Art and Awe at the Whitworth Weekending Festival

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Words and photos by Sophie Bannister

Whitworth Art Gallery closed its doors earlier this month with a bang and a spray of colour in the form of the Whitworth Weekending Festival, and (lucky me!) the whole thing took place five minutes from my house. The festival, which was mainly based outdoors in Whitworth Park, was the perfect way to end an era – as the Art Gallery closed for refurbishment.

A friend and I ventured over on the Saturday night. It was already dark when we got there, adding a layer of mystery and suspense to the atmosphere, and the park we knew so well was transformed – multi-coloured umbrellas dangled from high in the trees, circus-style tents were spread across the green spaces and Whitworth Art Gallery glowed an eerie purple. There was much to see and we spent some time wandering without purpose, in quiet awe of the different artwork we encountered. 

Unexpectedly, the music on the stage stopped. Drums began to beat across the park. People began to move toward the sound and, like sheep, we followed. Everybody in the crowd was laughing and joking. I heard someone, rather wonderfully, refer to the crowd as ‘following the Pied Piper’ – an apt insight. We would not be returning to Whitworth Art Gallery as we’d once known it. We were being led away from the old, to await the new.

The beating drums led us to the front of the Art Gallery where, after some impressive dancing and fire acts, there were fireworks. Perfectly timed to the music, the fireworks display was brilliant. They were set off from the lower roof of the building, shooting through the air and amazing the adults as much as the children. We all sang along to the well-known songs, whooped and cheered, and generally regressed back to our six-year-old selves. Magical.

Consisting of three days of celebration, the festival brought together a wide variation of art forms – from music and mosaic, to fireworks and story-telling. There was something for everybody, all wrapped in an atmosphere that was laden with both creativity and a brilliant sense of community.

I returned to the park by daylight on the Sunday. The festival was winding down – artworks stood in the park completed and proud, and people were slowly leaving for home. It was still beautiful but somehow it was sad. Wandering among the trees, I found myself hoping that Whitworth can manage to retain this wonder and mysticism, and not change what it stands for during its refurbishment. Hopefully it won’t, although maybe another festival is in order to kick-start the gallery when it re-opens in summer 2014. I don’t know about you, but I’ll certainly be there.

Sophie Bannister is Co-chair of Manchester Metropolitan University’s English Society, where she is currently in her third year studying English Literature. She hopes to complete a Master’s degree after her time at MMU. You can view Sophie’s blog here and follow her on Twitter @SophieBan92

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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