Manchester’s next cultural wave will centre on social impact

We're collecting the evidence to show that museums really do change lives
Max Dunbar
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This article is about a fund that was announced before the Covid-19 lockdown

Manchester is now riding a second cultural wave, following the first one in 2015 that saw the opening of the Whitworth art gallery and the Home arts centre. Over the next two years Manchester Jewish Museum, the Science & Industry Museum and Manchester Museum will all be opening multi-million pound extensions and galleries. And this cultural wave is now spreading outside of the city centre, across the Greater Manchester region.

An £8.6m investment in arts, culture and creativity was recently announced by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA). From Wigan to Tameside and Bury to Trafford, 35 cultural organisations from all ten Greater Manchester boroughs will receive grants from the Greater Manchester Culture Fund.
These cultural organisations include museums and galleries (Manchester Jewish Museum, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art), theatres (Octagon Theatre, Contact Theatre), festivals (English Folk Expo, Manchester Literature Festival) and cultural centres (The Met and Wigan Steam).

Such a significant investment is welcome across Greater Manchester’s arts and cultural sector, with a recognition that its buzzing cultural scene extends well beyond the city centre. What is perhaps most interesting is the fact that in these challenging economic times, this cultural investment has increased by 23% from the previous allocation in 2018.
At a time when local authorities are having to slash budgets, an increase in cultural investment by GMCA shows there is a genuine belief that culture has a positive impact on economic regeneration, employment, education and social equality – the four priorities of the Greater Manchester Culture Fund.

Next year we will be opening a new Manchester Jewish Museum, which will include a new gallery, learning studio and, as every Jewish museum should have, a cafe serving chicken soup and hot salt-beef bagels. With GMCA’s support, our new museum will play an even stronger role in society, helping change lives, attitudes and behaviour.

In post-Brexit Britain and after the 2017 terrorist attack in Manchester there continues to be an alarming rise of intolerance towards faith and minority communities. A record number of anti-Semitic incidents were reported last year.
There is an urgent need to combat this growing racial intolerance and – as a new museum about a migrant community in a former synagogue on the most diverse road in the UK – we are uniquely positioned to do this.

From Bollywood concerts and an Afghanistan bakery to a Muslim Jewish textile group and multi-faith comedy nights, we are already bringing different communities together. Over the next two years, thanks to GMCA’s support, we will build on this even further. Next year, with the opening of our new museum, we will reach an even larger, more diverse audience.

Interfaith supper clubs are already being planned, as are English for Speakers of Other Languages courses using objects from our collection. New volunteering and training opportunities will be provided for local Muslim residents, newly arrived migrants and students with special educational needs from Manchester’s orthodox Jewish community.

To measure the social impact of our work we will be using the Social Return on Investment (SROI) framework. Working with SROI specialist Envoy Partnership, we have spent the past 18 months asking our audiences, partners and stakeholders bespoke questions. These questions will be asked again in the new museum. By comparing the two sets of data we are expecting to see a shift in attitudes and behaviours.

So, when this latest round of GMCA funding comes to an end in 2022 we will be able to use our SROI analysis to prove, not just say, that museums can actually change lives – and that additional cultural investment from local authorities does make a real difference in today’s challenging times.

Max Dunbar is the chief executive officer of Manchester Jewish Museum

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