Manchester Museum Returns

Manchester Museum reopens this week following an ambitious £15 million transformation which has expanded the museum to make room for more joy and learning, become more widely and deeply loved, and evolve into the museum Manchester needs. Esme Ward, the museum’s Director, welcomes us back following a two-year hiatus.

One of the many things that I love about Manchester is it’s a city made by the people, the workers. It’s the birthplace of the suffragettes, the first industrial city in the world and the atom was split right here on Oxford Road. When I became Director of Manchester Museum in 2018, I did a lot of thinking about the difference an institution like the museum could make in a place like Manchester. How can it embrace this rich and often radical history and reimagine its creative and civic role? How could it be useful to people and reflect a commitment to inclusion? We’ve been closed since August 2021 for a £15 million transformation, giving us an unprecedented opportunity to respond to these questions and evolve into the museum Manchester needs. 

We’ll reopen our doors on 18 February 2023 with a modern extension and beautiful galleries. We’ll unveil a stunning new Exhibition Hall showcasing the UK-premier of Golden Mummies of Egypt. We’ll also have a Belonging Gallery, Lee Kai Hung Chinese Culture Gallery, South Asia Gallery, and a new Dinosaur display. What’s most important to me is that our new galleries and spaces are co-designed and co-curated with communities and partners in Manchester and beyond, putting lived experience and human stories at the heart of the museum.  Museums have told the same stories for over a hundred years – it’s time to tell new stories and show what we care about.

Put simply, we want the museum to be a place where people feel they belong.

Esme Ward

The South Asia Gallery, for example, will be the UK’s first permanent gallery dedicated to exploring the experiences, cultures and contributions of the South Asian diaspora.  It is a collective endeavour.  It is a landmark partnership with the British Museum and it has been designed and is being built with a spirit of collaboration by a unique group of extraordinary ordinary people – community leaders, educators, artists, students, journalists, scientists, and many others from the South Asian diaspora. It draws upon diverse perspectives so that the museum is more relevant to the communities it serves.

How we care for each other and the world shapes all we do. Sustainability and the climate crisis really matter to us. We have opened up the entire top floor and there are education groups, charities, artists, writers, social enterprises, activists, staff and students co-working and collaborating, with a shared commitment to social and environmental justice. When you work in a museum and talk about care, everyone thinks you’re talking about objects, and of course you are, but it’s also about caring for people and their relationships. For me, this is exactly what museums in Manchester should be doing. It’s an approach that’s reflected in the ethos of the University of Manchester, ​of which the museum is a part, with its commitment to social responsibility.

These new spaces and displays are really exciting, but familiar and much-loved spaces are still here for you too such as our Vivarium and Fossils Gallery. We know that they hold a special place in the hearts of some who visit us and we’ve been careful not to change the things they love.

Portrait of Esme Ward who welcomes us back as Manchester Museum Returns

Put simply, we want the museum to be a place where people feel they belong. A range of new co-designed spaces – including a prayer room, therapy space, quiet room, picnic area and Changing Places toilet – create conditions, we hope, for more people to feel welcomed.

We are also an institution born of empire and we’re addressing what that means today, highlighting our commitment to repatriation and foregrounding diverse and Indigenous perspectives is central to everything we do.

The new Manchester Museum reflects a vision to be more inclusive, caring and imaginative, and a desire to connect communities in Manchester and around the world so that we can make great culture together and create the kind of city we all want to live in.  

Can’t wait to see you in February.

Esme Ward
Director of Manchester Museum

Manchester Museum reopens to the public from Saturday 18 Feb.

Golden Mummies of Egypt
Manchester Museum | Until 14 April 2024

Catch the final weeks of Manchester Museum’s re-opening exhibition, the Golden Mummies of Egypt which closes its doors in April. Don’t miss your last chance to see it!

Dab Hands
The Manchester Museum | Until 31 July 2023

Dab Hands is an exhibition that celebrates the extraordinary relationship that we have with our hands and the value of the skills that can be acquired

Peter Frankopan in conversation
The Manchester Museum | 15 March 2023

Manchester Museum welcome best-selling author Peter Frankopan to the launch of his new book, The Earth Transformed, a major history of how climate change has shaped civilisations.

The Manchester Museum | Until 18 March 2023

Rhythm Xchange premiere musical collaborations including J.A.V.A and Jay’s Jam with Johnny Jay and guitar legend Aziz Ibrahim.

This article was originally published in the Oxford Road Corridor zine. The Spring Edition 2023 is available to pick up for free from spaces around Oxford Road. You can view it online here too.

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