Local hangings: should great art be confined to the Capital?

Susie Stubbs

DSC01781

Here’s a question: is regional art a good thing? It’s a conundrum that seems to be troubling the national press of late. On Sunday, we spotted this report in the Observer: Rachel Cooke writing up new galleries and ‘swanky’ architecture in some of the country’s least fashionable seaside resorts. Margate is soon to open its Turner Contemporary art centre; Eastbourne has its £8.6m Towner Gallery; Folkestone a new £4m performance space.

And last month The Guardian reported on the opening of the £19m Nottingham Contemporary, which launches in November. Nottingham Contemporary is a coup for a city that, until now, had no contemporary art scene to speak of – its only other gallery, the Angel Row, closed in 2007. Nottingham Contemporary joins a raft of recent-ish openings: Mima in Middlesbrough, the Baltic in Gateshead. Here in Manchester, we already have our new cultural palaces: Urbis, Imperial War Museum North, The Lowry.

But the opening of galleries such as that in Nottingham raises questions. Matt Price (writing about another proposed gallery, this time in Birmingham) asked, ‘does England really need another contemporary art museum?’ The problem, he argued, is that all these flash new museums mask a problem: that the exhibitions they house aren’t up to scratch. ‘Although many cities and towns are showing strong exhibitions, most of them don’t actually own much of the art they show; public collections of contemporary art around England simply aren’t as good as they should be.’

The argument centres on sustainability – none of these places can afford a white elephant (think of The Public in West Bromwich, whose gallery closed before it even opened). But what that argument misses is this: regional cities across Britain already have star-studded collections of art, painting, sculpture and more, some of it modern, some of it historic. Southampton Council know it – in a move that can only be described as short sighted, the coastal town is considering flogging its historic collections in order to raise funds. And here in Manchester we know it. We are blessed with collections that range from Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces (Manchester Art Gallery) and the world’s largest collection of Lowry artworks (The Lowry) to the ‘Baby’ (MOSI) and one of the UK’s largest collections of Egyptian artefacts (Manchester Museum). And there are active acquisitions policies at many of these regional museums and galleries, too – the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery are just two that continue to collect modern and contemporary art.

The collections exist – what is often lacking (and is why cities like Nottingham are busy topping out their new builds) is the infrastructure. Imagine Manchester without Urbis, Imperial War Museum North or The Lowry. Think of it without the scrubbed up versions of Manchester Art Gallery and Manchester Museum (both of which underwent multi-million pound improvements a few years back). Tell Cornerhouse and the Whitworth not to think bigger, to forget their planned expansions and be content with what they’ve got.

The Manchester we know and love wouldn’t exist. It wouldn’t be the second most important cultural destination in the UK (and we wouldn’t have bothered coming up with creativetourist.com). It wouldn’t support hundreds of jobs and generate much-needed income for the city, or provide free education and activities for thousands of children and community groups every year. It wouldn’t have the venues and the back-up to stage Manchester International Festival. It would be like Nottingham before its art gallery – a place where I grew up; a cultural vacuum that I couldn’t wait to get out of. Yes, we need to be careful about what we build, and to ensure that any new cultural centre serves its community alongside the staging of seriously good shows. But we also need more investment, not less, in our regional museums and galleries – if only so that kids the length and breadth of Britain don’t forever feel they are missing out by not being in London.

Susie Stubbs is the editor of creativetourist.com, a collaborative project between nine museums and galleries in Manchester, the Northwest Regional Development Agency, Renaissance in the Regions and Visit Manchester. Susie also writes a have-baby-will-travel blog.

Culture Guides

Music

The festive season is here, and whether you want to escape it or embrace it, we’ve got you covered.

Theatre in Manchester and the North

Theatre

Contemporary cabaret, powerful monologues and world premiere musicals. Our theatre guide spans the festive season and beyond.

Classical Music in Manchester and the North

We preview the standout classical music events and venues in Manchester and the north.

Food and Drink

Explore the best restaurants and bars in Manchester and the North for autumn.

Backyard Cinema

Cinema

It only takes a quick glance at the film listings to realise that Christmas is coming, and quick. We’ve rounded up some of our festive highlights alongside standout seasons and festivals.

Exhibitions

Pause in the hustle and bustle of festive prep to take in some inspiration from this month’s top exhibitions.

The Ocean at the End of The Lane at the lowry

Families

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and Manchester is bursting with fun, family activities to keep the kids entertained in the run up to Christmas!

Writer Nicholas Royle. Photo by Zoe McLean

Literature

There are spooky stories, Christmas crime thrillers and plenty of books for stocking fillers as December unfolds and Manchester and the wider North region switches on the live literature lights.

Tours and Activities

We’re deep into Autumn now but don’t let that stop you from finding a new tour or activity to get stuck into.

Things to do right now

Powered by culturehosts
T'was the gig before Christmas at Z-arts
4 December 2022 11:00 am, from £9.00

T’was the gig before Christmas at Z-arts

Image credit: Maryna Makarenko, Sun-Eaters, 2022
Cinema Until 4 December 2022, from £5

HOME Artist Film Weekender 2022

Red Squirrel at Lightwaves
Festivals Until 4 December 2022, FREE

Lightwaves at Salford Quays

Cinema Until 8 December 2022, from £7.95

Aftersun at HOME

Elizabeth Gaskell's House garden. Photo by Chris Tucker
Literature Until 11 December 2022, from £4.50

Book sale at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

Cinderella at Hope Mill Theatre
Families Until 11 December 2022, from £27.00

Cinderella at Hope Mill Theatre

Music Until 17 December 2022, from £5

RNCM Autumn Season

Melissa Wan
Literature Until 17 December 2022, from £7

Ghosts at the Old Library

Flecky Bennett’s HALLOWEEN 2018 Ghost Walk
Activity Until 17 December 2022, from £15

Flecky Bennett’s Ghost Walks