While Away: A Manchester Summer in Cultural Pursuits


Streetwise Opera While Away a Manchester Summer in Cultural Pursuits

By Anita Ferguson

When I called goodbye at the end of our last workshop before the summer break, I felt sad and was already dreading the withdrawal symptoms from my beloved Streetwise.  I need not have worried. Our Sally had once again set up a very varied programme of weekly activities , where we could experience new things and also see our Streetwise friends.   

Our first activity was a Jazz Session at The Bridgewater Hall. It was part of Manchester Jazz Festival. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it. I was told by the group that it was "modern, Improvised, bluesy". I can only take their word for it and add that anyone appearing at The Bridgewater are going to be skilful musicians. The Bridgewater often has free lunchtime sessions and they are always worth a punt.

Next , we met at Manchester Art Gallery. I had forgotten about the beauty of this building. Also about how wonderful it is to wander the splendid, echoing rooms, breathing in the works of art. 

The first Gallery workshop was: "Mindful marks : de-stress and draw" It took place among an exhibition of South Asian Design. Our sheets suggested that we observe the objects as if for the first time. I noticed amazing ceramics and textiles. Indian music was played throughout the session. 

We were given a selection of paper and access to oil pastels. I was disappointed that there was a dearth of colours. Some people reclined on a huge rug with bean bags. Others, like myself, chose a chair at the back, just in case I ever planned to get up again. A woman started to give a detailed explanation of Mindfulness and of what our aims were. Unfortunately, she had her back to all those on chairs throughout. We didn't hear a word of it, even after I interrupted her with a plea. For me, it was a schoolgirl error and, as a former teacher, I was irritated by it. I can only assume that she was from an artist background and was not a trained teacher.

  Anyway , the idea was to close our eyes , listen to the music and draw what we wanted , with eyes open or closed. For some reason I was craving yellow or gold colours to match my feelings and there was no yellow to be had. I managed to cover all my pages with "art" , as did my Streetwise chums. We all seemed to get something from the activity. I would have enjoyed it more with variations in the music, a coherent intro and all the colours of the spectrum on tap. 

My favourite part of the trip was eating what was probably the most expensive, and the tastiest, bacon butty in Manchester, in the café afterwards. mmm I love art!

The following week, we returned to the Art Gallery. A small group of us gathered around a large painting. The facilitator explained Mindfulness and began to guide us, with his mellow tones, into a calmer state. As I inched towards serenity, my mobile phone went off. I scuttled away in embarrassment, and spent the rest of the session wandering the rooms with Sally, who shared her knowledge of some of the paintings.  I also spotted a great bit of Wordsworth among them ; an added treat. My Streetwise companions seemed to enjoy the session greatly and did seem very calm when they caught up with me afterwards! 

While I was meant to be concentrating on the leader's voice, my eyes were drawn to a stunning blue and mauve painting to my right. I first thought it was a mermaid. It pulled me in and I was captivated. When I told the group, Michael checked it out and was very pleased to tell me that it Was a mermaid ; he had seen her tail! I should add here that I have always loved Mermaids. When I was little, I thought that they really existed ; I still harbour a faint hope that they do....

The painting is Montagna Mia by Annie Louisa Swynnerton. She was a Manchester lass, who was the first ever elected member of the Royal Academy of Art. She was also a Suffragette. I had a lively discussion about her with the Inquiry Desk man, who also incidentally believes in Mermaids. I must consider establishing our own group.....

We adjourned to the café for welcome posh coffees. The group were in good humour, all having been more mindful in their mindfulness than myself!   

Both of the above activities take place every month at this gallery, so out trips provided a useful intro for any of us who wants to have another go.

I had wanted to visit the John Ryland Library on Deansgate for a long time, so was looking forward to our next trip. We had a fantastic turnout for this guided tour. 

 I had no idea that the building would be so beautiful. It is Victorian, although the style is much older, with neo Gothic Architecture. There are tremendous sweeping arches , highly intricate plasterwork and breath-taking stained glass windows.

 What's better than a magnificent building? A magnificent building full of books!  

I love to hear the echoing footsteps and hushed voices in a library. For me it's about respect for great literature rather than fear of librarians! My favourite place was the Reading Room. I anticipate coming back there soon. The library houses many ancient texts. The most famous is the St John Fragment, the oldest known piece of text from the bible. It was written on papyrus. Amazing!    On this day, there was an exhibition of Objects. These included writing materials from Elizabeth Gaskell and the American poet Walt Whitman. As a stationary lover, I was very taken with Liz Gaskells antique pencil sharpener. 

               Phil, James and I entered a cavernous, barely lit room, with hundreds of huge leather tomes. I was ecstatic!  James, however, sensed that there was a ghost nearby and that we should leave. I pointed out that surely a ghost with a library card posed no threat to us. However, we then could not supress our mirth and made a hasty retreat to the door.  We hit the café and all the group were animated and full of enthusiasm for what we'd seen. Another triumph for Sally!

Our final trip was to Greater Manchester Police Museum. I'm afraid I was unable to go to this one, but have canvassed the group for their views. 

 Many were sceptical about the tour, but seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. The building is an old Victorian Police Station. The volunteer staff, many of them retired officers, were very friendly and knowledgeable, and they enhanced everyone's enjoyment. As well as displays of old equipment, there was a lot of hands-on experiences: e,g. fingerprinting, trying on uniforms, visiting the cells and also standing in the dock. It all sounded like great fun and many of the group said they'd return for another visit.

I don't know how Sally managed it. She found very interesting and varied activities, all free of charge. In every case, our group from Streetwise got a great deal from the activity. 

For me, they were tasters and reminders of how much I love Art Galleries and libraries. I'm resolved to spend many hours in the future delving into them.

 I guess that's what we do at Streetwise. We get introduced to areas of culture we might never have considered, when we might have thought that " Art is for posh people".  We realise more and more that Art is for everyone; it enhances and saves lives. It has saved mine. 

Lastly : Sincere thanks to Sally, who works hard for us all year, looking after us and making plans for brilliant trips together. No one scrounges comps more efficiently than she.  

Also, as a new exciting term begins at Streetwise Opera, Manchester, I'd like to thank our leaders : Jonathan, David and Gareth for their brilliant work. They have such patience and always make the workshops enjoyable, positive and rewarding .  Roll on the next opera!