Manchester Art Gallery

Our vision and mission

This is the part of the website where you’d expect to see a well-honed vision statement. A rigorously edited paragraph which should somehow summon up the essence of everything we do and believe in. Mission statements are usually laboured over, announced with a fanfare then are often more or less forgotten about. We don’t do that kind of vision. Our mission is different, it is evolving, it’s not always sparklingly clear. We can live with ambiguity and trust that you can too.

Start at the beginning

The gallery was initiated in 1823 by artists, as an educational institution to ensure that the city and all its people could grow with creativity, imagination, health and productivity. These are powerful, productive ideas and we like to think of Manchester Art Gallery as the original useful museum.

This is an art school for everybody and for life

The useful museum?

What are we, a gallery or a museum?  Where does this term come from, and what does it mean?

It comes partly from our founder’s intentions as well as from ongoing national and international critical reflection on what the purpose of a public art gallery is in the 21st century. Our founder’s intentions reflect the language of the men – it was mostly men – who saw themselves as the engineers of social and cultural change:

  • advancement and diffusion of knowledge
  • a manufactory for working up the raw intelligence of the town
  • mental and moral improvement
  • rational amusement
  • an ideal of a Manchester imaginatively planned
  • civic pride and social responsibility

The rather paternal language of these intentions shouldn’t mask the basic ideals of benevolence and the compassionate values which underpinned them and which we’d broadly share. Now, in 2020, we could think of this place as a ‘Civic Think Tank’; a meeting space for voices across the city, providing creative education for all.

Along with these intentions we take into account the vision – developed through extensive public consultation – from Manchester City Council’s Our Manchester Strategy and also the Arts Council’s 10 year strategy goals.

Responding to these statements and strategies during a series of workshops, staff and volunteers developed four clear aims and these form the basis of our vision of the useful museum:

Social Impact

Manchester Art Gallery strives for social impact and societal health through a holistic and purposeful artistic programme of art and education for all people. This includes exhibitions, education, community programmes, events, arts and health projects.

At the heart of this lies a belief in the value of social capital and ‘artful living’1 being fundamental to a healthy society.

Good Housekeeping

As a public institution it is vital that we manage and deploy our resources well: making intelligent use of our assets, buildings and collections, as part of our contribution to the economy of the city.

We consistently review and develop our policies, processes and ways of working to improve the way we work to deliver a holistic artistic programme for all.

Art School for Life

The Gallery was founded by the artists and merchants of Manchester to ensure a healthy culture for a growing city. It was the birthplace of the Manchester School of Art and the School of Industrial Design. We campaign for the role of art and artists in broader society and for a full-spectrum approach that includes talent and skills development, visual literacy, problem solving, social cohesion and learning through making and doing.

We want Manchester to be a city where everyone can see themselves as an artist – and where the gallery can be a touchstone for this in every stage of residents’ lives.

Civic Think Tank

Manchester Art Gallery was founded as a ‘Civic Think Tank’; creating a convening space for voices across the city, providing creative education for all classes and cultures.

We nurture diversity and value nuance and complexity, with artistic and social programmes offering an antidote to polarised debates, promoting intergenerational and intercultural working, embedding democratisation and decolonisation2 across the institution, developing co-curation3 models with ‘social making’4, and piloting new forms of philanthropy based on the renewed public value of the institution.


There you have it, four aims which underpin how this institution tries to operate. We think it’s most clearly seen in our exhibition Get Together and Get Things Done, and in School of Integration developed by Tania Bruguera in partnership with MIF19. It’s also manifest in the monthly Sure Start sessions held here, in our ESOL and wellbeing programmes and in the critical re-evaluation of our collection displays. It’s a work in progress.


For those that just have to have one, here’s that vision paragraph:

Manchester Art Gallery is the original useful museum, initiated in 1823 by artists, as an educational institution to ensure that the city and all its people grow with creativity, imagination, health and productivity. The gallery is free and open to all people as a place of civic thinking and public imagination, promoting art as a means to achieve social change. Created as the Royal Manchester Institution for the Promotion of Literature, Science and the Arts, it has been at the centre of city life for nearly 200 years and has been proudly part of Manchester City Council since 1882. The gallery is for and of the people of Manchester and through its collections, displays and public programmes it works with everyone to ensure creativity, care and consideration can transform all aspects of the way we live.


1. Artful living refers to a life informed by and guided by….?
2. Decolonisation is the process of undoing the effects and outcomes of colonialism. Colonialism itself is the ‘process whereby a nation establishes and maintains its domination on overseas territories’. Many museums have legacies rooted in colonialism; their collections often came from wealthy donors who benefited from empires. Our gallery, established at the start of the 19th century, owes a debt to the play of power and economic activity in the city and the country at the time. This power and wealth was inescapably derived in part from colonial activity and exploitation, including slavery. In the period since then, the legacy of a colonial mindset has overtly and more subtly informed the development of the gallery and its collection. Exhibitions and ongoing projects such as Speech Acts are an attempt to address this history, making transparent the historical bias and power structures which have been at play and attempting to rectify them through giving visibility to voices and creators who have formerly been hidden, or perhaps intentionally forgotten. ?
3. C0-curation, sometimes also referred to as co-design or participatory design, is an approach to exhibition or display development that starts with the interests and ideas of an audience or participants. As well as giving voice to those involved, it may attempt to challenge institutional power or to seek greater transparency and honesty.  ?
4. Social making has been described as “making society through socially engaged practice”.  To be “socially active” implies the opposite of being isolated, atomised and alienated. It’s your full humanity, expressed in and with others. ?