at HOME, no-one came anywhere near me and we all properly wore our masks. Thanks to timed entry and spacious gallery spaces, I was able to escape the lonely and downright miserable two months I’d spent living and working in one room. For once, I was tearful from inspiration rather than despair. […]

  4. […] Hudson, the director of Manchester Art Gallery, which also remains closed, wrote in an open letter that the cultural sector is “devastated” by the news, adding that it was “galling” in light […]

  5. […] Hudson, the director of Manchester Art Gallery, which also remains closed, wrote in an open letter that the cultural sector is “devastated” by the news, adding that it was “galling” in light […]

  6. SJ G says:

    The arts sector is being severely punished by not being allowed to open. Having been in three galleries today in another open north west area, I felt completely safe in each one, welcomed and refreshed by having some time looking and interacting directly with the works and not via a screen.

    There is a place for online talks and exhibitions, and this year has allowed myself and many others to attend events that due to geography, would not have been possible.

    Having been in limited shops but supermarkets regularly, I know where I feel safe to go to and where I want to spend time. I don’t believe there is compelling evidence to support the closure of our museums and galleries. If a place can exhibit they are covid safe and have the appropriate measures in place, which to be honest we had over summer, then there is no logical reason why they remain shut. Unless you consider that its not a rich, financially based hobby or organisation unlike football!!

  7. Julie Trotman says:

    I completely agree that it makes no sense for galleries to remain closed whilst non essential retail reopens.When I visited the gallery in September it was a lot safer than many shops I have visited-they do not have timed entry.The priority seems to be capitalism over culture.The Arts are needed now and post pandemic for our wellbeing and humanity.
    Julie Trotman (Art Bites attendee)

  8. Keith Robinson says:

    I totally agree with the standpoint taken by Manchester Art Gallery over the illogical restrictions imposed on cultural centres located in Tier 3 areas. I hope to visit you very soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *