About Us

The Harris today

Harris Fine Art Gallery photo

The Harris today and our vision for the future

The Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library are jointly managed by Preston City Council and Lancashire County Council.

We are proud guardians of our founders’ intention, inscribed on the outside of the building which states that:

‘The mental riches you may here acquire abide with you always’

The Harris is at a transformative point in its history, developing our #HarrisYourPlace project to create the UK's first blended museum, art gallery and library.  Find out more about it here.

Our Victorian founders’ vision was that the Harris Free Library, Museum & Art Gallery would be the focus of culture, arts and learning, an embodiment of aspirations in late 19th century Preston. 


Re-imagining the Harris is inspired by those founders’ early ambitions, whilst also responding to the needs of the people of the city and the region for the next generation. It is led by the Re-imagining the Harris Project Leader, who is jointly employed by the two Councils.

Through the project we are bringing the museum and library together as a single service, developing community-led approaches to our programme and will deliver a major capital development by 2025, #HarrisYourPlace. We have a new vision, rooted in our Victorian origins and in Preston and Lancashire as centres of innovation and making:

Joyful Making. At the Harris everyone can celebrate our creative cultural past, present and future.

Our aim is to create a seamless, high-quality offer, with audience led museum, art gallery and library services and cultural activities presenting the Grade 1 listed building and its collections more effectively. Early successes include increasing visitor figures, popular family-friendly exhibitions, an increasingly diverse events programme and Makerspace in partnership with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), a range of sold out live music events and becoming a founder member of the British Library’s Living Knowledge Network.

Today, the Harris is recognised as one of the leading museums and contemporary art venues in the region. We combine working closely with and for our local community with developing a national and international reputation for quality and innovative programmes. We are a major tourist attraction, welcoming over 350,000 visitors annually.

Our Vision

Lancashire is, and has been, a centre of innovation, and a place of making. The Harris will be at the centre of innovation and making to contribute to a sustainable future for the county and the city of Preston.


Joyful Making
This exemplifies the spirit with which we intend to infuse a reimagined Harris. We will invite everyone to celebrate our creative and cultural past, present and future.

Amid unprecedented change and pressures in the context and landscape within which the Harris operates, we are setting out to create an asset that will best serve our 21st century audiences, assist significantly with the future growth of Preston as a city, and respond to the moving landscape of public funding.

Joyful Making will inspire and permeate everything that we do and provide, and it will give coherence, as well as spirit, to diverse and positive experiences. The unique heritage of the Harris will allow us to deliver this ambition. The building and collections will become central to unlocking the creative and cultural capital of the area, as a place to:

- Experiment and try new experiences;
- Trigger new interests and act as a springboard to innovation;
- Enjoy spontaneous encounters/connections with the Harris collection of art, objects and literature
- Meet and develop a sense of confidence and direction for future generations
- Inspire confidence to develop new skills
We will support the widest ecology of making:
- entrepreneurialism linked to both heritage and technology;
- training and educational opportunities for young people;
- self-expression through artistic experimentation;
- spaces for potentially disenfranchised communities and groups to make themselves heard and participate in Preston’s continued development.

The Harris will be a democratic place, where everyone can use the building and the collections to engage, create and have their voice heard.

Joyful Making – Our Role

We will celebrate, inspire and enable creativity.
We intend to repurpose the Harris to create a place that combines our heritage, collections and library resources to provide stimulus and inspiration for ideas, creativity and innovation. We will be accessible and positive and with and through us people will ‘make’ and engage with ideas, the building, the collections, art, learning, crafts, virtual and physical content and literature, new narratives about the past and the future, exhibitions, science, engineering and technology. The Harris will be a place of heritage and community, in which to participate and feel at home, contributing as well as being inspired, creating a sense of agency for all audiences, particularly young people.

What will we do? And in what ways?

The Harris will occupy the role of producer, utilising the heritage of the Harris to bring together creative partnerships, create compelling programmes, curate extraordinary experiences. We will take risks, but not unnecessary ones, will be welcoming and open and we will look to innovate and inspire, always aiming to collaborate and connect, encouraging and enabling active participation

We will take every opportunity to build on our role as the main public library for the county to be particularly dynamic, providing all the primary functions of a 21st century library in the most user-friendly manner, whilst integrating them into the overall offer to provide an enriching, participatory and inclusive overall experience.


Our vision and mission build on the following key values which have been constantly reinforced during the public engagement:

- Creative:
We celebrate, inspire and enable making at the Harris. We will provide the opportunity for all to create and make using the wonderful collections of the Harris, as well as the building itself and the spaces it contains. It will be a space that provides information, tools, resources, content, programming and collections to support a community led celebration of making, craft and creativity; and it will act as a catalyst to support and drive forward the wider creative ecology in the city and county.

- Democratic:
The Harris has long been seen as a civic space for the city and for the county. However, there is now a need for communities to have their voice heard and to have a safe and welcoming space to gather, discuss and participate. Local people love the Harris but they want to see themselves in the way it is run, and the services it delivers; they want to have the opportunity to participate at all levels. The project development process will empower local communities, charities and creative organisations by commissioning them to deliver key aspects of the activity plan and to act as creative designers.

- Animated:
Local people want a vibrant and exciting Harris. They want the displays and programmes to be constantly updated, changing and improving. The public expect the building itself and the spaces within it to have a range of relevant activities and events; they want the Harris to be full of people enjoying themselves, making, learning, relaxing, meeting and talking.

- Permeable:
The Harris has been the cultural and community centre of Preston for 120 years, and the unique mix of museum, library and gallery needs to be celebrated. However, society and expectations have shifted; they are no longer concerned about traditional boundaries. People expect a seamless set of services and spaces based on their needs and expectations, utilising the heritage and other assets of the Harris innovatively. This permeability needs to be reflected by better physical and emotional links to the Flag Market and the rest of the city.

These principles need to be underpinned by a strong focus on financial sustainability across the Harris, which means we must adopt a more enterprising approach.


Our collections

The Harris collections are among the finest in the region and include objects of national significance.
The collections include over 70,000 objects. Increasing and recording knowledge about the collections is fundamental to our work. We work in partnership with other museums, universities and specialists, employing the latest scientific techniques to uncover the stories behind our objects, for instance to discover details of the origins of ancient human skulls uncovered during the 19th Century Preston Dock excavations.

The Harris collection includes:

  • Fine Art - paintings, sculpture, drawings and prints
  • Costume and textiles
  • Ceramics and glass
  • Contemporary Art - paintings, textiles, sculpture and digital media
  • Digital media
  • History - Preston and beyond
  • Archaeology
  • Historic books

Our programmes

We have an exciting, ambitious, high-profile exhibitions programme showcasing the best in contemporary art as well as items from the Harris’ collections all featuring local, national or internationally-renowned artists.

Contemporary art at the Harris

The Harris has a strong reputation for contemporary art programming including commissioning new work, showing digital media and work from nationally- and internationally-recognised artists.
It’s not just about established artists though. We also want to nurture the next generation of talent, by providing a platform for local, emerging artists to exhibit their work in a dedicated space, perhaps for their first time.

In Certain Places

In Certain Places is an innovative public art project run in partnership with UCLan creating inspirational temporary public artworks and events, examining how artists can contribute to the development of a city.

Over the last seven years, In Certain Places has worked with regional, national and international artists to develop temporary public artworks for the city, hosted artist residencies in empty shops, and organised a series of free public talks about art, place and the city.


Bringing art and history alive for young people

With a dedicated learning team who really understand how to make art and history come alive for kids, the Harris offers both formal learning programmes run with primary, secondary schools and college students, plus a varied programme of ‘hands on’ creative and discovery events at the weekend and in school holidays where kids will learn something new without even realising it!
There’s something for all ages, from toddlers/pre-school children, to events where families with children of all ages can all learn and create together.

For teenagers, there is the chance to unleash their creative side and work towards the highly regarded Arts Award or work with Harris curators on museum projects.

Taking the Harris out into the community

Working with our partners in the local community, we encourage individuals and groups that need extra support to work with us. This work is targeted specifically at young people; vulnerable adults; minority groups and older people (through our Reminiscence programme) and services are provided either at the Harris or off-site in the heart of the community.
We offer a wide range of activities from one-off talks, tours and consultation, to long-term weekly or monthly projects.
All our activities are inspired by our collections and exhibitions and aim to improve social and life skills as well as improving health and well-being.

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