Urbis Manchester is situated in Cathedral Gardens close to Manchester Cathedral and Victoria Station. It opened on 27th June 2002 as part of the renewal of Exchange Square known as the Millennium Project. It received £30 million from the Millennium Commission and £1m from Manchester City Council. The building, designed by Ian Simpson Architects (who is also responsible for Manchester’s highest building, The Beetham Tower) was originally a museum and exhibition centre that showcased city life. It has hosted exhibits on popular culture including music, fashion, art, photography and computer games as well as seminars, concerts and special events.
Urbis Manchester was known as the Museum of the City between 2002 and 2004. This was not its happiest period. It missed its target of 200,000 visitors by 58,000. People complained that Urbis was unattractive and that the exhibits were too abstract. They begrudged paying £5 entrance fee and few returned for a second visit. The museum’s first director resigned in March 2003. By October of that year, visitor figures had dropped to as few as 200 a day. To stem the decline, the entrance was scrapped and the purpose of Urbis Manchester redefined.
In 2004 the authorities decided to re-focus Urbis as an exhibition of popular culture with an emphasis on Manchester. It would no longer be classed as a museum and the admission fee was scrapped which resulted in visitors returned in much greater numbers with over a quarter coming from outside the city.
In February 2010 Urbis Manchester closed pending its conversion to the National Football Museum. The National Football Museum had been situated 30 miles north in Preston. Preston City Council tried to prevent the move but were outbid by Manchester City Council.
There have been many successful exhibitions at Urbis Manchester over the years. In 2009 alone State of Art: New York showcased the contemporary art scene in the Big Apple, Videogame Nation charted the rise of computer games over four decades and how they have spawned a multi-billion pound industry and Home Grown: The Story of UK Hip Hop was the country’s first attempt to document the hip-hop music scene.