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Ed Watts

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Ed Watts, Engagement Manager, The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, UK.

As part of managing the gallery’s public programme for both adults and families, Ed sits on the cultural offer steering group for Age Friendly Manchester, looking at a citywide approach on culture and ageing. Ed is part of the Whitworth’s dynamic Learning and Engagement team who work with audiences across health, social care, volunteering and education sectors, seeking to work in new ways and extend reach.

Over the past five years Ed has led on research, projects and community engagement to explore how the gallery’s collections can open up new ways to connect with Manchester’s diverse older residents, including Art Sense, a sensory play iPad app for adults living with dementia, a handbook for cultural engagement with older men, funded by the Baring Foundation, and commissioning artists in residence in sheltered accommodation schemes.

Danger! Men at Work at the Whitworth

Over the last year the Whitworth, part of the University of Manchester, turned its attention to addressing a traditionally under-represented audience within cultural activities, older men. Reopening this February, after a major 15 million pound redevelopment, the gallery launched publications, research, programmes and an exhibition, exploring older men’s participation in society and culture.

Ed Watts, Engagement Manager at the Whitworth, travelled across the UK researching older men’s participation in cultural activity. Funded by the Baring Foundation, his findings are shared in a publication designed to support other organisations by providing a foundation for future programmes and methodologies when working with older men. Drawing on activity across the UK – Burrell for Blokes (Glasgow), Men’s Shed (Rhyl), Green Candle (London), Out in the City (Manchester), Grand Gestures (Gateshead), Live and Learn project (Belfast), the publication outlines key findings, including a focus on recruitment (barriers); programming and participation (what kind of activities and models of participation older men would like cultural organisations to offer) and impact (exploring the motivations and self-reported benefits for older men of engaging in cultural group activities).

Alongside this, a special exhibition was developed with older men in the new Collections Centre. Danger! Men at Work, has been co-curated with a group of older male residents at Anchor Housing trust’s Beechfield Lodge care home in Salford. The residents were visited by a team of artists, curators and conservators from the Whitworth and co- developed the new exhibition, which explores notions of masculinity, identity and ageing. The group, made up of a retired postal worker, a civil servant, teacher, crane engineer and bus driver, had full control to decide which exhibits and artefacts should feature in the exhibition, which has been funded by the Baring Foundation and in partnership with Age Friendly Manchester, to tackle isolation and loneliness in older men.

The Whitworth was recently awarded the prestigious Art Fund Prize as UK Museum of the Year 2015. Read more