In Culture

Galleries, theatres and museums are a big reason to visit Manchester. Permanent collections, temporary exhibitions, famous names, well-loved plays and local or global artefacts offer a window to the world. But wouldn’t it be nice to do more than just look out of a window?

Even Da Vinci needed patrons and every cultural attraction needs a bit of support. Art and culture are not created to be ignored so get out there and explore! Support the arts! Galleries, museums, theatres, archives, photo collections and performance spaces can be found throughout Greater Manchester. Many are free, no two are the same and they all deserve a visit.

Bolton

Bolton Museum is open! Closed for two years during a £3.8 million pound refurbishment, Bolton Museum is really excited to be back. A lot of thought and planning went into the work and there’s a whole new look and concept including Bolton’s Egypt, Bolton’s Art and Bolton’s Nature.

The Octagon Theatre was built in the 1960s when post-war ideals promised art for everybody. The Octagon has been keeping that promise ever since. And now, Octagon Reimagined will see the biggest re-development ever in the theatre’s history. Keep an eye on their website for the latest info.

For anyone interested in old photos, don’t move a muscle! Take a look Bolton Worktown. This unique online archive (we only say unique when we mean it) is full of fascinating photos showing Bolton life in the 1930s. Shot after shot of totally authentic social observation: alphabetised, categorised, mapped-out and cross-referenced where possible with documents and records. Click!

Bury

Bury Art Museum & Sculpture Centre is as much about a warm welcome as it is about art. The gallery was built to display the Wrigley Collection and the sculpture centre features contemporary art but the museum’s ordinary objects and artefacts provide some of the most thought-provoking material.

There would’ve been no Industrial Revolution if people and goods couldn’t move around and Bury Transport Museum celebrates the role that vehicles have played. They took us to school, work or even on holiday. But when they were finished, they were forgotten. Thousands were scrapped but a lucky few share their stories here and enjoy a dignified old age.

Bury’s brilliant theatre and folk venue, The Met has one of the best What’s On lists in the region. It’s a well-known, well-loved venue on the national touring folk scene and almost everyone who’s anyone has played there. It’s also an important venue for touring theatre productions and spoken word/literary events. A short walk away, The Fusilier Museum traces the 300 years of shared history between the Lancashire Fusiliers and Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

Oldham

Gallery Oldham is a relatively new complex that connects Oldham’s main museum, art gallery and library. With no permanent exhibitions, there’s always something new and in the near future, Gallery Oldham will be getting some exciting new neighbours.

Oldham Coliseum has been a professional theatre since it opened in 1885. It moved to Fairbottom Street in 1887 and has staged quality productions there ever since. But nothing stays the same forever and a new Coliseum is being built in Oldham’s Cultural Quarter - right next to Gallery Oldham. The new Coliseum will be completed in 2020 but until then, it’s business as usual at Fairbottom Street.

Between Gallery Oldham and the Coliseum, the original Oldham library building is being adapted and updated into a new Heritage and Arts Centre. It’ll keep its impressive Victorian features but offer state of the art facilities inside and out. Would it be a ‘pun-acceptable’ to say that Oldham is putting art and culture centre stage? Erm…yes.

Rochdale

Historic England recently listed the top 100 places in England that had a significant impact on the rest of the world. Out of thousands of nominations, it’s very cool that The Rochdale Pioneers Museum was chosen. The original Rochdale Pioneers came up with a revolutionary idea of shops with quality goods, fair prices and shared profits. This was the co-operative movement. It spread around the globe and we can’t do it justice here. Visit and see for yourself.

Touchstones Rochdale is a museum, gallery and café – all rolled into one. It’s always looking for new ways to share its (some might say, yuge) art and artefact collection with the public so do drop by. But while you’re peering at the exhibits, don’t forget to look around. There are some lovely stained-glass windows. Seek and ye shall find.

Ever heard of Edgar Wood? No? Well, Manchester’s Mackintosh (as in, Charles Rennie Mackintosh) was an architect and designer working in the art nouveau, Arts and Crafts and art deco styles. His works are dotted around Manchester but the easiest to visit is his masterpiece, Long Street Methodist Church in Middleton.

Salford

There are lots of good reasons why The Lowry is Manchester’s most visited cultural attraction. At the root of it all is the ever-evolving L.S. Lowry exhibition. Take a second to really look at one of his paintings. Seriously, it’s worth it. But The Lowry is also two theatres, a gallery and performance studio that bring in big names and productions. Get yourself on the mailing list.

Salford Museum & Art Gallery has the Victorian Gallery, a collection of Pilkington ceramics and an exhibition of handmade works. You can also walk down Lark Hill Place, a fully realised recreation of a northern street in olden times.

For something a little more experimental, Islington Mill is an independent arts hub, gallery, music and performance space with workshops, talks and even ‘make your own’ classes. If you’re interested in progressive and radical history, take a look at the invaluable books, writings and artefacts of the Working Class Movement Library. Salford is also home to Ordsall Hall, a free to enter historic house and garden, creaking with atmosphere and packed to the old oak beams with interest.

Stockport

Did you know that Stockport was once famous for making hats? Well, once upon a time, not that long ago, hats filled the factories and supported thousands of jobs. Hat Works explains how the humble hat became fashion became big business with dress-up costumes, salvaged machines, authentic recreations and a collection of hats from all over the world.

Despite its age (born c1460!), Staircase House is a bang up to date, hands-on, multi-language, audio-guided attraction that walks you through 500 years of history. Stockport Museum goes back even further (to Palaeolithic times) but was recently re-imagined with younger visitors in mind thanks to a partnership with illustrator, Becca Hall. Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery is every bit as grand as it sounds, with a record of supporting emerging artists and a busy calendar of events.

Twenty years ago, Stockport’s once glamourous art deco Plaza was in a very sad state. Today, owned and run by enthusiasts, The Plaza has been faithfully restored and is ‘Stockport’s Super Cinema and Variety Theatre’ once more. Just a few doors away, and in complete contrast, Stockport Air Raid Shelters are perhaps the region’s biggest and best Second World War attraction. Carved out of the sandstone, the labyrinthine tunnels (with original bunks and 16-seater toilets!) give a glimpse of war-time life and local resilience.

Trafford

One of the most distinctive attractions in the region, Imperial War Museum North explores more than 100 years of war in a multi-sensory exhibition space. War can be an overwhelming topic, but what the IWM North does best is leave you to consider smaller details (e.g. a ration book) alongside larger than life exhibits (e.g. a jet fighter) for a chance to think for yourself.

On the banks of the Bridgewater Canal, Waterside in Sale is a busy and community-minded arts centre with comedy, music, film, theatre and exhibitions. Altrincham’s A4 Studios and Local Creation are both independent studio and gallery spaces where you can buy directly from the artists. AIR Gallery also supports emerging talent with inclusive exhibitions and outreach programmes.

For theatre and performance, Altrincham Garrick Playhouse is staffed mainly by dedicated volunteers but they perform twelve productions every year and still find calendar space for touring productions.

Tameside

At first glance, Portland Basin Museum is deceptive. The entrance doesn’t give many clues about what’s inside but this old Victorian canal warehouse is a gem. As well as letting you gets hands-on with history, there’s also a life-sized recreation of a 1920s street, including a church, a grocery, a pub and even a fish and chip shop. This museum wants you to feel what it was like. Highly recommended.

Ashton’s Central Art Gallery has some very special spaces for enjoying its collections. If an art gallery has ever felt daunting or intimidating, there’s no need to worry here. You’re welcome to have a quiet chat and enjoy the atmosphere. They also understand that children are little people short attention spans so expect loads of crafts and activities for children.

Ever heard of the Manchester Regiment? Well, ‘The Manchesters’ served all over the world, in places like India, Egypt, the Boer War and both world wars. Inside Ashton’s lovely town hall, the Museum of the Manchester Regiment lets their collection of uniforms, weapons, souvenirs and medals do all the talking.

Wigan

Rugby League, George Formby, Northern Soul: the Museum of Wigan Life tells the story of the town and its people through the 30,000 objects in its collections. It also holds special events and talks throughout the year so keep an eye on their events.

No prizes for guessing what The Old Courts arts centre used to be! But with multiple exhibition and performance spaces, The Old Courts is a not-for-profit concept with a very cool programme. Wigan Little Theatre is a similarly community-minded drama company in one of the nicest small theatres around and a history dating back to 1943.

If the scale and power of the industrial revolution has never captured your imagination, try Trencherfield Mill Steam Engine. Their ‘Steaming Sundays’ are a chance to see Victorian technology at its most hypnotic as the pistons pump and the engine spits, hisses and whirrs up to speed. Check their website for details.

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