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New art exhibition thanking key workers is coming to Manchester

Gratitude is a collection of 49 painted sculptures, with audio stories voiced by local stars from Christopher Eccleston to Julie Hesmondhalgh

Global art producer Wild in Art, who were behind the much-loved Bee In The City trail, has launched an open call for people across Greater Manchester to contribute to a new national touring art installation.

They’re asking people to share their real-life stories and poems about key workers during the pandemic, a selection of which will be recorded by a host of well-known voices.

The chosen stories will become part of a spectacular, free to visit public art installation called Gratitude that will thank NHS staff and all key workers for their ongoing courage and dedication.

Gratitude is a collection of 49 uniquely painted human form sculptures, all designed by individual artists, and curated in partnership with creative ambassador Dame Zandra Rhodes.

Photo: Scott Kershaw Photography

The image of key workers standing together, but apart, is one of the abiding images of this time, and Gratitude will connect people and communities, artists and businesses, NHS staff and all key workers, inviting people to come together to reflect and show their appreciation.

Visitors to the installation will be able to listen to stories and poems from adults and children that pay tribute to all key workers, from doctors on the front-line to shopkeepers, carers and teachers, via the Gratitude app and the website. 

Key figures voicing the stories so far include singer-songwriter KT Tunstall and actors Julie Hesmondhalgh, Christopher Eccleston, John Thomson and Shobna Gulati with further names to be revealed soon.

Time for quiet reflection will be built into the installation’s daily opening schedule when the exhibition comes to Manchester in September.

One of the first audio stories to be announced as part of the installation is from Matt Kelly, a Wigan Council service manager who last year penned a poem initially for his partner, a district nurse, which was shared on social media and touched millions.

The poem, Our Heroes, was then brought to life on BBC Radio 5 live  by one of the UK’s most prominent actors, Salford-born Christopher Eccleston, and will also form part of one of Gratitude’s audio stories.

Photo: Johnny Ring

On voicing the poem again for Gratitude, Christopher Eccleston said: “There was such a heartwarming response to Matt Kelly’s poem so it will be wonderful to be able to help bring the exhibition to life through his words.”

Matt Kelly said:  “I am delighted that Our Heroes will be part of this fantastic project.

“During this last year, our doctors, nurses, carers and support staff have quite literally saved us from this awful pandemic. 

“The war like effort of the NHS and the scenes I was seeing on the news helped inspire me to write the poem at the start of the pandemic. 

“At the time, it was a poem of hope, but one year on, it is becoming a poem of nostalgia and gratitude.

“This project is a fitting tribute to our wonderful heroes.”

Coronation Street star Shobna Gulati will voice one of the stories.

“I am so pleased to be part of Gratitude,” she said.

“The installation and the stories it will tell, provide a wonderful way to pay tribute and give thanks to all of our key workers, who have supported us in every possible way throughout this extremely difficult time.”

When asked about taking part in the installation, Coronation Street actress, Julie Hesmondhalgh said: “What is not to love?

“A piece of public art that gives us the opportunity to thank the millions of key workers who have risked and sacrificed so much to keep society ticking along in these most challenging and heart-breaking of times- just wonderful! 

“All the bin collectors and shop workers and delivery drivers; the NHS staff, from the cleaners to the consultants, our incredible teachers and our care givers. 

“An opportunity to remember, to reflect, to be thankful. 

“I’m so happy to be a small part of this.”

Photo: Daniel Graves Photography

Cold Feet actor, John Thomson said: “Delighted to have been asked to contribute to this excellent project. Inspirational and creating awareness too!”

Wild in Art is now calling for members of the general public, across all ages and backgrounds, to submit their stories for a chance to be included in the installation and voiced by a key figure.

The submission, which should be no longer than 500 words in length, must tell a personal story about a key worker and showcase the amazing work they have done during the pandemic.

It can also be a story about themselves, for example if they work as a key worker or if there is something a key worker has done for them personally that has made a difference to their life.

Gratitude will come to Manchester 3rd – 12th September 2021. The deadline for submissions is 5pm on Thursday 20th May 2021, and you can find out more here:

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