Thursday, 4 February 2010

National Football Museum

This is Manchester, we do things differently

Towards the end of 2009 it was announced that the National Football Museum, complete with Maradona’s shirt from the infamous “hand of God” match among other sporting gems, was to leave its current home in Preston and move to Manchester.

While I originally saw this as good news for Manchester and its local economy, my mood soured somewhat when I realised the Football Museum would mean the demise of exhibition centre Urbis. It is now perfectly clear to me that the National Football Museum is bad news for Manchester.

The reason for my change of opinion is simple. Urbis could have been something really special, but it was not. And Manchester City Council stopping at almost nothing to secure the museum represents a backwards step, as Manchester looks set to fall back on its tried and tested image in the face of difficulty. “We’re a football city we are. We’ve got the museum to prove it and everything.”

I do think it’s important we realise that Urbis was not the greatest of successes, but the reason for this lies solely at the hands of the people responsible for promoting the museum in the city and further afield.

Since my first visit, I’ve lost count of the number of high quality exhibitions I had the pleasure of seeing. I can, however, count on one finger the number of times I saw the place anywhere close to busy. Yep, you guessed it: once. Urbis’ problem was people in the city simply did not know what it was and what was inside. Even though it stuck out like a bold thumb in the city centre, droves and droves of people walked by blissfully unaware of what was on their own doorstep. As a city that is trying to grow in stature worldwide, one string Manchester needed to add to its bow was a well renowned centre for art. With no plans for another building to house displays like those which did visit Urbis (along with Channel M – whose music department were also a beacon of hope in the city), it seems as though an uncut diamond in the rough has been ditched in favour of a shiny cubic zirconia.

Words: Golibe Omenaka


  1. Just as a minor point (mostly cos we obviously believed it worked, and the numbers for a regional gallery were good), with a single exception recently, exhibitions did not 'visit' Urbis. They were curated and created by the team at Urbis, and tended to then visit other venues around the country...

  2. Apologies for my mistake. I just enjoyed going to Urbis and seeing what it had to offer. I had no idea where it all came from.

    Surely though, that fact that it was not that well known that all the art on show was produced locally further demonstrates that Urbis could have advertised itself better? And surely, it makes Urbis' demise an even bigger waste than I originally thought?

  3. Hmm. A few people have said 'you didn't market yourself properly'.

    But think about it, why would we deliberately under-market? We spent on marketing to the level we could, we got huge national press out of it. But we had nothing like the marketing budget of, say, a MOSI. And, for our demographic, traditional marketing was not always the best way--you talk about passing trade, but most of those people are not of the key demographic (15--30, very mixed socially and ethnically) Urbis attracted/wanted to attract. OTOH we have a thriving twitter and posterous presence, used to use MySpace, etc.

    However, we still got 260,000 visitors a year. IN Manchester that puts us behind only MOSI and MAG, without anything like their budgets...its really not that bad for a regional gallery. I agree, you go in on a Monday morning and no-one's there. But a Saturday afternoon?

    (Have to admit though, I've been surprised how many supposed 'fans' of Urbis are only this week noticing we're about to close--to us, who are living it, it seems to have dominated the press for the last six months)

    Glad you enjoyed what we did however, thanks for the support.

  4. Yeah, I expect there are a lot of people who are bemoaning the loss of Urbis despite having never actually attended any of the exhibitions.

    I did't go to many of the exhibitions, but enjoyed Buy Art Fair. I did attend the place when it was 'The Museum of the Modern City', and that was pretty awful. A great idea poorly realised - similar to Sheffield's 'Museum of Popular Music' which is now Sheffield Hallam SU.

    Still, will be sad to see Urbis go, and unfortunately I have no interest whatsoever in football history.

  5. I think that the hard truth comes down to economics. The Football association will massively subsidise a footballing museum, and with a more than likely Conservative government come May and draconian tax cuts Manchester City council cannot afford it. I dare say the London olympics has played a part, sucking up £20 billion. The fuckers. Good venue the Urbis.