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Manchester Jewish Museum now open and we look at an LGBT connection

Manchester Jewish Museum now open and we look at an LGBT connection

After almost a decade of planning, two years of closure, a global pandemic and a £6 million major capital development supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund - Manchester Jewish Museum is delighted to be finally reopening its doors this Friday, 2 July.

Located just fifteen minutes walk from Victoria Station, the museum tells the stories of the Jewish people and communities of Manchester; their journeys, the communities they formed, and the diverse identities they represent. The museum’s 1874 Grade II* Listed synagogue building, the city’s oldest surviving synagogue, has been fully renovated and restored. The former Spanish and Portuguese synagogue will serve both as a living artefact of a Jewish place of worship and as a stunning cultural space in which the museum will programme live events throughout the year.

The new museum extension also includes a brand new vegetarian kosher-style café, gallery, shop, and learning studio and kitchen. The new café will offer a welcoming home-from-home atmosphere serving a nourishing, comforting menu. Visitors to the café will experience first-hand the tasty delights of a Jewish diet whilst learning about the history and traditions of Jewish food. The majority of the food will be prepared on site using kosher, vegetarian and largely locally sourced whole-food ingredients.  Accompanying the café is the museum’s new Learning Kitchen where schools and community groups will cook, bake and explore Jewish food culture together as part of the museum’s food programme.

The new extension, doubling the size of the museum, is designed by Citizens Design Bureau in collaboration with a large team of contractors, experts and external companies. This includes All Things Studio who designed the new gallery, for the first time providing the museum with a dedicated space to showcase an extensive part of its collection of over 31,000 items. The new museum is now also fully accessible with lift access and hearing induction loops throughout the building.

The new gallery will take visitors on a journey through Manchester’s rich and diverse Jewish history, exploring universal themes of Journeys, Communities and Identities. New design features of the gallery include a floor map of Cheetham Hill, moveable digital labels and a collection of oral histories placed throughout the gallery, telling the stories of Jewish Mancunians.

Sustainable features have been carefully and sensitively integrated into both the new and the original museum buildings in order to increase longevity and reduce carbon intensity, whilst conserving and honouring its listed status. Despite adding a new extension, the museum architects and builders worked closely with structural and services engineering experts Buro Happold to ensure the overall energy use of the building and resultant carbon intensity will reduce by around 20% compared to the original building. Many of the gallery’s exhibition panels have also been produced from upcycled textiles, a nod to Manchester’s 19th century textile industry, which originally attracted Jewish migrants to the city.

Situated on Cheetham Hill Road in one of Manchester’s most culturally diverse areas, the museum provides for many different communities. The ambition of the redevelopment project was to create a building that would be more than a museum – one that would instead welcome and become embedded within the local area, reaching beyond the Jewish community.

With food playing such a unifying force between cultures it became the starting point for the museum, launching a collaborative design process which included baking workshops, “syna-gigs” and events to reach out to and engage the local community and discover what it was that they wanted from their local museum. This redefined the museum brief to include flexible spaces to host events, community meals and functions, making links with local faith groups, schools and more. This community-centred approach has influenced everything in the new building, from the new café and learning kitchen to a new entrance and welcome atrium.

Launching as part of the re-opening is the world premiere of Turner Prize-winning artist Laure Prouvost’s new installation The long waited, weighted, gathering, co-commissioned by Manchester Jewish Museum and Manchester International Festival. It runs as part of this year’s festival and will remain in place until October. Prouvost’s immersive installation centres around a new film which will play on a specially-designed screen suspended from the beams of the synagogue, at eye level with The Ladies’ Gallery on the first floor. Prouvost’s film is inspired by the oral histories of the women who once attended the synagogue, sitting up in the Ladies’ Gallery, observing the service below.

Prouvost’s installation will be accompanied by artwork created by the museum’s resident Women’s Textile Group, led by local textiles artist Jo Scorah. The Textile Group is made up of women from a diverse range of ages, religions and cultural backgrounds, who together have created an embroidered dress that explores their identities and their hopes for the future. The dress will be worn by a mannequin which will be displayed in The Ladies’ Gallery to accompany Prouvost’s installation. Prouvost has also commissioned the group to design and create their own fabric and textile panels which will decorate the mechanical screen on which her brand new film will be projected.

CEO Max Dunbar comments: “Whilst just two years in the making in terms of construction and design, this redevelopment has been a long labour of love spanning almost a decade. Integral to this rebuild and renovation has been a desire for the new museum to fit into its cultural landscape architecturally and to be a place to explore what connect us all. This was about creating a space for dialogue across difference, using the museum’s collection to spark debate and explore both shared and unique stories from diverse communities. Creating a new and accessible entrance and launching a brand new vegetarian cafe were both key to making sure that everyone regardless of faith, background or culture would feel genuinely welcome to experience the museum in its entirety. We are so proud of our results and we cannot wait for everyone to come through our doors from Friday.”

David Renwick, Director, England, North at the National Lottery Heritage Fund, comments: “It is fantastic news that thanks to the National Lottery players, Manchester Jewish Museum is now opening with their amazing building and collections extended, enhanced and preserved for years to come; this ensures that locals and visitors can learn more about their diverse community’s rich heritage. We know that heritage in the North can play a huge role in bringing people together and creating a sense of pride in people’s hometowns and cities, and in turn boosting the local economy, and Manchester Jewish Museum is a fantastic example of that.”

Tickets for the new Manchester Jewish Museum which is opening with a world premiere of Turner Prize-winning artist Laure Prouvost’s new installation The long waited, weighted, gathering as part of this year’s Manchester International Festival are available here:   

Manchester Jewish Museum is open seven days a week to the public from Friday 2 July. The museum’s brand new vegetarian kosher-style cafe is open from 10am – 4pm daily, and will be open later on Thursdays for its Thursday Lates programme of events from the autumn.

Published: 6-Jul-2021

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