An exhibition curated by artist Grayson Perry as a spin-off of his TV show ‘Grayson’s Art Club’ that the public took to their hearts during lockdown last year, has helped push visitor numbers at Manchester Art Gallery back up to pre-pandemic levels.

The exhibition, which includes work by the artist himself as well as contributions from the nation’s armchair artists who embraced the weekly call-out for artistic creations by award-winning artist Perry, was the opening show when the gallery re-opened its doors earlier this year.

Originally due to open on 25 November last year, it wasn’t until May this year that visitors were finally able to get into the gallery and see the exhibition for themselves, after the gallery was forced to close its doors to the public as part of national Covid restrictions that came into play only days before the opening of the exhibition.

With just one week left of its run before it closes on 31 October, all timed visitor slots to see the exhibition are now sold out, though it is still possible to see highlights of the exhibition on-line via a virtual tour on the gallery’s website.

Since re-opening in May the gallery has welcomed nearly 199,000 visitors (actual number 198,475) through its doors, despite social distancing measures in place to restrict the number of visitors in the building at any one time.

Taking into account the reduced number of days the gallery is currently open each week and the reduced overall opening hours, this figure is equivalent to visitor numbers at the gallery before the very first lockdowns were imposed in March 2020.

There have also been times during the last few months when visitor numbers have surpassed pre-pandemic numbers. Last Saturday (16 October) notably saw 3176 people pay a visit to the gallery – which is well up at around 140% of what the average visitor number would have been on a Saturday pre-Covid.

The increase in visitor numbers to the gallery’s exhibition spaces has also seen the gallery shop and cafe benefit from increased trade since the re-opening – helping bring in much-needed additional revenue after all the months of lockdown.

So popular have items on sale in the shop been that relate to the Art Club exhibition that staff have regularly had to create online waiting lists to alert gallery visitors when they were back in stock. Amongst these was the highly sought-after Grayson Perry tea towel which proved itself the runaway success of the season, and was the number one best-seller in the gallery shop, going back out of stock usually within days of new supplies coming in.

The gallery cafe has also been helping tempt visitors back with a tasty new seasonal menu of delicious cakes and freshly made food put together by new Head Chef Adam Leavy, a previous finalist on MasterChef: The Professionals. With a strong focus on sustainability, seasonality, local and ethical produce, the kitchen creates delicious food which has a positive impact on the environment.

We always knew that culture would have a big part to play in the reopening of the city post pandemic and the latest visitor numbers for the art gallery bear this out. It’s clear this isn’t though just about art for art’s sake. More than ever over the last eighteen months we’ve seen that art and the arts in general also have a much wider and important part to play in our overall health and wellbeing. The number of visitors who have been flocking to the gallery to see the Grayson’s Art Club exhibition, as well as taking part in the programme challenges is proof of that. It’s brilliant to see the gallery buzzing again.

Councillor Luthfur Rahman, OBE, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council

Other exhibitions coming up at the gallery include Derek Jarman PROTEST! which runs from 2 December to 10 April 2022. This long-awaited exhibition was originally planned for March 2020, until the first national lockdown put paid to this.

The exhibition focuses on Jarman’s expansive career as a painter, writer, filmmaker, set-designer, gardener, political activist, and videographer for bands including the Pet Shop Boys, and one of Manchester’s most iconic bands, the Smiths.

It will be the first time these diverse strands of his practice have been brought together in over 20 years, since the last significant exhibition of his work at the Barbican, London, in 1996.

The exhibition will be free to visit but will be ticketed in order to keep the gallery a safe place for all its visitors.

Whether being actively involved in the making of artistic work, or involved as an interested spectator or audience member, the value of art goes way beyond the four walls of the city’s gallery, which is really a creative engine room for Manchester. We take our social responsibility as a cultural organisation in the city very seriously and have got a great programme of exhibitions, events, education, activities, and community projects coming up for all ages and all interests that we hope will make a real difference to the quality of life for Manchester residents. It’s great to have our visitors back and we’re looking forward to welcoming even more of them over the coming months.”

Alistair Hudson, Director, Manchester Art Gallery

More information about what’s on at Manchester Art Gallery