What and who makes Manchester creative?

Dr Abigail Gilmore, Senior Lecturer in Arts Management at the Institute for Cultural Practices, talks about the creativity that is embedded in the fabric of the city of Manchester.

The city's spirit was challenged but not found wanting by the 2017 Manchester Arena terror attack, but instead of buckling, we gathered and rallied to celebrate these core values.

Manchester communities responded immediately and creatively with displays of 'I love MCR' sweatshirts, tattooed bees on forearms and poetry on billboards, mass participation in vigils, tributes, parades and fundraising gigs in pubs and clubs.

These celebrations of community resilience through participation in everyday creativity reveal the flipside of a city that has long been industrious in its creative exports, in the arts and culture, as well as football, science and innovation. They soften the often hard-edge gilt by which Manchester negotiates creatively for investment and renown, as the leader of the Northern Cultural Powerhouse. They are the real reasons that Manchester continues to attract creative talent to live, work, play and study here.

Dr Abigail Gilmore

Dr Abigail Gilmore

Senior Lecturer in Arts Management, Institute for Cultural Practices, The University of Manchester

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The School of Arts, Languages and Cultures (SALC) recognises these values as part of its core script. They are embedded in our relationship with the creative city and the wider creative economy. Through teaching and learning, research and knowledge exchange, social responsibility and public engagement, we place inclusion, participation and gritty realism alongside excellence and attainment at the heart of what we do with our creative communities.

We do so in great company, working closely with our cultural assets: the Manchester Museum (the largest university museum in the UK), award-winning Whitworth, Jodrell Bank - the newest heritage site on the block with the incredible new Bluedot festival - and the John Rylands Library, Contact Theatre and the Martin Harris Centre. We work with a great many other partners in the city and beyond, from the Camerata to the Royal Exchange, Manchester International Festival to Quarry Bank Mill, in a roll call too long to complete here.

Our staff and students draw on world-class research in creative collaborations, producing robots that play music, virtual reality games for museums, refugee cultural festivals, community history festivals, filmmaking and screenings, co-curated exhibitions, and re-enactments in parks.

Relationships between universities and the arts and creative economies take a number of shapes, according to the Arts and Humanities Research Council network 'Beyond the Campus: Higher Education and the Creative Economy'.

Bee tiling at The University of Manchester

Alongside the cultural venues such as university arts centres, galleries and museums, relationships are formed in a range of other different contexts and settings. These include the grand projects and macro-level relationships of collaborative research and memoranda of understanding, but also smaller exchanges facilitated through fieldtrips, student placements, secondments and other engagements with the creative city.

These take place in 'third spaces' which offer common ground for interaction and exchange with communities of interest and practice. Perhaps most importantly, they include the human capital embodied in our graduates, staff and alumni involved in creative production, governance and community cultural development, who carry this creative capital off campus and out into the world.

SALC excels in all of these areas. The hive of relationships fostered by our staff and students are an intrinsic part of Creative Manchester and beyond, from 'routine' teaching activities which bring in arts and cultural leaders as guest speakers, to the huge array of collaborative projects with our creative communities.

Just like the recently re-invoked symbol of Manchester, the bee, we recognise the importance of community and co-production in making Creative Manchester.

The 'Beyond the Creative Campus: Reflections on the evolving relationship between higher education and the creative economy' policy report, Comunian, A & Gilmore, A (2015) is available from the Creative Campus website.

Banner image illustration credit: Kate Sutton