Manchester Evening Views
The Whitworth, part of the University of Manchester, and Manchester Art Gallery, part of Manchester City Council, are old institutions. That is, relatively old institutions, when we consider the recent history of modern art or the advent of the modern city. Both galleries were formed as educational and social institutes in the 19th Century as Manchester grew as the first city of capitalism and industrialisation. Alongside the Manchester Museum, these three form the Manchester Museums Partnership and work together in a mutual programme of work to improve and enhance the city and wider world. In this respect they are genuinely civic museums, in that they are not just part of Manchester’s city structure, but have actively contributed and supported its growth. When the Mosely Street building of the Royal Manchester Institution, now Manchester Art Gallery, was first built in 1823 you would have been able to see fields from its portico steps. The merchants and manufacturers knew then, that culture was fundamental to a generative economy.
One criticism of the ‘civic’ as an idea is that it is an idea rooted in capitalism. But Manchester is a capitalist city, the first capitalist city documented so famously by Marx and Engels, and our three museums have been complicit and instrumental in its growth. They are inextricably tied to the forces that shaped this city of laissez-faire economics, part good and part bad and that’s the reality.
Both galleries were founded as educational Institutes, primarily for the ‘betterment’ of the working classes, to generate knowledge, creativity, ingenuity, and a healthy and productive society. They were clearly instrumental yet despite this, the Institutes of the 1900’s also provided the arena for people to get educated, convene, socialise and self-organise, providing platforms for unions and co-operatives, or challenges to power and conservative thinking.
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