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8th May 2023

On The Rag: “Everyone’s got a key to this place!”

The Mancunion spoke to On The Rag’s Amy Platt and Christina Purvis about the art gallery they are working on, and what the gallery means to the community.
On The Rag: “Everyone’s got a key to this place!”
Photo: Tim Gouw @ Pexels

Recently, we had the opportunity to speak to two-thirds of On The Rag (Amy Platt and Christina Purvis) to discuss the gallery space the art collective is building and their work in Manchester.

The three members of the all-female collective (Amy Platt, Christina Purvis and Jasmine Skellern) are three friends who met while studying Art History at The University of Manchester. Now, they run a new and open style of gallery in Chorlton-cum-Hardy.

“We had to get rid of all the walls on the ground floor three days before our first exhibition,” says Amy, “it’s a good thing the DIY gallery aesthetic is in.” You could quite literally say On the Rag is building a gallery space from the ground up. Most of the space’s interior walls in the Rag Gallery were pulled down by the team themselves days before their opening.

They’ve converted the old HSBC bank into their gallery space. The team found the building through a combination of chance and hard work, going around abandoned building sites and asking whether they could use them. On The Rag’s CIC credentials mean that they can use a space without the landlord having to pay tax, so they have the space for a year before it’s gutted by the landlord and becomes a wine bar.

On The Rag are making waves in the Manchester art scene. Their new take on the gallery space is funded by events, not the sale of art. By Amy’s admission, “people will try screw you over.” The team have faced a range of problems (as well as the physical tasks of converting the space into a gallery) with the council’s red tape limiting their primarily evening-based events. Yet, the spirit of the building and their project is energetic, the building is a microcosm for the team: it multi-tasks and is adapting to the gallery scene. People “underestimate you for better or for worse,” says Christina, meaning essentially people will take pity on you or take a chance, but also won’t take you seriously.

But these challenges have created a tight-knit model and team that the all-female team to work together the three to work together, which they described as “supportive”, and, cliché as it sounds, as having “less arguing”. They’ve had to learn skills that aren’t traditionally taught to women and are working in a male-dominated and, generally, elitist gallery scene.

The team plan far in advance. I interviewed them two weeks before their next show and they were already setting up. The responsibility of running a gallery is large, and while the profits support their model, profits aren’t large but are split between the team by hours. They even had me help take the artwork down.

As the art world becomes more exclusive collectives like West Art Collective and On The Rag are providing an alternative gallery space, a model that is equalising opportunities, meaning you don’t have to be a professional to show here, the team just have to think you’re serious about your work.

That’s where their degrees come in. I asked if they thought they were useful. Obviously, the team has had to do a lot of learning on the job – with the minor wall demolishing and general redecorating of their space (as it would turn out, banks have a lot of walls), yet, their art history degrees have given them the critical grounding to curate the space, as none of the trio are primarily artists.

So far they’ve shown some big names such as Elsa Rouy And for the future? They’re looking for their next space, bigger and better events – their upcoming showing has 43 artists. More wall demolishing to come…

On The Rag’s next event will be on May 27 2023, find a link to their Instagram: @ontheragmcr.

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