Culture on the Corridor

A walk along a most cultural corridor

Manchester’s Corridor is one of the busiest – and intriguing – districts in the city. We take a walk along Oxford Road to find out more.

There’s no denying that Manchester is a city that drips with history and creativity. A place where past and present are tightly knit, and a city where a walk along what appears to be an ordinary road can uncover layers of innovation, science, politics and art. Which brings us neatly to the Corridor – and a walk along Oxford Road that explores some of its cultural highs.

Let’s start at the top, with the newly reopened Whitworth (daily, 10am-5pm). The UK’s original gallery in a park has been extended to the tune of £15m; it opened only in February. Doubled in size, beautiful new gallery spaces overlook the park, while its ten free exhibitions are a mix of contemporary commissions and historic displays. The latter are drawn from an internationally rated collection of British watercolours, textiles and wallpapers; the current watercolours exhibition features 22 paintings by J.M.W. Turner alone (until 31 May, free). Elsewhere, a solo show by one of Britain’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, Cornelia Parker, spills out from three barrel vaulted galleries (until 31 May, free). Don’t miss the Whitworth’s café in the trees; it overlooks an art garden on one side and the park on the other.

Although it would be easy to spend a day at the Whitworth, we’ve got places to go – and you now have to make a decision. Turn right, and head up towards a trio of historic buildings that, between them, speak volumes about Manchester’s past: the Pankhurst Centre (Nelson St, Thur 10am-4pm), Elizabeth Gaskell’s House (the home of the novelist behind Cranford and Mary Barton; Plymouth Gr, Wed, Thur & Sat 11am-4.30pm) and Victoria Baths (Hathersage Rd). The monthly open days held at the baths are a good way to explore a building once described as Manchester’s “water palace”.

Turning left, however, takes you towards the castle-like towers of Contact (Mon-Fri 10am-11pm, Sat 3pm-late), a boundary-breaking arts centre known for its performance art, spoken word and theatre. This summer’s The Shrine of Everyday Things The Spalding Suite is a good introduction, a site-specific, immersive work that takes place a secret location and has been put together by an artistic team based both in Manchester and Sao Paulo (22-25 Jul, £10). Contact, like so much of the Corridor, is about to undergo a transformation: a £6m development will keep it at the edge of performance art for years to come.

Keep walking down Oxford Road and for a moment consider your surroundings. This district is home to around 70,000 students, two universities, a conservatoire, five hospitals and a workforce of 60,000 (most working in “knowledge-intensive” industries); it is also home to the £61m National Graphene Institute, built in recognition of the fact that the world’s thinnest and strongest material was discovered here at the university.

But we digress, because right about now you’ll be walking past the 19th-century Church of the Holy Name (a Grade I-listed Gothic Revival building whose soaring interior provokes hushed awe), which is in turn close to the campus designed by Victorian architect, Alfred Waterhouse. Part of the University of Manchester, this campus is home to the atmospheric Christie’s Bistro (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm) and the neo-Gothic Manchester Museum (daily, 10am-5pm). Here. Waterhouse’s Grade I-listed building houses some six million objects, as well as surprising contemporary exhibitions – such as Dance of the Butterflies, an arresting artwork by one of Africa’s leading artists, Romuald Hazoumè (until Dec, free). The café here is a useful stopping-off point, or else head round the corner to the Martin Harris Centre for Music & Drama (Bridgeford St), whose lunchtime concert series is monthly – and free.

Let’s walk now to the Royal Northern College of Music, one of the UK’s leading conservatoires and which has just emerged from a £7m makeover of its concert hall. The renovation makes it one of Manchester’s best live music venues – and one of the most eclectic. Head here for everything from experimental electronica to opera, via brass, classical and cabaret. Try the Emily Portman Trio, the BBC Radio 2 award-winning folk group, for starters (26 Jun, £15).

We swap one university for another as we venture onto Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) campus. Here you’ll find a clutch of inspiring institutions, from the historic Manchester School of Art (now home to the Holden Gallery, whose exhibitions regularly pull in some of the biggest names in contemporary art, Mon-Fri 10am-4.30pm) to its Special Collections library (Mon-Fri 10am-4pm & Sat 12pm-4pm during term time). This library started life as a resource for art students. Over 175 years later it’s still relevant; drop in to see We Want People Who Can Draw, an exhibition that connects art school teaching with political dissent (until 31 Jul, free). Around the corner is the Benzie Building, the new home to Manchester School of Art, the biggest outside London. Its annual degree shows turn the entire building into a gallery (13-24 Jun, free). Also nearby is MMU’s Capitol Theatre; all are clustered around Grosvenor Square, a patch of green on the site of the former All Saint’s church. This was also the location of the world-changing Pan African Conference. Held in 1946, it was here that leaders from across Africa voted for independence from colonial rule.

We’ll keep heading towards town, ignoring the musical call of the Grade I-listed former Deaf Institute and the charms of legendary music shop, Johnny Roadhouse. We’ll slip by street food specialists Kukoos and pass Goodstock, the vintage shop on the corner of Hulme Street (Mon-Sat 10am-6pm). Here, at the crossroads of Whitworth Street West and Oxford Street lies the Palace Theatre, and now within sight is Manchester Central Library. Restored and reopened only last spring, the library’s circular Reading Room is a thing of beauty, while its Henry Watson Music Library alone contains 380,000 books, manuscripts and music-related objects.

To your left, further along Whitworth Street West, is HOME, a new contemporary art, performance, theatre and film hub that opened in May with a weekend of “world premiere theatre, new visual arts commissions and a unique film and music project” (21-25 May) – and a reworking of classic European play, Kasimir and Karoline. The Manchester version has been adapted by Simon Stephens (whose National Theatre version of The Curious Incident… won widespread accolade); The Funfair tells a disorientating story of love lost (until 13 Jun, £10).

HOME is also one of the venues for Manchester International Festival (2-19 Jul) – as is the Whitworth, where we began our tour. MIF returns in July for three weeks of eclectic commissions and unusual collaborations from artists as diverse as Gerhard Richter, Charlotte Rampling, FKA Twigs and Björk. And for a road and a corridor as creative and collaborative as this one, somehow MIF feels as apt a place as any to end our tour.

For more information about Manchester in general you can also see Visit Manchester or become one of Manchester’s Creative Tourists

Cornerhouse1

Bridgewater Hall 2