Manchester Art Gallery has been at the heart of city’s cultural scene for 200 years.
And while its doors may be closed to the public, staff are working hard behind the scenes to provide digital access to its collection, with related creative activities available online.
Regular events, including Art Bites, Philosophy Cafe and parts of the gallery’s well-being programme, are being adapted for an online audience so people can continue to explore and connect with the gallery’s collection in their homes.
The gallery was first initiated by artists in 1823 as an educational institution to ensure Manchester and its people grew with creativity, imagination, health, and productivity.
These same ambitions are now being translated into virtual activities, including weekly mindfulness sessions and features on individual art works, with commentary and discussion to bring them to life.
The Coronavirus crisis seen delays to planned exhibitions, due to open this spring. So, the gallery is now working on presenting works by these artists in other ways.
“This is the first time we have been forced to close our doors to the public,” said Director of Manchester Art Gallery, Alistair Hudson. “Fortunately, this has happened in a digital age, and means we do not have to stop work, but can do our bit to help people through this difficult moment. It means we can remain open on-line and bring some artistry and humanity into everyone’s homes.
“Of course, it’s a bit of a challenge, and like everyone we are definitely learning along the way as we move to this new way of working. But our staff and volunteers are thinking creatively and are excited about exploring new ways of connecting people with our collections, our archives, and the ideas that have shaped this historical institution”.
The curators are currently devising an online programme of films and conversations on the work of the late artist and filmmaker, Derek Jarman to accompany an exhibition of his work. Protest, originally due to open at the gallery on 1 April 2020.
Jarman made his mark in the 80’s through radical and political, yet deeply personal, protest work in the heat of the AIDS epidemic – in paint and film. He is also well known for the beauty and intimacy of his famous garden near the shingle shore of Dungeness and music videos for bands like the Smiths and Pet Shop Boys.
American activist artist, Suzanne Lacy was due to begin a project in May to support older women in the city, with a space in the gallery to capture the voices of the city’s older residents to campaign for better work and life prospects, alongside Ford Maddox Brown’s ‘Work’. Whilst this has had to be delayed, Lacy is now working with the gallery team and partner agencies to develop this work remotely until the gallery can re-open.
“It’s at times like this when you realise the value of our public museums and galleries as free places for people to come together,” adds Hudson. “On the other side of this we are going to need our city’s cultural centres more than ever to re-socialise and celebrate the strength and resilience of human culture.”
For more details about Manchester Art Gallery’s new online programme visit www.manchesterartgallery.org.