“Culture isn’t just something that’s nice to have.” Cornerhouse director talks mergers, MIF and 2014.

Susie Stubbs

Why does culture matter? It’s the economy, stupid. Cornerhouse Manchester’s Dave Moutrey finds time to tell us why the arts in Manchester are worth investing in

Dave Moutrey is a busy man. The head of one of the city’s most sociable art galleries is also leading a multi-million pound building scheme, a merger and is about to embark on a re-branding exercise that will see the city’s beloved Cornerhouse lose its name. And all this is in the name of progress.

In April, Cornerhouse and the Library Theatre Company officially merged, one of the first steps towards opening a new, £19 million arts centre. Said centre will include theatre, gallery, cinema and broadcast space, and is set to open in 2014. But until it actually does, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was business as usual.  “It doesn’t mean much for the public until we move,” says Moutrey. “Once the new building is open, the organisation won’t look like Cornerhouse or the Library Theatre Company, but in terms of what that actually means – we don’t yet know.”

What Moutrey does know is that it will create something very new for art galleries in Manchester. “The main motivation for merging the organisations is about creative potential. It will give us an opportunity to respond to the way artists work, which is across art forms. Artists have become more interested in ideas than craft, and when you start with ideas you look for the most appropriate way of engaging with them, regardless of discipline.”

“I went to see [theatre company] Complicitie at the Barbican,” he says of a performance that fused theatre, 3D animation and projection. “Whether it was theatre was anyone’s guess, but what it was, was brilliant. It’s the same with the Life and Death of Marina Abramovic last year. It was an exciting work; it didn’t matter what it was. It is exactly those boundaries that we intend to transgress.”

This is a vision that will help Moutrey and co. get over the tricky issue of re-branding. Cornerhouse is not so much an arts venue as an institution, its long history part of the cultural folklore of Manchester. For some, the idea of ditching the name is heresy. In reality, however, the re-brand is a necessary part of creating something entirely new.

Creative vision is one thing, but it’s the practicalities – of re-branding, of fundraising, of creating arts jobs – that are clearly on Moutrey’s mind. “When I talked to Richard Leese he was very clear: this development is about economic growth. The city is not interested in vanity projects, or in producing culture just for the sake of it. Not every local authority has the vision to connect culture with economic growth, but if you take Manchester International Festival, the Whitworth Art Gallery, the building of the biggest art school outside London at MMU – they are all about a range of connections with art and culture that create and retain talent, and how that feeds into economic growth.”

The all-new Cornerhouse, then, is part of something bigger. It’s about a city that bucks the economic trend to continue investing in culture, to re-open Central Library, expand the Whitworth, develop Manchester Art School and open Moutrey’s new arts centre. For the city, as Moutrey himself says, “Culture isn’t just something that’s nice to have. If this project didn’t generate jobs, it wouldn’t be happening.”

Find out what else is happening at Cornerhouse and it’s new arts centre: read our guide to HOME.

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