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Whitworth director set to replace Serota as head of Tate

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The director of MUMA’s 2015 Stirling Prize-shortlisted Whitworth gallery in Manchester is expected to replace Nicholas Serota as director of Tate

Tate trustees are reported to have chosen Maria Balshaw for one of the biggest jobs in the arts. It is understood that Balshaw’s name has been submitted to the government as the trustees’ preferred choice. The prime minister will need to approve the appointment.

Balshaw became director of the Whitworth in 2006 and oversaw MUMA’s £15 million expansion of the gallery in 2015, which doubled its public space and helped it earn the title of Museum of the Year.


Balshaw is credited with transforming the Whitworth with a programme of critically acclaimed exhibitions and a concerted effort to engage the local residents of Moss Side. Visitor numbers more than doubled under her watch, and in 2009 she staged a competition for the gallery’s expansion.

MUMA was selected over 138 other global practices, with Balshaw describing the new gallery as having ’the most beautiful exhibition spaces that I know’. The revamped gallery completed in February 2015.

In 2011, Balshaw took on the additional role of director of Manchester City Galleries and received a CBE for services to the arts in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2015.

Tate announced in September that Serota was stepping down as director after 28 years at the helm. He is due to take up a part-time role as chairman of the Arts Council on 1 February.

Serota presided over an ambitious plan for capital expansion for the organisation’s four galleries. Caruso St John’s Tate Britain upgrade finished in 2013, and the critically praised Switch House extension to Tate Modern opened in June last year.

A project to expand Tate St Ives is still in progress – Jamie Fobert won planning permission for a £13.5 million extension in 2013.


Maria Balshaw on why she chose MUMA for the Whitworth

’MUMA won the competition to extend the Whitworth in the face of strong competition – 138 other practices from all over the world. By no means the largest, most experienced or best-known of practices, its calling card was the Medieval and Renaissance galleries at the V&A, an institution with collections and aspirations cognate with our own.

’We went through an incredibly rigorous selection process, particularly in terms of how we engaged our multiple audiences in the decision. We selected a long list of 10 for interview and then a shortlist of five, who were invited to develop a model and presentation to be exhibited for three months in the Whitworth. Some 30,000 people saw the exhibitions and more than 900 filled in detailed consultation forms. We worked with school groups, older residents, disabled visitors, student and academics and, of course, the Whitworth staff. A final gruelling day of interviews confirmed the wider public view, that MUMA’s proposal stood head and shoulders above the others.

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