The World in the Evening: The Skinny Guide to Manchester After Hours

Manchester comes alive under the cover of darkness this month as its museums, art galleries and cultural institutions give themselves over to the nocturnal shenanigans of Manchester After Hours. Our Art editor guides you through its programmes

Feature by Sacha Waldron | 05 May 2015

There is a particular magic in seeing museums and galleries open at night. Spaces that might seem a little austere during the day have a more playful, private view-y vibe, creating a sense of occasion for performance, music, films and talks. There has been an explosion of night-time museum activities recently, and a new sense of informality and openness about cultural institutions and how and when they invite visitors through their doors. This welcoming attitude can sometimes extend beyond the evening’s activities; museum sleepovers, for example, have become crazily popular (the one offered by the Natural History Museum in London sells out months in advance), and social events such as dinners or even dating events (I guess you do that before the sleepover) are also now the norm. I once worked on the catering team at a dinner in Tate Modern where a company had paid a ridiculous sum to have their dinner table situated under the abdomen of Louise Bourgeois’ monumental steel spider, Maman, in the Turbine Hall. Very weird situation to serve dinner in; every time you put a plate down it felt like the spider was going to birth out a million little horrific metal spider babies.

Museums at Night is a biannual festival that invites visitors into cultural institutions across the UK twice a year, in May and October. The May iteration actually ties into the wider European campaign, La Nuit Des Musées, which attracts more than two million visitors annually to over 3400 museums and cultural institutions across Europe and also falls close to 18 May, International Museums Day. Museums at Night comes to Manchester on Thursday 14 May in the form of Manchester After Hours, which offer a vast and rather overwhelming array of events and exhibitions to choose from; with this in mind we have put together our Skinny highlights. Wear some sensible shoes and put your game face on. This is going to be a marathon…

Manchester After Hours, Thursday 14 May – our guide:

Manchester kicks off the night-time activities with the majority of arts organisations in the city taking part under the theme of ‘odd couplings,’ programmed by cultural diarists Creative Tourist. Of the larger spaces, The Whitworth, which just – and deservedly – won Northwest building of the year, presents Paint and Performance, an evening exploring the relationship between painting and performance in collaboration with the BBC. Expect live musical scores, participatory workshops and a performance drawing from Naomi Kendrick in response to improvised sound from David Birchall and Dan Bridgwood-Hill (6-9pm, free). The cafe, a glass rectangle that looks out over the park, is pretty nice, so this might be a perfect first stop for a cup of coffee/glass of wine before the evening ahead – if there isn’t too much of a queue.

Over at Manchester Art Gallery, meanwhile, a group of students from Manchester Metropolitan University’s Department of Interactive Arts operating under the name Broke Collective will take over the space with drawing, collage, sculpture, quilt-making and conversation inspired by the gallery’s exhibitions (6-9pm, free).

Quite a bit of Manchester After Hours is music-related. Hey! Manchester are offering secret tours of Chetham’s Library, with musicians such as Rioghnach Connolly and Ellis Davies of Honeyfeet, Josephine, Bird to Beast and Nancy Elizabeth giving one-off acoustic gigs in the nooks and crannies of this historic building. There are two tours, which are two hours long, with only 50 spaces available on each and tickets are already sold out – but it is possible to add your name to the waiting list at; keep your fingers crossed (5.30pm & 8pm, free).

Some things that aren’t sold out: Debt Records will be in residence at Central Library (5.30-7.30pm, free), and will be inviting visitors to see how a record is put together, from set-up to final performance, as musicians from the label's roster take part in an open recording of a specially commissioned song by Louis Barabbas and Felix Hagan based on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (it's the novel's 90th anniversary). You can just drop in to this one, so combine it with a visit to Islington Mill’s project in the library downstairs, where they will be showcasing some of the diverse record labels based at the Mill and debuting some new performances and commissions (5.30-7.30pm, also free).

If you’re in this area, be sure to pop in to OBJECT / A gallery located in the Friends Meeting House on Mount Street for a new photographic and video exhibition from Tina Hage, The Place Here (open ’til 9pm).

Over at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), Video Jam will be taking over for the evening and working with the museum’s archives, uncovering footage and making new moving image work. Films by Sarah Hill and Mary Stark will be screened amid the looms, engines and spinning mules of the museum’s Textiles Gallery, with specially created live music from The Aleph, Miles Halpin and Jack Sheen. There are two performances, at 7-8pm and 9-10pm (free).

Your next stop should be the Northern Quarter. Unit X will be taking over Federation House for its annual showcase of emerging talent from Manchester School of Art (6-9pm, free), and over at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, artist Li Binyuan will be staging his performance Deathless Love from 7pm (free), which sees the artist breaking hundreds of hammers within his exhibition Social Behaviours.

You can also head to Fred Aldous on Lever Street for a night of creative collaborations, photo booth mugshots, Risograph zines and live painting (6-8pm, free). If cross-stitch is your thing, then Matt and Phreds on Tib Street will be holding a stitch and embroidery workshop with cocktails and pizza (6-8pm, free). After the workshop, a partner event will run at Comme Ca Art on Edge Street in the form of a burlesque showcase with Cherie Bebe (6-9pm, free). Both of these events are ticketed – call 0161 839 7187 to book.

A finale to the night in the Northern Quarter will be Hit the Streets, a performance on top of the NCP multi-storey car park on Church Street with musicians, choirs, street performers and brass bands. Drinks and food will also be on offer and the whole thing kicks off at 9pm. You never know, it actually might not rain. If that’s not your thing then Manchester After Hours' official afterparty will be held at Islington Mill with DJ sets from Brain Machine Radio, Michael Holland and David McLean, plus two debut collaborations between Horrid and Composition, and Rachel Goodyear and Sam Weaver. This, again, starts from 9pm. And, yes, it’s free.

So now you’re probably exhausted. But there is actually so much more to see and do on the night. Head to for full event listings and heaps that we haven’t mentioned here.

More from The Skinny:

Liverpool's Illuminations: our guide to LightNight

... and the rest of this month's best northwest art events

Manchester After Hours, various venues, from 5pm 'til late. Most events are free, head to for the full listings