Value and Cultural Spaces

March 27, 2015

This event, organised by Julie's Bicycle, was at the newly renovated Whitworth and looked at how environmental action can influence cultural value to create sustainable, challenging spaces. Speakers were followed by a discussion and a tour of The Whitworth.


You can listen to the podcast of the event here and download the presentations here.



Dr James Evans, Senior Lecturer in Geography and sustainable cities, University of Manchester:


James began by sharing the fact that by 2050 the projected population will be 9 Billion and mainly living in cities. With cities producing 80% of the world’s carbon emissions, it is essential that we change how we build and develop cities. Climate change is our responsibility and ours to solve: the environment is built on our values. James described how the Manchester: A Certain Future campaign shows how a city can be more sustainable and that people are key to this change. James shared with us sustainable city travel apps such as Strava and Chromaroma.



Nicola Walker, Head of Collections Management & Access, The Whitworth:


Nicola talked us through the forward-thinking and challenging developments at The Whitworth during their 2008-2014 capital development project. The entire project was based around high level sustainability targets. Nicola described how staff sustainability has been introduced as part of their staff appraisal, meaning that every member of the team is responsible. For example, the Whitworth’s Integrated Pest Management System (IPM) is the responsibility of all staff. She also spoke about the importance of the parkland setting on the site, the building and the collection.


Nicola explained that they are focused on passive design. In terms of collections care, a lot of changes have been made. They have re-located and brought together their collection storage from 11 spaces across the site into one central space on the lower ground floor. Nicola feels that this has encouraged a cross-fertilisation of ideas of the different collection types leading to creative conversations and exhibitions. This freed up the Grand Hall for lectures and functions. They recycled their previous storage units to Manchester Museum. Nicola talked us through their new focus on coordinating collections care and access with storage and display methods so that they are now considered in tandem. They invest in staff skills and training to develop sustainable problem-solving approaches to display.




Looking at their galleries, Nicola is keen to show how environmental conditions are key to both the visitor experience and the care of the collection. The Whitworth have embraced broader environmental parameters in their galleries in a similar way to the V&A, National Trust and English Heritage. Their exhibition galleries use the same passive approach with conservation heating, natural ventilation, natural light (from the floor to ceiling windows looking out on to the park) and shade, and LEDs with occupancy and daylight sensors. In the exhibition galleries, the low ceilings that once housed the air conditioning units have been removed to reveal high, barrel-vaulted ceilings which allow for greater flexibility with installations and loans.


Biodiversity has been embraced with a bio-diverse green roof, and orchard, bee-keeping, an art garden and encouraging wild plant species. Nicola explained that produce will be used in the café and available in the shop.


Leading staff meet regularly to coordinate art handling, food deliveries, waste transit routes to ensure smooth access and deliveries across the galleries.


Embedding sustainability in everything that they do has meant a funding boost with numerous grants coming from and feeding into their projects.


The materials used for the Whitworth’s extension are intended to reference the original Victorian building and its 1960s Scandinavian-style renovations. Steel mullions simultaneously hold up the wall and windows. The bricks on view are a combination of original, handmade and reclaimed. The new Purbeck stone flooring in the extension uses three different finishes to indicate different areas and entrances.



John Holden, Visiting Professor at City University and author of the recent Ecology of Culture report:


John is working on the AHRC’s two-year Cultural Value Project, an ambitious attempt to ‘establish a framework that will advance the way in which we talk about the value of cultural engagement and the methods by which we evaluate that value.


John is interested in the combination of Values, Culture, Politics and Technology. He posed the question of where culture sits and its definition, stating that measuring both culture and the environment is difficult, particularly when looked at within the political sphere. However, John feels that it is important to understand that they are mutually effective: environmental concepts are used within a cultural context.



If you want to get involved in the conversation, head to Twitter using @juliesbicycle and #greenarts.

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