Whitworth director stays true to vow to ‘act for perpetual gratification of Manchester’

The director of Museum of the Year 2015, the Whitworth Gallery, attributes the museum’s recent triumph on the international stage to the people of Manchester, vowing to inject prize fund back into the community that sculpts its success.

The Whitworth, part of the University of Manchester, recently brushed off fierce competition to sweep the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2015 and bag the £100,000 prize fund – the biggest museum prize fund in the world.

Talking to MM about how the prize fund will be invested, director Maria Balshaw said: “We were founded in 1889 with one aim in mind: that we act for the perpetual gratification of the people of Manchester.

“That is an aim that holds true today, and everything we do is rooted in the city and in the communities on our doorstep – whether that is working with our colleagues at the University of Manchester, doing work with the school just across the park from us, or working with other cultural organisations in the city.

“We are Museum of the Year 2015 because of our work for and with our very diverse audiences – and winning it is endorsement of the relationships we have tried to hard to foster.”

PEOPLE POWER: Maria said they are Museum of the Year 2015 because of their work for and with their very diverse audiences

Such work in and around the community during the museum’s closure made up just as much of the its regeneration process as the renovation of the physical building itself.

Maria continued: “We were never more open than when we were closed.

“We ran pop up events in pubs, supermarkets and hospitals. We’re part of the University of Manchester, so we did an enormous amount of work with students on campus.

“We put events into the park; we took some of the best-loved artworks in our collection and put them into Selfridges Exchange Square, where they were seen by over 200,000 shoppers.

The exercises allowed those at the Whitworth to actively engage with young people, artists and academics of Manchester, and co-ordinate collaborations to reflect the museum’s firm roots in the city.

“What this meant was that when we re-opened, our visitors came back – in their thousands. So winning this award is not about us so much as them.

“We are a Manchester Gallery with an international outlook, and we believe in partnership and collaboration – those values are at the core of all our work.”

One such exhibition that serves to evidence such values is Cornelia Parker’s collaboration with Nobel Prize-winning scientist and director of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute, Konstantin Novoselov.

The partnership saw fragments of graphite extracted from drawings by William Blake, JMW Turner and Pablo Picasso, and turned into graphene, which was then used to create a sensor integral to the museum’s opening night firework display.

The explosive fusion of art and science paid homage to the burgeoning industry surrounding the ‘wonder material’, and its significance in the city’s commercial and cultural future.

In keeping with the museum’s values remaining firmly rooted in the community, Maria explained the impact that winning the Art Prize fund will have not only on the Whitworth, but the positive implications she hopes it will have on the city and people of Manchester.

She said: “We will spend the money on working with the communities on our doorstep.

“We already have a Cultural Park Keeper, whose job it is to programme events and activities in the park – specifically to encourage those who use the park to venture into the gallery – and so we will now be able to put on bigger, more ambitious and more frequent activities and events.

“Going back to that founding aim: we want the Whitworth to be for all the people of Manchester, and winning this prize helps us get closer to achieving that.”

To plan your visit to the Whitworth Gallery or for information on current exhibitions click here.  

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