When it comes to contemporary art, it could be argued that Manchester is at the forefront of using people and public places as its canvas. This is something I have been noticing more and more about the city over time. The value of its visual art seems determined by how audiences interact with it, not just a standalone feature in a gallery. It crucially wants people as part. Consider the recent publicity of arts venues here such as HOME and Contact. Their names alone shout about the importance of people’s reactions in what is a growing Manchester movement.

MCR Art1_Lucy Oldfield

In terms of the style of street art here, Manchester serves up something enigmatic, rather than the tags of big-name graffiti artists dropping in to visit, like Banksy in London and Bristol. Manchester brings street art with a more modern feel, because it is a form of art forged by people who are part of the city, and this has been happening for a number of years. Akse has been spray painting walls here since 1992 and is the creative force behind the image of Breaking Bad’s Heisenberg on Tib Street. The Northern Quarter is full of art, which shows that art capable of impact doesn’t have to be institutionalised – an important message. It can be ‘outside’ in both the physical and mental sense. Take the OutHouse project in Stevenson Square. It’s been a space for street artists since 2010 and it showcases why right now Manchester’s art could be described as mobile and indeed a movement, as the colours and designs change regularly.

MCR Art2_Lucy Oldfield

Manchester’s art moves with the feet and fashion of the people. One of the city’s biggest street art pieces – a blue tit across a building on Newton Street – was originally commissioned by Converse as part of their ‘Wall to Wall’ project in 2011. It is certainly a sight to behold, a combination of yellow, green and blue, transforming an industrial house-end into a component of culture. This connects Manchester to the inspirational female designer Faunagraphic.

It’s important to recognise that streets and the styles of the people who are part of them are modern art movements in themselves. This can be seen in the form of fashion here. There are a number of creative things going on in the world of clothes, turning wearers into works of art. Manchester is particularly strong when it comes to independent clothing retailers, allowing people to participate in a kind of social comment through clothes. We Are What We Are (WAWWA) is just one example of a provider based in Afflecks which has recently been offering hats for the homeless, a range of modern headwear which sees the proceeds of sales going towards those in Manchester who have no place to stay. The idea of art and clothing being connected is also upheld in venues such as the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, offering a number of limited edition clothing pieces and providing a platform for artists wanting to display their work. The city’s Craft and Design Centre celebrates the sale of clothing as a form of contemporary art too.

MCR Art3_Lucy Oldfield

The essential thing about Manchester art right now is that it is interactive and intimate. By contrast with other big cities, where museums and galleries boast big-names and high-profile works as a way to attract audiences, in Manchester an essential nature of art is that people can hold it in their own profile, be part of it, feel it. This was illustrated – again, showing a nature of the art here – in the form of Reclaim The Night, when people engaged in marches across the city to uphold women’s rights and sexual freedoms. It wasn’t art by intention. Instead evaded definition, which is what I believe creativity here is all about. A combination of forms which celebrate public interaction and expression, it certainly seems appropriate when the city is home to the famous Colour Run.

MCR Art4_Lucy Oldfield

Manchester art opens up not just colour, but culture and communities. One of the most contemporary examples takes the form of a project at the city’s Booth Centre, which has been working with homeless people through art workshops. There have not only been results from the workshop, but real change – something integral to art here. For example, there’s Mr Streetwise, the sculpture of a homeless man created by another. An exhibition from the workshop has been on display at Chapter One bookshop on Lever Street, emphasising that small scale displays and public projects are what marks Manchester out from other metropoles. This is art you can be part of, even just by passing through the city.

Photos by Lucy Oldfield

Emily Oldfield