‘A triumph for activism’

The Working Class Movement Library, which houses some of the ILP archives, has won the national Museums at Night contest to stage an international artist event in May.

The Salford-based library beat Quay Arts on the Isle of Wight and the Guernsey Museum in the public vote for the right to host internationally-acclaimed landscape and documentary photographer Simon Roberts.

WCML bannerMuseums at Night is an annual after-hours celebration when hundreds of museums, galleries, libraries, archives and heritage sites open their doors for special evening events. More than 21,000 votes were cast in the competition and when ballots closed at 5pm on Monday 5th March the library found it had won one of the 10 separate contests.

According to competition organisers, the library’s cause was boosted by a Twitter campaign among fans of the “revolutionary” supporter-owned football club FC United of Manchester.

“Many thanks to you all for ‘getting the vote out’,” said the library’s manager Lynette Cawthra. “It’s brilliant news. Photographer Simon Roberts will be coming to an event here in May.

“Now the hard work of planning for putting on the event starts. It’ll be great publicity for us – it’s already raised our profile a good deal. Many thanks to you all again – it’s a triumph for activism.”

Roberts, who was official artist of the 2010 general election, will help the library “celebrate the image”, according to Cawthra.

“There are many stories in libraries; usually they’re written down,” she said. “Simon will photograph modern dissenters, drawing inspiration from the stories of past campaigns archived in our library.

“We’ll use these, and the public’s photographic responses, to debate the power of pictures and writing to move and to persuade.”

Cawthra describes the library as “a hidden treasure” with an “amazing building and a stunning collection” that captures “the stories and struggles of ordinary people’s efforts to improve their world”.

From strikes and protests to tailors and the Spanish Civil War, it tells of 200 years of campaigning through books, pamphlets, leaflets and tape recordings, which date as far back as the mid-18th century and include the roots of British trade unions.

Roberts’ election photographs explored Britain’s shifting identity in a series called We English. He also spent a year crossing post-Soviet Russia for a series called Motherland and is currently working on a project to photograph all 68 seaside piers in the UK.

“This is a great bit of publicity for the library,” said Cawthra. “But getting £500 to put on an event using Simon’s skills to add images to the library’s millions of words is the icing on the cake.”

Unfortunately, the nearby People’s History Museum in Manchester, which was shortlisted in a separate section of the competition for another photographer, Martin Parr, did not win its vote.

Museums at Night takes place this year from Friday May 18 till Sunday May 20. More details here.

For more about the Working Class Movement Library go here:

For more on Simon Roberts click here.

For details of the votes go here.

For the People’s History Museum go to: www.phm.org.uk