“I totally like Unit X because it is different to all the other projects that we do. It is a real chance to work with students from other courses and a chance to get out there! In first year we worked to set briefs but this year it’s even better as we’re able to come out and meet the Whitworth, spend time here and get really involved.” (Bethany Turner, Textiles in Practice student)
This week we joined Second years who have chosen Whitworth Threads as their Unit X option, accompanying one of three groups touring the gallery. This was a mixed group of students from BA (Hons) Interactive Arts, Textiles in Practice and Three Dimensional Design. The Whitworth is a purpose built art gallery for the people of Manchester. Along with its adjoining park it was founded in 1889 in memory of the industrialist Sir Joseph Whitworth. The Gallery re-opened last year after a major new expansion and has since trebled its visitor numbers.
This first site visit enabled students to find out about different aspects of the gallery by meeting with the Secondary & Post-16 Coordinator, the Cultural Park Keeper, the Commercial Team, two Curators (textiles and wallpaper), and members of the Visitor Team. Whitworth has 15,000 pieces, some of which can now be seen within the adjacent park which acts like an additional room. The gallery is keen to increase and widen public engagement and works hard to attract a range of visitors. Current activity includes: participatory engagement with families; full scale events in the park; the Grow programme (which works with people encountering social exclusion and/or mental health issues); Wellbeing initiatives (e.g. Yoga and Tai Chi sessions in the park); sculpture tours (including Welly Walks for the under 5’s); and Thursday late-night sessions.
The Commercial team introduced us to the bespoke Whitworth shop which offers high-quality, well–designed products that encapsulate the ethos of the gallery. Products are relevant to the Whitworth and its collections and many utilise sustainable elements including natural materials and dyes. Products are sourced by the Whitworth’s very own buyer. The team’s top tip for students interested in having their products represented in gallery shops was to get noticed, make the most of an online presence (including social media) and to make sure that your work is represented at trade fairs (for example many of the products we were shown were spotted by their buyer at the Northern Contemporary Craft Fair).
So what’s next for the Whitworth Threads students? Inspired by Tuesday’s visit, individuals are now conducting research into the areas that interest them. Some also asked about the possibility of volunteering for the gallery in their own time. Next week they have the opportunity to visit Whitworth’s archive either to see the work of printmaker Marcantonio Raimondi or the gallery’s Twentieth Century textile and wallpaper collection. After this they will form collaborative teams based on shared interests and will develop proposals/works to be pitched back to the Whitworth in April.
There are many threads that students might explore including (but not limited to): contributing to a redesign of the Welly Walk experience, making an intervention for the Art Garden, designing their own wallpaper, making a product that can tie in with the Whitworth’s Walk festival for 18-25 year olds in June (either to be sold in the shop or to giveaway) or proposing any other way of enhancing the visitor experience.
Talking to Denise Bowler (the Whitworth’s Secondary & Post-16 Coordinator) at the end of the day about the value of Unit X, she said the following:
“For the Whitworth,it is a fantastic opportunity to work with some of the NW’s emerging talent and to get that valuable insight into how the collections could get used in a commercial way or with our visitors. We are always keen to work with innovative makers.” (Denise Bowler)
Many thanks to the staff of the Whitworth for their hospitality, insight and enthusiasm particularly Denise Bowler, Dave Brind, John Kirkpatrick, Amy George, Neil Greenhalgh, Francine Hayfron, and Frances Pritchard.
Words & Images: Abi Goodman