Manchester Art Gallery is responding to coronavirus by taking its activities and collections on-line, in a bid to bring a bit of positivity to Manchester residents and those further afield, and to help them through this very challenging time.

Whilst the physical galleries have necessarily been closed to the public, staff are working behind the scenes to take its collections, community programmes, well-being activities and education work, into people’s homes through digital platforms.

The gallery has been at the centre of city life for nearly 200 years since being first initiated by artists in 1823 as an educational institution to ensure Manchester and its people grew with creativity, imagination, health, and productivity.

Its ambition throughout has always been to ensure care and consideration along with creativity informs all aspects of the way we live. Through the gallery’s website and social media these same ambitions will now be translated into virtual activities, with the aim of making people feel better during this period of isolation and offer some hope for a thriving culture beyond the crisis.

Over the next few weeks the gallery will be moving its usual programme of events on-line.

At kitchen tables, in home offices, living rooms, or anywhere else they can find to work, staff and volunteers are adapting regular events including Art Bites, Philosophy Cafe and parts of the gallery’s well-being programme so that audiences can continue to explore and connect with its collection in their own homes. The gallery will be using Zoom and Facebook live to bring these and other new activities to both regular and new audiences.

There will be features on individual works of art from the collections, with commentary and discussion to bring them to life. There will also be free video content and films for virtual gallery-goers to enjoy, and gallery staff will be using the collection to bring a more humorous approach to dealing with adversity on its social media channels.

The education team will be developing practical activities for the thousands of families and young people who are now home-schooling, and the gallery’s regular programme of arts and health sessions will go digital too with mindfulness sessions on offer through the website.

Even though planned exhibitions due to open this spring have had to be delayed, the gallery is now working on presenting works by these artists in other ways.

The curators are currently devising an on-line programme of films and conversations on the work of Derek Jarman, the legendary artist and filmmaker to accompany his exhibition Protest – which was originally due to open at the gallery on April 1.

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 garden at Dungeness and his videos for bands such as 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 also had to be delayed, the artist is now working with the gallery team and partner agencies to develop this work remotely until the gallery can re-open.

Alistair Hudson, Director of Manchester Art Gallery: “The gallery has been at the centre of Manchester life for nearly 200 years and seen many wars, crises and struggles, but this is the first time we have been forced to close our doors to the public.

“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 through thick and thin.

“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.  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.”

Information on the gallery’s new online programme can be found on the gallery’s website and through its social media channels and will be regularly updated as more content is made available.


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