Since the industrial revolution Manchester’s been a confident city, wearing its wealth on its sleeve, and if you’re living it up in the centre on a Friday night, you might think that not much has changed. But there’s more to Manchester than nightlife, shopping and football as I found on a recent weekend jaunt to discover Manchester’s creative and arty side.
The Salford Quays, Manchester
There are far more museums and galleries than you can cover in just one weekend, so we focussed on the area around Salford Quays with an easy ride from the city centre on the shiny new Metro-line tram system. This area around the Manchester Ship Canal has been completely redeveloped in recent years with smart apartment blocks and offices replacing the back to back housing and factories of yesteryear.
The Lowry, Manchester
This is the neighbourhood where Salford’s most famous son, the artist LS Lowry grew up, painting the factories and smoking chimneys he saw around him, immortalising them in his famous scenes of ‘matchstick men’. Lowry was a shy man but I think he might have been pleased to see his name on the door of The Lowry Arts centre, designed as a Millennium project by architect Michael Wilford. As you approach from the canalside, the centre is constructed of cold steel and glass, but on the inside it’s painted in vibrant colours of purple, orange and yellow, with a restaurant, coffee shop and family activity area.
LS Lowry, Going to Work, 1959, The Lowry Collection, Salford
There are ever changing exhibitions going on here as well as concerts, theatre and music and we looked around the Lowry Favourites exhibition enjoying his art and a fascinating film about Lowry’s life. This was a man who never married but went to bed surrounded by paintings of pre-Raphaelite Rossetti heroines and who lovingly nursed his invalid mother although she had no taste for his uncompromising style of art.
Even when this exhibition finishes in September, there’s typically some Lowry work on show and from June to September you’ll find an exhibition of Spencer Tunick’s Everyday People, by an artist best known for his installations of large groups of naked people in public settings – apparently the good folk of Manchester have been queuing up to pose naked on the Salford Quays as part of this project. The Lowry art centre and the Lowry Favourites exhibition are free to visit.
Imperial War Museum North
Right across the canal, you’ll find the Imperial War Museum North. Like the Lowry it presents an angular and uncompromising modern steel exterior with the fragmented shapes of the building representing the world at war. Inside the main museum area is a large open space with smaller silos within it that house displays on different themes, such as women at war and propaganda as well as exhibition spaces. Throughout the day the space comes alive with an audiovisual Big Picture show bringing to life the experiences and voices of those who lived through war with a sound scene and projected pictures on the walls of the museum. We listened to the voices of children at war; the day off when a school had been flattened by a bomb, the under-age soldiers desperate to join up for glory and the child soldiers enlisted against their will.
The Imperial War Museum North, Manchester
We also saw the excellent exhibition of Don McCullin war photography with haunting black and white images of world conflicts and human suffering that were impossible to ignore. In July there’ll be a new exhibition of All Aboard: Stories from the War at sea with a chance to relive naval history in the major sea battles and life in the navy at war, as well as photographs of the Tynside dockyards by Cecil Beaton as well as a family Camouflage trail. The Imperial War Museum is free to visit.
Museum of Science and Industry
Back along the Metro-line back towards the centre of town and we stopped at the Museum of Science and Industry also known as MOSI. The museum is in an old railway yard where the large engine sheds now house exhibitions drawing on Manchester’s Industrial past. It’s a great place for families with plenty of hands on activities and a small engine you can ride up and down on.
Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester
While we were at MOSI we took a look at the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition pondering the mysteries of the Mona Lisa including an incredibly detailed photographic reproduction that allowed you to give the painting far closer scrutiny than you’ll ever be able to do in the Louvre. We took a tour through the drains and sewers of Manchester learning how improved sanitation helped to control disease as the population exploded in the industrial revolution. This summer you’ll find a special Lego exhibition in July as well as the ongoing Planetarium shows and special holiday events. MOSI is free to visit although there may be a charge for special exhibitions.
After exploring the permanent and special exhibitions at these fascinating venues we’d barely scratched the surface of creative possibilities in Manchester, with the People’s History Museum, Manchester Art Gallery and Whitworth Art Gallery still to explore.
My creative weekend in Manchester was hosted by CreativeTourist who provide all the information and inspiration you need about exhibitions, museums and artistic events in Manchester on their website at Creativetourist.com where you’ll also find a downloadable Classic Weekender guide detailing all the latest exhibitions and creative happenings in Manchester.
For places to stay on your creative weekend in Manchester you’ll find plenty of hotels in Manchester at lastminute.com