After an extensive modernisation programme the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester has secured the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year Award- one of the most coveted prizes in the Art World with a winning fund of £100,000. Other finalists included the Imperial War Museum, Belfast’s The MAC, The Tower of London, Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Dunham Massey, Altrincham.
Whitworth Gallery was established in 1889 in memory of the 19th century Engineer and Industrialist Sir Joseph Whitworth. Then known as the Whitworth Institute and Park the principle behind its establishment was that it would open its doors to ‘people of all social classes’ and should be there ‘for the perpetual gratification of the people of Manchester’.
The Victorian red bricked building has been through a number of major refurbishments but nothing quite as impressive as its recent £15 million re-development. The Architects MUMA’s design enhanced the existing building but expanded it to include contemporary exhibition space – practically doubling the size of the gallery.
The Whitworth Gallery boasts a particularly fine collection of textiles, 19th century fine art and prints as well as contemporary and 20th Century Art. Dr Maria Balshaw the Museum’s Director knew that this ambitious project would mean the museum would have to close for at least half the year. She wanted to ensure that the people of Manchester would remain engaged with the Whitworth and undertook a number of innovative pop-up projects to bring the collection out to the people of Manchester. In her acceptance speech she said “We are part of the most diverse community in the North West. We were closed for half a year and spent our time getting to know those communities. Our vision was that we would make our gallery relevant for everybody that lives in Manchester.” Looking forward she said that the £100,000 prize would enable the gallery to carry on “taking our art out into the world around us and bring new audiences back in”.
Dr Balshaw has in many way already succeeded because since the gallery reopened its doors on Valentines day this year it has had more than 210,000 visitors – previously the gallery would have normally seen 180,000 visitors over a whole year
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