So long, goodbye: Whitworth Weekending

Phoebe Hurst

The Whitworth closes its doors to undergo a £15 million development project – but not without a proper send-off first.

The Whitworth’s closure is an odd thing to comprehend. It seems strange for a building as steadfast as a red brick art gallery to flip over its “open” sign and pull down the shutters, especially one that has kept Manchester in pioneering exhibitions and public art programmes for the past 125 years. Like a favourite jumper that outstays changing fashion trends and unfailingly complements any outfit, we kind of assumed that the Whitworth would always be there; in the drawer under the bed, exactly where we left it.

Happily, our trusty cable knit isn’t off to the charity shop just yet, and its temporary absence promises to be worth it. As part of a £15 million development funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the University of Manchester and Arts Council England, two new wings will be added to extend the 19th-century gallery into the surrounding Whitworth Park. With plans for an art garden, “café in the trees” and a landscape gallery that has already been road tested by Nikhil Chopra, the project promises to create a coherent conversation between the Whitworth and its garden, where currently there stands a just few courteous words. The existing space is also set to change: three galleries will be restored to their 1908 barrel-ceilinged glory and a refurbished Edwardian staircase that leads to the grand hall will open to visitors for the first time.

Such an expansive makeover warrants a suitably extravagant send-off

Such an expansive makeover warrants a suitably extravagant send-off. The gallery’s summer season swansong is already packed with enough big name artists to ensure we won’t forget it during the year-long redevelopment, but just in case, next weekend the gallery stages Whitworth Weekending: three days of interactive art, live music and performances.

It all kicks off with a brass band, although this is not just any old brass band. The Fairey Band are probably best known for Acid Brass, the project cooked up by artist Jeremy Deller that fuses acid house and brass. Yes, you did read that right and yes, the two work together a treat. The band reprise Acid Brass on Friday night, while on the Saturday the Manchester School of Samba take over with a fire and light-filled tour of the gallery. The weekend draws to a close with “Six White Horses”, a new artwork by Northern Art Prize nominees Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson – which is our hot tip for the weekend as a whole. In between are performances from We Are Willow, Samson and Delilah, and Manchester electro band, Tokolosh. Band on the Wall also curate a stage, musician Sura Susso introduces listeners to the Kora, a West African harp, while Video Jam combine live musical performance with silent film.

And then, of course, there’s the art. The Whitworth couldn’t say goodbye without some well-honed artistic innovation, and a dizzying programme of workshops, drop-in sessions and its DIY creative corner run throughout the weekend. Painting with nature workshops and a handmade spider web make use of the gallery’s soon-to-be-closer connection to the Whitworth Park, and audio artist Jason Singh transforms visitors’ ideas into soundscapes. Gallery (and park)-goers also assist local artist Lucy Burscough as she uses one of the park’s willow trees to create a replica of the iconic “Genesis” sculpture by Jacob Epstein. With a fleet of paper airplanes, a tapestry made of food and hole puncher art bolstering the programme, the Whitworth Weekending is a cultural extravaganza worthy of the gallery it celebrates. Talk about going out with a bang.    

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