John McGrath, MIF’s Artistic Director and CEO, introduces the first three shows for MIF19.

Every MIF project begins with an artist, with a conversation. These conversations all happen in different ways, but at heart, they share a simple question – what can we do together?

For some artists, it’s about making a long-cherished idea happen. Idris Elba has been hoping to make TREE, the music theatre piece we’ll be premiering at MIF19, since he worked on Long Walk to Freedom, the movie in which he played Nelson Mandela, more than five years ago. Deeply affected by South Africa, Idris produced Mi Mandela, a wonderful album of songs inspired by his experience, and started imagining how those songs might become a musical. But, somewhat busy with his movie career, he needed the kind of partnership MIF could provide in order to bring it to life. Working with director Kwame Kwei-Armah of the Young Vic and a brilliant creative team, Idris will now guide his idea to the stage for what promises to be a joyous yet thought-provoking evening.

By contrast, Yoko Ono had never imagined making a major work for Manchester until we asked her if she would be interested in creating a public opening commission for MIF19. After the success of Jeremy Deller’s, What Is the City But the People? at MIF17, we were keen to invite another extraordinary artist to create an open public event with a strong artistic vision for the city. Yoko was delighted by the idea of doing something on this scale for Manchester and said yes almost immediately, following up soon after with the idea of BELLS FOR PEACE – a public gathering and action that will build in a spectacular way on her long history of work with bells, and, of course, with her campaigns for peace.

Skepta spent a long time thinking about what he might want to create for MIF19. Attracted by the idea of doing something outside of the usual schedule of gigs, and of communicating with his audience in a different way, Skepta agreed to do a project with us long before he’d decided what it would be. But, partly inspired by Manchester’s history with rave culture and the city’s industrial-era spaces, once the idea for a futuristic exploration of rave culture appeared, ideas flowed thick and fast – and DYSTOPIA987 is the result.

Each artist has already taken us on an exciting journey as ideas start to grow into fully-formed plans. We’re delighted to be announcing these three projects today ahead of the full MIF19 programme launch in the spring.

As ever with MIF, where the focus is always on brand new work, these new commissions are still growing and changing through the process of creative development and rehearsals. It’s an exciting if sometimes nerve-racking experience for all of us at MIF, and we’ll be sharing the journey whenever we can on social media and via our website.

There are also going to be more opportunities than ever to get involved with MIF – from big public events like BELLS FOR PEACE, where we need thousands of diverse Mancunians to help bring Yoko’s idea to life, with many other projects involving local people as participants and performers. Sign up to My Festival and be the first to hear how you can get involved. Building on the success of our work with local and emerging artists at MIF17, we’ll also be announcing a range of creative opportunities in the coming months.

It’s an incredible privilege to work with artists such as Idris, Kwame, Yoko and Skepta, and a real joy to do this in a city as creative, vibrant and diverse as Manchester. For residents of the city, we look forward to working with you over the months ahead to make MIF19 the most vibrant and relevant festival yet. And for audiences, artists and supporters across the globe, we will be thrilled to see you in Manchester between July 4 and July 21 next year for a truly extraordinary 18 days!

John McGrath is the Artistic Director and CEO of Manchester International Festival.

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