Sitting on the edge of Manchester’s city centre, the Northern Quarter (NQ) is the product of a Nineties regeneration programme that turned the rapidly declining, erstwhile textile trading ground on its head. Since then the area between Piccadilly, Victoria, and Ancoats has come into its own – recognised internationally, as the metropolis’ self-styled, bohemian neighbourhood. Once derelict mills and warehouses now find new expression as coveted apartments, speciality retail outlets, independent restaurants, art galleries, record stores, and entrepreneurial work spaces.
Not all creativity can be contained within four walls, though. Some of it, plenty actually, has spilled out and across (or in certain cases, over) the Quarter’s red brick lanes. This transient street gallery is open 24x7, no admission fees required.
It all appears to have started on the corner of Tib and Church Street where in 1999, Cornish artist David Kemp sculpted a giant part wind instrument, part mythical creature into the wall of a ruined hat factory. The artist has been quoted saying, “[Tib Street Horn] is not really a saxophone, nor a dragon… perhaps it’s a listening device, filtering the left-over sounds from the street corner below, where the past bumps into the future, shooting the lights!” The assemblage sculpture, created using Picasso’s revolutionary 3D collage technique, is considered to be the official gateway to this part of town. In the same year, artist George Wylie was commissioned to work on New Broom, a steel artwork of a brush and dustpan, at the junction of Thomas and Oak Street. The sculpture is representative of the cleanup and re-branding of the Quarter. Further down Thomas Street, keep an eye out for the Binks building with its glazed pineapple topping – a symbol of friendship and hospitality – by London-based ceramic artist Kate Malone.
A relatively new addition to NQ’s skyline is a mixed flock of ceramic toucans, parrots, owls and other birds perched over John Street. The winged creatures, handcrafted by Brighton-based sculptor Guy Holder, are a throwback to the time when the area was a centre for pet shops.
Not all art here is up in the air, literally speaking. Some of it is underfoot. The pavements of the mile-long Tibb Street, for instance, bare the lines of Lancashire author Lemn Sissay’s poem Flags, inlaid into majolica tiles. Or the vibrant panels at the basement level of the multi-storey car park near the Millstone pub.
If we’re being honest, you’re likely to miss out on the above installations – what with the amount of street art splashed across the Northern Quarter’s walls. Out House, anchored by Tasha Whittle, is perhaps the most well-known public art project. Now in its fourth year, the programme oversees a number of canvas-like sites around Manchester with support from city centre management organization, CityCo. “For me, it’s important to be bringing together work that is more considered: the kind that is elevated by the fact that someone has clearly thought about it,” says Whittle. Its original site comprising three block structures on Stevenson Square, continues to receive a makeover every three months with community engagement from residents and local businesses alike.
Other compositions to watch out for are: Artist Hammo’s robots that tower over you from the walls of eateries like Kosmonaut and Koffee Pot. Then there is Polish artist Tankpetrol’s painstakingly stylised harem who model across shutters on Spear Street, Oldham Street and Newton Street. And finally, the much-talked about larger-than-life blue tit by Sheffield artist Faunagraphic that dominates Newton Street.
The Northern Quarter is best explored via a leisurely stroll.
The recently released Cultural Tour, part of Marketing Manchester’s free Manchester Walking Tours app (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/manchester-walking-tours/id919089077?mt=8) , might be a good starting point.