Manchester City Council

Art for Art's Sake ?

After a couple of depressing days looking at welfare reform, something to cheer me up last night with the official opening of the National Football Museum at Urbis. It's around three years ago that the then Chief Executive of the now defunct North West Development Agency approached the Council to see if we could help secure the future of the National Football Museum at a time when the very existence of the museum was under severe threat. We looked at the options but the only one that worked practically and financially was to use Urbis.

It wasn't an easy decision because after a bumpy start, Urbis, though always controversial, had become a very successful visitor attraction in its own right, with some great community orientated work like the Reclaim project coming out of it. Our thinking at the time was that the things that were good about Urbis could be replicated elsewhere (for an example have a look at the new Manchester Gallery at the City Art Gallery), and the detailed study work we did suggested that if we got the NFM right, it would be an even bigger attraction. A little over two years and £8m later, all the pre-opening reviews seem to suggest that the team have got it right,  that the museum can now look forward to a long and thriving future in its new home, and Manchester in general will benefit from the boost in visitors the museum will attract. I did have a look round earlier in the week and it is very good, good enough not just to attract visitors from around Britain, but with a strong international element within its collections, to draw visitors from around the world. You won't even need to like football that much to appreciate a fascinating account of all aspects of the game.

Also yesterday we saw a "debate" about whether or not the city should sell unshown works of art to soften the blow of the Coalition's cuts. No serious gallery has all of its collection on view at the same time. Works are lent to other galleries. Works are removed for restoration. There is a need to rotate to give repeat visitors something different to see. Some are so sensitive they can only be shown for short periods of time. Some are in use elsewhere, for example as a key part of educational programmes. Given the scale of the cuts, even if we could sell art works the impact wouldn't be that great, but in any case the debate is entirely academic, because we can't. The law says that the gallery can only use money from the sale of works of art to buy more works of art (and you might expect somebody who's been a councillor for ten years to know that). For those who are interested, the relevant bit of legislation is below

Greater Manchester Act 1981 Extract (s149)

149.-(1) In this section "the art gallery "means the Manchester Manchester
Central Art Gallery being the land and building described in Central Art
Schedule 2 to the Manchester Corporation Act 1882, and the land Gallery.
and building adjacent thereto known as the Athenaeum Annexe.

(2) The art gallery and all works or other objects of art therein
shall be held upon trust by the Manchester council for the benefit
of the citizens of Manchester and shall at all times be kept in fit
and proper order.

(3) Notwithstanding anything in subsection (2) above, the
Manchester council may from time to time sell or exchange any
works or other objects of art for the time being acquired by them
for the art gallery but the money arising from any such sale shall
be applied in the purchase of other works or other objects of art
and for no other purpose and any such works or objects received
in exchange shall take the place for all purposes of the works or
objects given in exchange:

Provided that where any work or object has become vested in
the Manchester council by virtue of a gift or bequest-

(a) the Manchester council shall, if reasonably practicable,
consult with the donor or with the personal representatives
or trustees of the donor before exercising the powers
of this subsection; and

(b) the powers conferred by this subsection shall not, during
a period of twenty-one years commencing on the date on
which it became vested, be exercisable as respects that
work or object in any manner inconsistent with any
condition attached to the gift or bequest, except with the
consent of the donor or the personal representatives or
trustees of the donor.


Make a comment

There are 5 responses to “Art for Art's Sake ?”

  1. Farenheit 321 Says:

    Think this is a case of that former councillor not knowing his arts from his elbow...

  2. Val Stevens Says:

    Well done and I am sure the new Football museum will be a success. I hope there is just a little section on sexism in football. :-) I also read with astonishment the proposal from John Leech MP suggesting that the art collections be sold off to help bridge the gap caused by the cuts levied on Manchester by the government he supports. Incredible. In France even small villages are very proud of their artistic heritage and see it as integral to civilised life. Bread is important but so are roses. The trustees obviously knew that there would always be short term philistines ready to raid our heritage.

  3. Looking to the future Says:

    Thank heavens the Act protects the "family silver" for future generations. It annoys me when it's suggested that the Council sells off valuable assets (eg it's share of the Airport) for a quick fix now. These need to be kept for future generations.

  4. Interested Manc Says:

    I absolutely take the point about not "selling off the family silver" and am depressed that there are always people who will suggest disposing of heritage assets on the basis that they are personally unimportant to them individually, without thinking more broadly about who they actually belong to (the people of Manchester).

    The broader point to me is, why do we not have a strategy for showing some of our treasurers more frequently and to a wider audience? Yes, they are sometimes loaned in small quantities and some are undergoing restoration, but the majority are, at least figuratively, collecting dust.

    A vibrant and frequently changing art offer (and not only in the standard collection of city owned galleries) would attract visitors and raise money in its own right as well as demonstrating some pride in our heritage and assets.

    As long as we have a collection that is, in the main stored and unseen, there will always be some soulless philistine screeching about selling them for a modest short term gain. After that, they will be lost forever.

  5. Maria Balshaw, Director of Manchester City Galleri Says:

    We agree with "Interested Manc". At the Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery we regularly change the art on display. This has always been the case at the Whitworth, and is the approach we are now taking at Manchester City Galleries, so that more of the collection is shown and shared with people.
    The original Manchester Evening News article was quite misleading, because many of the works they cited have been on display very regularly. The Picassos, for example, are currently on display at Tate and the National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.
    I absolutely agree that the more we use the wonderful collections we have, the better it will be for everyone in the city, and I hope people will enjoy the regularly changing displays across both galleries.



The blog of the leader of Manchester City Council, Councillor Richard Leese.

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