Working with 42nd Street’s, Horsfall Gallery in Ancoats, conceptualising, curating and delivering their first Useful Beauty Salon has been an incredibly engaging and interesting experience to be involved in and one which has provided a great deal of professional enrichment. The Horsfall Gallery is the latest addition to 42nd Street’s bow in its aim to aid and support young people with mental health issues in Greater Manchester. The gallery provides an innovative program of workshops, exhibitions and interactive events. The Useful Beauty Salon is designed to be a monthly event based upon the ideas of the French Salon, creating a themed event addressing a different question on each occasion. All the creative practitioners involved with the Salon demonstrate or teach their craft, giving both adult and adolescent audience an insight into new forms of expression and creativity. The Horsfall is housed in a renovated building next to 42nd Street with an incredible history relating to Manchester, including ties to social change and pamphleteering, with many changing uses across its history. The gallery benefits from its history of social activism using this to engage its audiences with the ideas of social change. The Horsfall itself is based on the ideas of The Ancoats Museum and Thomas Horsfall who the gallery takes its name from, which sought to enrich the lives of those living in the slums of Manchester through education and beauty.
My role at the Horsfall was one which came with a great deal of autonomy and was essentially that of a freelance curator. This brought wonderful freedom to create a unique event where I was able to choose and engage the creatives who would be performing at The Useful Beauty Salon. I was extremely privileged to select and work with a diverse group of performers some of whom were very well known and others who were beginning their careers. The final lineup included Gerry Potter, well known for his performance poetry, Imaania Satwilkar who creates poetry from her personal experiences, two urban artists responsible for much of the urban art in the Northern quarter in Manchester, Jay Sharples and TASLE, Jennifer Reid who performs fantastically entertaining historical songs as a broadside balladress, Erin Jack a visual artist creating works on canvas and Alan Hampson who is writing a book centred on the social history of Manchester. All of these artists performed in the Salon with Gerry also heading a workshop with 42nd Street giving young people the chance to participate in performance poetry.
Whilst I have worked as a curator for some time with contemporary art, the experience of curating live performers in a Salon was a new one which I found challenging and rewarding. The Salon which was produced had an environment of interactive, interdisciplinary creativity and the coming Salons at 42nd Street promise to build upon this and become more and more popular. Reflecting on the placement after The Useful Beauty Salon it’s apparent that this experience has undeniably furthered my professional practice, introducing new ideas and ways of curating as well as giving me the opportunity to work with incredibly skilled creative practitioners and an institution which provides an important service for the young people of Manchester and is using history and creativity as part of its strategy to do this.