Next Salon Discussion

Bold curators make for better art, don't they? Sunday 21 September 2014, 6:00pm start

Tuesday 5 August: First Tuesday Current Affairs discussion

Two subjects in the news will be introduced by each volunteer article author and then discussed in terms of content and style

Public forum for engaging and debating ideas
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Salon Discussions

Bold curators make for better art, don't they? Sunday 21 September 2014, 6:00pm startBold curators make for better art, don't they?

Sunday 21st September 2014, 6:00pm start

Pauline Hadaway, Sarah Perks, Bernadette Lynch and Wendy Earle will unpick the receding role of curators and how we could save them from becoming museum pieces


Pauline HadawayIn line with many aspects of work in the arts and humanities today, the role of the curator has been re-configured in a political and philosophical environment which increasingly values the external impacts of art – social, economic and therapeutic, against its meaning as an intrinsic aspect of human experience and culture.


Sarah PerksIn Art as Therapy, a depressingly narrow and instrumental manifesto for improving visitor experience in art museums, Alain de Botton and John Armstrong argue for curators to abandon scholarship acquired in the ‘secluded privilege’ of the traditional museum, in favour of discovering the therapeutic value of art. Curators in de Botton’s new therapeutic art museum should programme exhibitions designed to help visitors find resolution for ‘life’s difficult issues’. Whilst art history may seem remote from everyday life, de Botton and Armstrong’s proposition that museums and galleries abandon belief in the value of scholarship in favour of more immersive, visitor focused experiences denigrates the idea of the audience as an intelligent, enquiring public.

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Cycling: four wheels good, two wheels better?

Monday 22nd September 2014, 6:45pm start

Mark Birbeck and others will introduce a discussion on the impact of promoting two wheeled transport, chaired by Keith McCabe


Mark BirbeckHaving a bicycle for a child was often a precursor to travelling beyond the physical confines of your neighbourhood, and the first steps to adolescent freedom. Getting on your bike and visiting friends without needing a lift from mum and dad, or being able to cycle to the countryside away from the watchful eyes of adults has long been a rite of passage for teenagers. Though older generations may have known bicycles as their only mode of transport for going to work, most people now have access to a car yet many commuters are frustrated by congestion, and a plethora of impediments on the road. A return to the bicycle as a realistic form of transport is being publicly promoted, so what are we to make of such campaigns to get us on our bike again?


Much is made of the health benefits of getting the nation out of cars and back on two wheels; indeed the government has designed tax schemes to incentivise us to buy a bike. Are we to believe they want us to experience that freedom we did as kids to whizz down a hill with our feet off the peddles, for no other reason than to feel the wind in your hair? That's clearly stretching things, but there's definitely a social trend to emphasise cycling as a modern and desired form of transport, well exemplified by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, taking every opportunity to promote it. Manchester may not yet have the cycle hire infrastructure of London, but the introduction of many more cycle lanes on main arterial routes, and the Tour de France visiting the region is a step in that direction.

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Salon Discussions

North and South: a siren call to tame industrial ambition? - Wednesday 8 October 2014, 6:45pm start North and South: a siren call to tame industrial ambition?

Wednesday 8th October 2014, 6:00pm start

Angelica Michelis, Helen Nugent, Alan Shelston and Vanessa Pupavac will open a discussion on what North and South says about society today, chaired by Pauline Hadaway


Angelica MichelisCostume dramas of nineteenth century Britain, self-consciously becoming more gritty than rosy, have recently captured the popular imagination way beyond the more prissy offerings of the 1970's. To mark the opening of the newly refurbished Elizabeth Gaskell House in October, this Salon discussion is going to have a look at what insights Gaskell's novel North and South, first published in 1855, offers us in understanding the dynamics of Britain's industrial revolution and what if anything it can tell us about society today. There is common reference made to a North / South divide, but compared to the times of Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, and even Thomas Hardy is there still such a difference, and if so how does that present itself and what characteristics prevail? How should we be reading novels from different historical periods, and are we likely to misread them when transposing their messages for today?

Helen Nugent


In contrast to some earlier novels, with their own critique of the 'self-made man' from a capitalism dominated by individuals, Elizabeth Gaskell helps herald in a new genre of the social problem novel located in industrial Britain. North and South is notable, although not the first, in not dismissing industrialisation, with the heroine Margaret Hale acknowledging that her celebration of the countryside might be bit romantic and whilst cottage workers might be poorer, there was a real hope of overcoming the dangerous and insecure conditions for industrial workers.

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Salon Discussions

Writers and war: reflecting or shaping our perceptions?

Saturday 25 October, 11:30am start

Shirley Dent, Jane Potter and others will look at how literature shapes our perceptions of war, chaired by Rania Hafez


Shirley Dent

2014 marks the centenary of the start of Great War (or First World War). The description of the 1914 – 1918 conflict as the ‘The War to End All Wars’ is one that still has popular resonance in the 21st century. The First World War is still seen as the epitome of senseless suffering and slaughter, with millions of common men sent to their deaths in trenches by the sort of blundering and half-wit toffs so ruthlessly parodied in Blackadder Goes Forth.

Dr Jane Potter

But as we commemorate 100 years since the Great War eclipsed all previous conflicts on scale, marking the start of modern warfare and global conflict, how much can we rely on powerful cultural and artistic depictions of the 1914 – 1918 war to explain its political and economic causes? Do descriptions of the war as futile and incomprehensible obscure rather than clarify events? It often seems that the First World War is even more perplexing today than it was 40, 50 or 80 years ago. Are we giving in to a temptation to read history backwards and interpret the Great War through the sensibilities of our own era? This discussion will tackle the idea that the First World War was incomprehensible slaughter, its political causes having no rhyme or reason.

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Salon Discussions

Playing God and the ethics of biomedicine

Tuesday 28th October 2014

Andy Miah will introduce a discussion on the ethics of biomedical enhancements


Andy Miah

Over the past decade, dramatic advances have been made in synthetic biotechnology, neuroscience and digital technology. Engineers of brain computer interfaces predict headbands that will deliver digitally enhanced cognition, letting us talk without speaking, see round corners, and drive just by thinking about it. In 2010, Craig Venter made headlines with his (partially) synthetic cell, and, as he plans to patent an entire manmade lifeform in the future, work continues on the creation of smaller DNA constructs known as bioparts. This year a man in Austria voluntarily had a (damaged) hand amputated so he could be fitted with a bionic limb controlled by brain signals. Stem cell science and synthetic biology bring the prospect of replacing flesh with ‘synthetic’ flesh rather than creating crude cyborgs. So is the long-awaited ‘Singularity’ – that sci-fi dream/nightmare of merging man and machine – finally upon us?


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