Manchester Art Gallery

For September’s Bookshop of the Month, we head to Manchester to visit the Manchester Art Gallery – the original useful museum, initiated in 1823 by artists, as an educational institution to ensure that the city and all its people grow with creativity, imagination, health and productivity. Today, it is a gallery for and of the people of Manchester. We chatted to the lovely Maggi-May about what it’s like to work in such a vibrant location and what exciting plans they have in store for the gallery shop in the future.

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1. What’s it like being based in the heart of such a diverse and vibrant city? How have you seen it change over the years?

It’s a privilege not only to be in the heart of the lively and spirited city of Manchester – but also to be a destination that the public is keen to visit and support. Our visitor base, as a result, is hugely diverse – we have locals who make weekly visits to us, tourists who have travelled from across the globe to see our collections, people in the city on business who are rushing in to pick up a greeting card – the list is endless! No day is the same and the conversations you have are fascinating. I have lived in Manchester for almost 10 years, and the changes in that time have been immeasurable with a boom in food and drink culture, business and tourism. What remains unchanged though is an indelible civic pride which is what makes Manchester the city it is.

2. The Manchester Art Gallery has a fantastic programme of events all year round. Do these tend to influence the popularity of certain books or prints with customers?

Absolutely – our exhibition programme can connect with our visitors in profound ways. When that happens, visitors want to take that feeling of connection home with them, or learn more about what they’ve just seen – this always leads them to our exhibition catalogues and our curated range of related reading. Our current special exhibition, Grayson Perry’s Art Club, has had an often very emotional response from our visitors as it documents the public’s experiences of the coronavirus pandemic. The exhibition catalogue has been a bestseller – people want to reflect on that time of their lives and that moment of history.

3. The gallery was founded in 1823 by the artists and merchants of Manchester to ensure a healthy culture for a growing city. When was the addition of the shop introduced and how has it changed since then?

The shop in its current form was introduced during a major refurbishment and extension of Manchester Art Gallery shortly after the millennium. It occupies the large, central space on the ground floor and our visitors have to walk through it to access almost all the spaces in the building – it’s therefore an essential part of the visitor experience here. The shop is constantly evolving with our exhibition programme and the wants and needs of the people who visit us – though I think our most marked change was our redesign in 2017 – at the time it split opinion, but it has given us the right space and environment to properly showcase our product ranges.

4. What’s your favourite part about working at Manchester Art Gallery?

Being amongst art everyday, the cake selection in the cafe.

5. Do you have any exciting plans for the store that you’d like to share here?

After various disruptions to our programme over the past 18 months, we are thrilled to finally see our ideas and planning during this time become a reality. We have some collaborations with local artisans in the coming months, and we are also excited for the opening of our next special exhibition of Derek Jarman’s work at the end of the year, where our publication range will explore themes of protest, artistic rebellion and queer experience.