Our History

A brief history of the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art

Throughout CFCCA’s history we have sustained a commitment to representing Chinese arts and culture in the UK. Today we are the UK’s leading organisation for the promotion of Chinese contemporary art, producing an internationally renowned artistic programme and developing a reputation as a centre for research.

The organisation began in 1986 when Hong Kong artist Amy Lai organised Chinese View ‘86, the first Chinese festival in Manchester, with the intention of providing a platform for the Chinese artistic community and to develop the positive identity of Chinese culture in Britain. Three years later the Chinese Arts Centre opened its doors on Charlotte Street in Manchester’s Chinatown as a registered charity with government funding, founded with the objective of advancing the education of the public in contemporary Chinese arts and culture. The first large-scale contemporary art exhibition was Beyond the Chinese Takeaway in 1992, which represented the experiences of second and third generation British Chinese artists.

In 1996, led by CEO Sarah Champion (now MP for Rotherham). Chinese Arts Centre found a new venue on Edge Street in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The move signalled the centre’s shift to becoming a contemporary arts venue, with improved gallery spaces and facilities.

The renewed focus of the artistic programme was to make Chinese art and culture accessible to Manchester’s arts audiences, avoiding associations with out-dated and overly traditional representations of Chinese culture and folklore. The departure from Manchester’s China Town could be seen as symbolic of a broader cultural shift in perceptions of the British Chinese community during this period and the desire to encourage mainstream audiences to engage with Chinese arts.

In the summer of 1999 a devastating fire destroyed the Edge Street building, temporarily depriving Chinese Arts Centre of its venue; however the building was quickly restored.

Image 1. Chinese View '86 logo

Chinese View ’86, (1986)

Image 2. Beyond The Chinese Takeaway

Beyond Chinese Takeaway, (1992)

Image 4. An Hong, The Desires of The Golden Lotus, 1998, Chinese Arts Centre exhibition

An Hong, The Desires of The Golden Lotus, (1998)

Image 5. Chen Wenbo, Test Series No. 14, 1998

Chen Wenbo, Test Series No. 14, (1998)

Image 3. Chinese Arts Centre, Edge Street, circa 1998

Chinese Arts Centre, Edge Street, (1998)

Installation picture of Haze and Fog - film and exhibition by Cao Fei at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester, 26 Oct to 7 Dec 2013. Photo: Paul Herrmann

CFCCA, Thomas Street (2013) – photo by Paul Hermann

Image 7. Gordon Cheung in Chinese Arts Centre's Breathe residency studio, photo by Dennis Gilbert, 2004

Gordon Cheung in residency studio, (2004) photo by Dennis Gilbert

Image 6. In Flight - Xu Bing, Mixed Media. Chinese Arts Centre 2003

Xu Bing, In Flight (2003)

Installation picture of Haze and Fog - film and exhibition by Cao Fei at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester, 26 Oct to 7 Dec 2013. Photo: Paul Herrmann

Cao Fei, Haze and Fog (2013)

Image 9. Solar, Luxury Logico, Harmonious Society, ATM 2014

LuxuryLogico, Solar Manchester (2014)

Our current building

Chinese Arts Centre changed venue again in 2003 to our current RIBA award-winning building location on Thomas Street; a move funded by an Arts Council England Lottery grant. The new purpose built facilities included a Gallery, unique artist-in-residence studio, library and resource space, education and events suite and teashop (now Gallery 2).

Chinese Arts Centre continued to extend its work to a national level, acting as an agency for Chinese arts in Britain and inviting collaborations with other organisations. Gradually we built up a network of Chinese artists from across the country, enhancing the visibility of the Chinese artistic community. The newly built Residency studio allowed us to develop a unique offer of support for artists, who could explore their artistic practice through living and working in the building. Other schemes such as’PAD’ (Professional Artist Development) and ‘EAST’ scheme (East Asian Strategic Training) reiterated this commitment to supporting the professional development of emerging East Asian artists.

When Chinese Arts Centre’s former Curator Sally Lai took on the role of Director in 2008 she was tasked with re-evaluating the work of the centre to adapt and respond to changes in the political climate. Under her directorship the centre began to refocus its aims to respond to a changing global dynamic, opening up opportunities internationally with organisations and artists across East Asia – evolving to become an international agency for Chinese contemporary art.

This preceded the change of name from Chinese Arts Centre to Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) in November 2013. The re-brand affirmed the organisation’s position as a future-facing organisation responding to China’s growing cultural and economic influence. Overseen by interim Director Sarah Fisher, 2013 also saw the formation of a partnership with the University of Salford to develop a unique collection of Chinese Contemporary Art. This partnership signposted our broader research objectives which we continue to develop through an online ‘Chinese Contemporary Research Network’, partnerships with higher education institutions, publications, symposia and an archive and library resource.

In 2014 CFCCA became a major partner in the third Asia Triennial Manchester, curating Harmonious Society, the largest exhibition of contemporary Chinese art in the UK to date.  Harmonious Society was a significant achievement for CFCCA, negotiating international collaborations to bring over 30 artists to 6 Manchester venues.

Zoe Dunbar took the helm as CFCCA’s new permanent Director at the end of 2014, and continues to develop the role of CFCCA as leading the UK in exploring the Chinese Century through contemporary art.

In 2016 we commemorated our 30th anniversary with a programme of events and exhibitions spanning 6 months featuring prestigious artists, curators and academics who have each previously contributed to the organisation at various stages of its 30 year history. This ambitious programme launched on 4 February 2016 to coincide with Chinese New Year.