Manchester’s visual art scene is vibrant at all levels, from leading institutions with significant archives such as the Whitworth Art Gallery through to DIY, artist-led spaces like PAPER Gallery and PS Mirabel.
It’s not just about the galleries, though; Manchester also hosts several major art festivals, including the biennial Manchester International Festival, which in the past has commissioned new work from Marina Abramović, Jeremy Deller and Olafur Eliasson, and the annual Design Manchester festival.
Manchester art galleries have been in the limelight recently. In 2015, the Whitworth Art Gallery reopened after a £15million refurbishment, while new multi-arts venue HOME opened its doors for the first time, combining a large gallery space with two theatres and five cinemas.
The Whitworth and HOME are joined by Manchester Art Gallery as the city’s three ‘biggies’, hosting important names in contemporary art: the Whitworth relaunched with a huge Cornelia Parker retrospective, for example, while Manchester Art Gallery recently welcomed the biggest solo exhibition to date by the artist Matthew Darbyshire.
In Salford, Islington Mill is a local treasure with an increasingly national reputation, its combination of artists’ studios, live music venue, club space and gardens making it the epicentre of the Salford art scene. Elsewhere, the CFCCA is the UK’s leading centre for Chinese contemporary art, while Castlefield Gallery is a respected contemporary art gallery and artists’ agency which regularly hosts exhibitions featuring up-and-coming artists from the region’s art schools, including Manchester School of Art.
The Manchester School of Art degree show is always a highlight of the summer, with the impressive Benzie Building, Holden Gallery and other areas all taken over by displays and installations. The official degree shows of the three leading universities - the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Salford - are great for spotting new talent, but keep an eye out for smaller, student-organised exhibitions too, taking place at bars and pop-up spaces across the city. In Manchester, art isn’t confined to gallery spaces. Basements, cafes and - of course - disused mills all frequently serve as exhibition spaces, while regular print fairs bring together Manchester’s thriving community of graphic designers, illustrators and makers.