Photography by Ben Heath and Samantha Heffernan
Maria has been a pivotal figure in the cultural regeneration of Manchester. Not only has she had the unprecedented role of running two major museums, but also as director of culture for Manchester City Council, she has in effect been the city’s cultural attaché.
In June 2017, Maria left Manchester to become the first female director of the Tate, an appointment confirmed by the Prime Minister. This has established her amongst Britain’s most influential figures in the arts.
Born in Birmingham, the mum of two moved to Manchester in 2006 to take up her post as Director of the Whitworth Art Gallery. In 2011, Balshaw took on the role of Director of Manchester City Galleries, alongside her duties at the Whitworth. This dual directorship brought the two institutions collections of historic and modern art together for the first time in their history.
Maria fittingly chose to be photographed at the Whitworth Art Gallery. The first part of the shoot took place against the backdrop of the gallery's landmark Andy Warhol's 'Artist Rooms' exhibition. The second part of the shoot, Maria posed among the grand columns of the original Edwardian front entrance and against the contemporary artwork that occupies the gallery's newly created sculpture terrace.
“I have been immensely proud to serve Manchester for the past ten years. The city that I have called home for the last decade is a place of passion, vibrancy and fiercely held civic pride! This has always served as a source of inspiration for my work as Director of Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth and I’m proud to be leaving both galleries as cultural democratic institutions that will serve the city for the next hundred years.” - Maria Balshaw
THE SHOOT: Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester
Andy Warhol's 'Artist Rooms' exhibition and gallery's sculpture terrace
Student reflection: Samantha Heffernan
"Being given the opportunity to photograph Maria Balshaw for the Greater Mancunians project has given me the chance to get a feel of what it's like to work in the photography industry and boosted my confidence as a photographer! It was great meeting and photographing someone that has done so much for Manchester's art scene. I was quite nervous at first, thinking I would struggle to get good photos, but Maria was very encouraging, friendly and more than happy to pose until we had got all the shots that we needed."