Manchester’s first civic plaque to a woman artist
by Kate Southey
C20 Northwest’s major event this summer has been our celebration of the sculptor Mitzi Cunliffe (1918 – 2006). In collaboration with the Modernist Society we installed a city council commemorative plaque, the first in Manchester dedicated to a woman artist, on the house in Didsbury which was her family home and studio 1951 -1964. We also presented a lecture at the Whitworth Art Gallery and are in the process of publishing a trail of her works in the city which will be the basis for a special coach tour scheduled for September.
The artist’s best-known work is the BAFTA trophy which has been a feature of the British film and TV landscape for the past 50 years but we hope this celebration will provide an impetus for more research about Mitzi Cunliffe’s wider achievements. The city is fortunate to have a number of important works by her, including the Grade II listed Heaton Park Pumping Station relief and sculptures at Manchester High School for Girls and Manchester Health Academy. A few months ago a work previously known to the artist’s family only from photographs, was located at the Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections and it is likely that more remain to be discovered by this fascinating artist.
The Mitzi Cunliffe celebration was funded through a very successful crowdfunding appeal. We have just learnt that another appeal, on Crowd Justice, has reached its target with one day to go, thus allowing legal advice to be obtained to challenge the St Michael’s development in Manchester. This scheme is for a 40 storey tower in the civic heart of the city, entailing the partial demolition of the former police headquarters, a flamboyant and defiantly non-Modernist example of 1930s municipal architecture and the destruction of an historic synagogue (believed to be one of the first post-war buildings in the city centre). Most significantly, the development will dominate the skyline around the majestic 19th century Town Hall, one of the grandest in Britain. This is the second attempt by the developer to secure their scheme, which received planning approval last month. The appeal is promoted by the chairman of Manchester Civic Society and is steered by SAVE, with the support of C20 and the Victorian Society. That these groups have come together to fight this case is an indication of both the scale of the immediate harm to the heritage of the city centre and also the long-term consequences of weakening restraints on inappropriate developments in conservation areas. Twentieth century buildings of note are often part of the architectural setting of listed buildings and are particularly vulnerable to developments of this sort. The city council has no stated policy on tall buildings and it is clear that if this scheme eventually goes ahead, no part of the city will be safe from inappropriate development, irrespective of whether it is in a conservation area or not.