Art & booze: The Whitworth's artistically-inspired pub crawl

Susie Stubbs

What do you do when your gallery is shut for refurbishment? Go down the pub, of course.

In case you were wondering if the Whitworth Art Gallery had dropped off the face of the earth, it hasn’t. As we reported a while back, Maria Balshaw’s “beloved gallery” is closed until the autumn for refurbishment. Now, for most of us, time spent while the office is shut is time best spent down the pub – and the Whitworth’s staff would appear to agree. Sort of. Because while the Whitworth’s shutters are down, the gallery has devised a pub crawl that takes in some of the city’s best loved watering holes and puts on all manner of events inside them. “Social is at the heart of our events programme, so I was looking for alternative spaces to install pop up events and then it dawned on me – pubs,” says head of the Whitworth’s adult education programme, Ed Watts. “Pubs are inherently social spaces and Manchester has such a wealth or historic pubs and new independent bars that the idea of a crawl was just too tempting.”

This particular pub crawl isn’t solely about the social, though. From life drawing at the Britons Protection to a live music knit hack at Big Hands, alongside monthly courses from the Workers’ Educational Association at The Anchor, the Whitworth’s four month-long pub crawl takes the gallery itself as a starting point. “I wanted to allow artists to respond to the Whitworth’s collections as well as making connections to the history and workings of the individual pubs themselves,” says Watts. Of the events on offer, Watts is particularly looking forward to “seeing how Sam Meech’s Knitronica evolves during the afternoon in Big Hands, as well as more participatory events such as This and That with Jason Evans. But I like that idea of nothing being set in stone; it’ll all depend on the atmosphere of the day or who comes along.”

For most of us, time spent while the office is shut is time best spent down the pub. The Whitworth would appear to agree

The pub crawl is already up and running, with the launch at Salford’s First Chop Brewery at the end of January pulling in the diverse crowd that Watts was after. “We produced it in partnership with Hey! Manchester, with live performances from Les Malheureux and Honeyfeet. We had about 230 people in for it; well over half hadn’t been to a Whitworth event before. That’s great for us, I’d be interested to see how many of these people come along to the gallery once we reopen.”

Ah, the reopening. While the builders have been on site, Watts and co. have had to decamp to an empty university block just down the road; its cramped spaces, overflowing boxes and files still stuffed into packing cases are a far cry from the Whitworth we have come to know. Faced with such a change in circumstances, albeit a temporary one, who could blame Watts for nipping down the pub now and again? Yet for Ed Watts at least, the move out of the gallery has had a surprising effect. “It’s been really interesting; it’s flipped everything on its head. What was once the simplest thing – the building and its spaces – has now become the most complicated. Where will things be held, who organises things? But it makes you think differently and, while I am looking forward to getting back into the building and running events in its fantastic new spaces, this whole process of being out and about has been brilliant. I’ve found new partners, strengthened existing relationships and I’ve been able to experiment in a completely different way.” Which leaves us with only two things to do: to raise a glass to the Whitworth’s Pub Crawl and to point you to its full events listings. Cheers!

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