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September 09 2011

Manchester town hall: 'A building that understands its place in history'

In the fifth of our film series celebrating Britain's best buildings, historian Kathryn Hughes explores Manchester's town hall, the Victorian masterpiece that is all stained glass and busy bees

July 26 2011

Manchester should soon be eating fuit and veg from the UK's very first Vertical Farm

When you can't spread out, spread up. That's what growers of everything from broccoli to strawberries are doing in a disused office block in Wythenshawe

The 18-day international festival which has swept through Manchester has sadly come to an end, but one project is only just starting, with long-term implications for the future of the rainy city. On the very last day of the Manchester International festival, a two-year project to build a vertical farm in an disused office building in Wythenshawe was launched with the aim of encouraging cities to more grow fresh food in a sustainable way.

The problem with cities is that whilst they have big populations that need feeding, there is usually very little space to grow food. Consequently produce is flown in for all over the world and brought into cities by the lorry-load causing much environmental harm due to fossil fuels being burnt for transport. Indeed, a typical UK supermarket trolley of food will have travelled a distance of 3,000 km before making it to your shelves at home.

The solution? Dickson Despommier, a parasitologist at Columbia in New York City who spoke at the MIF event, thinks that vertical farming can help. Vertical farming is a relatively new concept developed by Despommier and his students back in 1999, where farms are built indoors and on levels rather than horizontally on land. Some of the benefits of this hi-tech way of growing food is that abandoned buildings are put to use whilst precious (and expensive) land is saved. This farming technique also requires up to 70% less water and less fertilizer than traditional farming as crops grow in a controlled and sheltered environment.

The team behind the Manchester vertical farm project, which includes URBED, a Manchester-based co-operative focused on sustainability, have already secured a lease on a disused five-storey building in Wythenshawe, one of the original garden cities, which will be turned to a vertical farm called 'Alpha Farm'.

Debbie Ellen, the lead researcher on the project and food expert explains:

By the year 2050 it is estimated that nearly 80% of the world's population will live in urban centres. Our current food system is very vulnerable to weather events as well as being unsustainable in terms of how food reaches us...Vertical farms, which use existing buildings offer the potential to become productive food hubs which will increase community's resilience by growing food locally.

Encouraging local people to engage with the project is very important, because by learning about food growing, people become much more aware of its value, the difference in taste of food that has only travelled a small distance and the possibilities that exist for them to grow food for their families."

There are currently vertical farms working in Japan and Holland but to date, there is no multi-storey, indoor farming in an urban building which I guess makes Wythenshawe's Alpha Farm a world first.

Manchester already boasts some interesting food projects such as Unicorn Grocery in Chortlton, a supermarket which grows food on its own land as well as Abundance Manchester, an organisation which makes the most of food growing in gardens, allotments and public trees by collecting gluts and distributing it for free to homeless shelters and destitute asylum seekers.

Alpha Farm will be attempting to grow fruit and veg such as broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, carrots and strawberries. According to the organisers, by the time the next Manchester International Festival rolls around in 2013 they hope to be harvesting some of the goods for everyone to try. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 13 2011

Pankhurst birthday celebrated with global art project

The iconic image of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst has become part of an online art project to mark the anniversary of her birthday tomorrow

Her face is known around the world and now the global reach of the internet is being harnessed to celebrate the inspiring work of the Manchester-born leader of the British suffragette movement.

Artist Charlotte Newson has been working with her image for several years and this latest project creates a collaborative online project which she hopes will inspire today's women.

She told me why the image of the woman born on July 14 1858 still resonates today.

"Women are still fighting for many basic rights, such as equal pay and are often still the main carers. Because of that women can still end up in poverty because they haven't had the opportunity to build up sufficient wealth.

"The whole idea of the portrait is a celebration and in spite of all those issues, women are inspirational and I hope this will help bring to the fore that work has still to be done."

In 2010 Newson, who has residency at The Pankhurst Centre, a museum and women's support space on Nelson Street, Manchester, created Women Like You, a photomosaic portrait made up of 10,000 individual images of inspiring women - celebrities, mothers, wives, daughters, politicians, scientists – all sent in by members of the public from all corners of the globe.

The original and intricate artwork took two years to complete and stands 3 metres high and 2.5 metres wide.

For this project the artwork has been turned into a virtual birthday card for women to either sign or post their image onto, creating a personal and very public birthday message to the woman whose legacy transformed the lives of women in this country.

Birthday kit

Newson has also created a range of tools to encourage women to take part in or support the project including a kit which is available to download, featuring Pankhurst's biography, images from home, personal artefacts, memorable quotes, unusual details of her life and some of the personal stories behind the portrait. It also features ideas for how individuals, groups and schools might like to celebrate the birth of the leader of the British Suffragette party.

"The original Women Like You portrait was a hugely moving labour of love for everyone involved and it created a great community of women who wanted to share their stories with the world.

"Now, using the internet and social media networks, we're able to give even more women the opportunity to leave their mark and become part of the Women Like You story with this birthday card tribute to Emmeline Pankhurst."

Visit to download the free e-card, access the free birthday kit and send signatures or photographs to © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 16 2011

Summer arts calendar: Manchester

Diaries at the ready. . . we've asked arts bloggers around the UK to pick 10 of the best cultural events in their cities, starting with's Manchester highlights

Screenfields at Spinningfields, Thursdays to 1 September

When the weather cooperates – this is the Rainy City, after all – it's hard to imagine a better way to spend a Thursday evening than sprawled on the big lawn at Spinningfields watching The Breakfast Club (4 August) or Saturday Night Fever (25 August). Picnic blankets and deckchairs can be hired, but you can also bring your own. Do it properly and lay on a big posh picnic, or be lazy and stock up at the onsite barbecue and bar.
screenings £2 each, season pass £9.99,

Hard Times, 8 June-2 July, Murrays' Mills, Ancoats

The bright side of the Library Theatre Company losing its home at the city library is this site-specific run of Hard Times at Murrays' Mills, a well-preserved cotton mill a short walk from the city centre in Ancoats. It's a promenade production, so audiences will follow the action around different parts of the building. With a solid cast, skilful direction from LTC's respected Chris Honer and a world-premiere adaptation of Dickens' classic novel, expectations are high.
tickets £20-£22 (concessions £15),

Hilary Jack, 10 June-24 July, Castlefield Gallery

This much-loved small gallery was one of the unlucky ones in this year's Arts Council funding review, but art lovers in the city have rallied around, determined to keep it open. Hilary Jack's first UK solo show, And Scent of Pine and Wood Thrush Singing, is an excellent reason to visit: a mainstay of the city's contemporary art scene, she's coming home after making a name for herself further afield. Expect witty and intriguing sculptural works in which cast-off items find new life.
• free,

Parklife Weekender, 11-12 June, Platt Fields Park

Last year's debut outing of this central Manchester music festival was such a success that it has expanded to two days and added a sixth stage for 2011. The truly eclectic line-up reads like an encyclopedia of dance and electronic music: Kelis, Chase & Status, DJ Shadow, Hercules & Love Affair, Metronomy, Grandmaster Flash, and many more.
• day tickets £35,

Manchester Book Market, 17-18 June, St Ann's Square

Hosted by Literature Northwest, the Manchester Book Market takes over lovely St Ann's Square for two full days of bibliocentric events. Browse the stalls of publishers from across the north of England, enjoy live readings from poetry hip-hop crew Pen-ultimate and a host of local writers, and check out a book design seminar with David Pearson.

Warhol and the Diva, 25 June-25 September, The Lowry, Salford Quays

This newly curated exhibition brings to the UK for the first time some little-seen works from the seminal artist, focusing on the larger-than-life women who were his favourite subjects. Marilyn Monroe, Debbie Harry and Jane Fonda, among others, are immortalised here in screen prints and polaroids. Of course, the biggest diva of them all is arguably Warhol himself, and the show also charts his transformation from artist into drag and counterculture icon.

Noise of Many Waters – Music for the Victoria Baths, 30 June-2 July, Victoria Baths, Hathersage Road

This long-neglected architectural gem in the process of being restored is the latest Mancunian landmark to get its own soundtrack specially composed by students at the Royal Northern College of Music. A 150-person orchestra will perform compositions inspired by the place in situ, along with music from Handel, Ravel, and Debussy, over three nights.
• £10,

Manchester International Festival, 30 June-17 July, various venues

At the top of everyone's MIF must-see list this year are Bjork, Snoop Dogg, a concert in the dark from blind singers Amadou & Mariam, 11 Rooms at Manchester Art Gallery and bonkers live artist Marina Abramovic's theatrical collaboration with Willem Dafoe and Antony Hegarty. Quite simply, don't miss this. There is extra fringe goodness from The Burlington Fine Arts Club and the Not Part Of festival.
prices vary (some events free),

The Manchester Picnic, 5-7 August, citywide

For three days Manchester's parks and public spaces will be transformed into picnic sites, with live music, speciality food stalls and picnic tables complete with gingham tablecloths. On the Sunday, a teddy bear's picnic will take place in Piccadilly Gardens from noon-4pm, and there's even a Twitnic planned for twittering folk at Spinningfields.
free, find maps of all the sites at

CineMADtic, 26 August, MadLab

The Northern Quarter's excellent MadLab (Manchester Digital Laboratory) is the setting for a one-day film festival featuring specially commissioned short story and poetry adaptations. A collaboration with Comma Press, a not-for-profit publisher, it will be screening past features and running poetry readings, masterclasses and workshops on animation and networking for filmmakers.
• £4 (concessions £2.50)

Kate Feld, editor © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 17 2011

Ian McKellen challenges Tate over Lowry 'exclusion'

Actor demands London galleries sell 23 works by Manchester painter rather than continue to store them

The Tate has been challenged to put its collection of paintings by LS Lowry up for sale if it intends to continue to exclude them from its London galleries.

The actor Sir Ian McKellen threw down the challenge in a joint attack by leading figures from the art world which questioned whether the "matchstick men painter" has been sidelined as too northern and provincial.

Although many artists from the north of England enjoy metropolitan critical acclaim, including David Hockney and Damien Hirst, none assert the character of northern people and landscape with Lowry's dogged persistence.

"Over the years, silly lies have been thrown around that he was only a Sunday painter, an amateur, untrained and naive," said McKellen, who narrates a highly critical television programme about Lowry's "exclusion" to be screened by ITV1 on Easter Day. The programme is called Perspectives: Looking for Lowry.

"His popularity needs no official endorsement from the Tate, but it is a shame verging on the iniquitous that foreign visitors to London shouldn't have access to the painter English people like more than most others."

The film sees others line up to condemn the fact that the Tate has shown only one of its 23 Lowrys – Industrial Landscape, painted in 1955 and owned by the gallery for 50 years – and then only briefly.

Noel Gallagher, of the Manchester band Oasis, said: "They're not considered Tateworthy. Or is it just because he is a northerner?"

The controversy reached a crunch point when the Tate was refused permission to copy Industrial Landscape to form part of a temporary mural on the work of landscape artists. Lowry's estate, which has donated much of his unsold work to the Lowry centre at Salford Quays, has made no secret of its irritation at the continued storage of his work.

The Tate denied any deprecation of "northern-ness" in Lowry's work, pointing to its record of establishing Tate Liverpool and supporting new Hepworth Wakefield gallery, which opens next month. Henry Moore, the Yorkshire sculptor and contemporary of Barbara Hepworth, has also been much feted by the gallery, whose founder Sir Henry Tate, the sugar mogul, was one of Lowry's fellow-Lancastrians.

The Tate said it planned to give Lowry space when its galleries are extended in 2013, but Tate Britain's head of displays, Chris Stephens, said in the television programme: "What makes Lowry so popular is the same thing which stops him being the subject of serious critical attention. What attracts so many is a sort of sentimentality about him. He's a victim of his own fan base."

McKellen said: "If the Tate feels no responsibility to give the art-viewing public their favourite painters to view, perhaps they could let their stash go elsewhere. They could pass them on to a gallery like the Lowry, which shares its visitors' tastes. Or perhaps a touring retrospective, with a twist – the exhibits would be for sale." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 24 2010

Pharaoh enough

Manchester's Tutankhamun exhibition is full of fakes, but no less inspiring for that

"What can you see?" asked the people behind archaeologist Howard Carter as he peered through a newly dug hole into the tomb chamber of the boy king Tutankhamun in 1922. "Wonderful things!" gasped Carter. And it was true.

Up to then it seemed that all the tombs of the pharaohs of Egypt in the Valley of the Kings had been ransacked by graverobbers long ago: archaeologists found mummies, but no gold. Somehow this young ruler's tomb had never been touched. Carter found its treasures piled around the walls inside the secret chamber, perfectly preserved in the sealed vault, just as they looked the day the tomb was closed. Now you can see them, quite as perfect, in Manchester – with one catch.

The exhibition Tutankhamun – His Tomb and His Treasures, which opened at the Trafford Centre on Friday, boasts the very room that amazed Carter 88 years ago. Golden beds, chairs, chariots, chests and portraits are heaped as they were when he peeked through that tiny aperture: the death mask of Tutankhamun, one of the most astonishing works of art on earth, is here. The only trouble is, none of it is real. All the marvels are reproductions, modelled with digital technology and expertly crafted to mimic the originals, at a cost of £4.4m.

Does it matter? Is this exhibition a con, a delusion, a postmodern joke? Is it not a bit rich to sell tickets to a display that is really no more authentic than a horror film with mummies chasing screaming actors through digitally created pyramids? But to get lofty and highfalutin about it is to forget the history of "Egyptomania", the fascination with ancient Egypt that has long gripped western culture. People have been faking Egyptian artefacts for centuries, and mixing those fakes with real relics, in a way that was not stupid, but rather inspired curiosity, discoveries, learning. In the 17th century, sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini stuck an ancient obelisk on the back of a stone elephant, mixing real archaeology with his own art. In the age of Napoleon, every fashionable house had a faked-up, Egyptian-style chaise longue. In Regency London you could visit the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, a simulated Egyptian temple complete with colossal columns and statues, run as a profitable enterprise (today Harrods has its own Egyptian Hall).

The Manchester event is in this tradition. If it inspires, it inspires. You can visit the British Museum's Book of the Dead show next month to see how real Egyptian relics match up to its illusions. Egyptomania thrives on sensation, and museums and diggers have benefited from the popularity of this most amazing of ancient cultures. Egyptologists learned long ago that fakes are fine, so long as they generate enthusiasm for the real thing. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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