Maria Balshaw led the £15m redevelopment of the Whitworth gallery in Manchester. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian
Maria Balshaw, the hugely respected leader of Manchester’s galleries and driving force in the city’s cultural renaissance, is set to replace Sir Nicholas Serota as the new director of Tate.
The hunt for Serota’s successor, to one of the most powerful jobs in the arts, has been ongoing since it was announced in September that he was standing down after nearly 30 years.
Balshaw has been talked about as a favourite ever since and it is understood she has now been chosen by the Tate trustees. Her name has been put forward to the government and it still needs to be formally agreed by the prime minister, Theresa May. A decision is not expected until at least next week.
Balshaw has been director of the Whitworth gallery in Manchester since 2006 and added Manchester city galleries in 2011. In 2014, she in effect became Manchester’s cultural attache when she took on the role of strategic lead for culture at the city council.
At the Whitworth, Balshaw has led the much-admired £15m redevelopment of the gallery, helping to breathe new life into the collections and dramatically increasing visitor numbers. It won the 2015 museum of the year prize. “The Whitworth feels vital and alive,” wrote the Guardian’s Adrian Searle.
It is likely the Tate trustees would have been impressed by Balshaw’s proven record on big, strategic projects. As well as the art galleries, she has been a central figure in the creation of The Factory, the £110m arts venue planned on the former site of Granada’s TV studios. A planning decision on the project is due to be made by city councillors on Thursday.
She is also admired by and enjoys warm relationships with artists. She successfully persuaded Cornelia Parker that the Whitworth should be the venue for an important exhibition in 2015. “She made it impossible to turn down,” said Parker in an interview with Apollo magazine.
Balshaw will take charge of an organisation that consists of Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives.
She has long been tipped to take on the job. In a Guardian interview in 2015, she admitted being flattered by the talk. She said: “Who wouldn’t, in the art sector, want that kind of job?”
Serota is to become chairman of Arts Council England next month. His formal leaving date from Tate has yet to be agreed and there is likely to be a transitional period.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010