Manchester Art Gallery & the Whitworth: learn, listen & like it! (Pankaj Protim Bordoloi, ITP 2018, India)

Hi, I am Pankaj Protim Bordoloi from India (Education Officer at Rashtrapati Bhavan Museum – President’s House Museum, New Delhi) back again with my second blog post about my week at my ITP UK Partner placement, spent with Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth.

In my school days, the city of Manchester was first introduced to me by referring to Sualkuchi (a prominent weaving centre in Assam, my native land in India) as the ‘Manchester of the East’. As a teenager, we were die-hard fans of Manchester United Football Club. The city was close to my heart, not unknown.

So last Monday (23 July), Dilek, Huyam and I, along with our ITP 2018 Senior Fellow Andrea (or ‘Phantom’, the nickname she earned at Manchester for wearing her Phantom of the Opera t-shirt!), took a train from Euston to Manchester Piccadilly. Ronan Brindley (Head of Learning, Manchester Art Gallery) was waiting at the station to welcome us. Manchester Art Gallery (MAG) has a lovely café and we had lunch there and were joined by the Deputy Director.

The presentation by us ITP fellows at MAG gave a new insight to the curators and other staff of the gallery.

The exhibition Speech Acts at MAG provided us with a very important understanding of the varied collection the Gallery has. The tour to the other gallery spaces opened up to us the large and distinctive collection of MAG. Ronan did a fantastic bundobust (Indian term for an arrangement) by taking us to an Indian restaurant of the same name! Posters from the blockbuster movies of Bollywood’s yesteryear adorned the walls of the restaurant. The menu was suggested by our Whitworth Art Gallery UK Partner representative Uthra Rajgopal, a lovely lady who has Indian lineage.

Ronan arranged a very fruitful visit to the conservation studio of MAG, which is housed in the original building constructed for the Gallery in the late 19th century. We got an exposure to the conservation work undertaken in the studio. The interaction with experts on paintings, frames, paper and textiles help us to understand a new dimension to the work. We discussed future possibilities and the challenges they have faced during the course of their work.

After a quick Chinese lunch in Chinatown (we were talking about ITP fellow Mao Lei and missing him!), we started a curatorial walk around the Gallery again, and we also learned about the preparation of the new exhibition and met the Social Media and Website Manager to hear about its importance. We went for an evening walk and spotted 23 bees from the Manchester Bee Festival across the city!

On Wednesday (25 July), we were welcomed by Alistair Hudson, the Director of the Whitworth Art Gallery (WAG). Sam Lackey (Senior Curator, Whitworth) gave us an enthralling tour of the galleries and collection. We also spent a good moment in the stores and conservation studio at WAG. The discussion with Holly Grange (Curator) about the Outsider Art collection at WAG was immensely interesting and informative. Then Uthra took us to the Paradise Works artist-run studio and exhibition space, where we got a chance to interact and see an exhibition entitled The Future is Bright, the Past is Colourful by artist Richard Shields, who hails from Northern Ireland and works with various media and installation art. By the way, ‘Phantom’ (Andrea) was lucky enough to catch her delayed flight to Belfast.

Thursday (26 July) was a busy day at the Whitworth as we started the day by learning about fundraising and development. We spent time understanding the Gallery’s database management, learning and engagement, and social media management. We have all learned a lot about museums and art over these days.

Uthra arranged two very interesting sessions with Patrick and Francine, where we got to know how exciting it is to engage people by using your museum’s gardens and trees: how an effective audience programme can be arranged around parks and gardens to increase community participation. As I have a plan to start a volunteer programme in my own institution, the interaction with the Whitworth’s Volunteer Manager was quite informative. Uthra discussed with us the Artist-in-Residency programme at the Whitworth and also shed light on the recent residency by the Bangladeshi artist Raisa Kabir.

A sumptuous dinner in Evelyn’s Café Bar with Uthra and Dilek completed the day.

Friday (27 July) was a free day to explore and understand the city. Our excellent Uthra managed to get tickets for the tour of the museum and stadium of Manchester United Football Club. And thanks to Claire and the ITP team for providing us with such an exciting opportunity – it was quite a memorable experience for my Manchester visit!

After this super-cool tour, we went to the Imperial War Museum North to see how they display the countless impact of war on our society. And the balanced use of colour and exceptional display at the People’s History Museum provided a very good insight into the political development of the UK.

So, guys, that’s enough for this week and let me now enjoy the picturesque countryside of Scotland from a beautiful Transpennine Service train en route to Edinburgh to meet my Glasgow placement ITP friends!