A look back on 2018 from Artistic Director, John McGrath

Standing in the sound booth at our pre-Factory event with Bugzy Malone and The Warehouse Project just a few weeks ago, I was struck by the scale of MIF’s journey ahead.  The Festival is used to doing things big and our special Pre-Factory season at Mayfield Depot, which also included Heiner Goebbels’ extraordinary production Everything that happened and would happen was in the proud MIF tradition of big bold work with world-class production values.  But what struck me at that moment was how far away the sound desk was from the stage, on which Bugzy was performing to thousands of music fans. The distance between the sound desk and stage – 60 metres – will be exceeded by the space we are about to build.

The Factory – which we will open in 2021 – will be one of the most significant additions to the UK cultural scene in many years, not just because it is a very big space, but because it will provide all sorts of artists with the opportunity to try entirely new things – to make the art of the future.  It is an idea born out of the festival, drawing on many proud Manchester qualities and achievements.  It is a space for invention.

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In 2018, MIF started the process of re-inventing itself to be ready for The Factory.  We built up our staff team – adding experts in everything from digital art experiences to community connection, to ticketing systems!  We continue to develop our community of local people – My Festival – to create a network of advisers and advocates, bringing news about the plans and opportunities that will be available to communities throughout Manchester. We also built up our national and international networks, strengthening partnerships with the venues, festivals, galleries and producers around the world who will work with us to finance and support the work that we will make at The Factory.

Growth in our international impact was a big feature of the past year. It seemed like almost every week a piece that had premiered at Manchester International Festival was being shown somewhere in the world – from Returning to Reims in Berlin and New York, to Tree of Codes in Hong Kong, from New Order/Liam Gillick So It Goes.. in Turin and Vienna, to The Welcoming Party in the Ruhrtriennale: extraordinary work, Made in Manchester, was re-enforcing our city’s cultural reputation around the globe.

Equally importantly, in Manchester itself, we created deeper connections with an ever-widening range of communities. Initiatives to reach new people ranged from a beautiful Belgian theatre production in the car-park of a school in Harpurhey, to Festival in My House starting to pop up in neighbourhoods across the city and the region again, to our first training academy for unemployed Mancunians wanting to find work in the creative industries.  MIF’s commitment to making a difference in Manchester was central to our year. It was great to have this acknowledged with two prizes at the inaugural Manchester Culture Awards – for Best Event (What Is the City but the People?) and Outstanding Achievement.

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But of course, at the heart of all this activity was our preparation for the 2019 Festival – and the opportunity to remind everyone what MIF is all about – extraordinary, ambitious new work, bursting out across the city in an explosion of creativity.

We were delighted with the response in October to the announcement of our first three commissions– from Yoko Ono, Idris Elba/Kwame Kwei Armah, and Skepta – and to our first special event, Janelle Monáe at the Castlefield Bowl, and we’re looking forward to revealing a lot more in the first week of March next year. Festival Square will be back in front of the Town Hall but with a new look and a bigger than ever programme of performances. Once again, kicking things off, we will have a unique, and free, opening event, with BELLS FOR PEACE ringing out in Cathedral Gardens.

There’ll be more ways than ever to get involved in the Festival, from volunteering to performing, to debating, to bell-making!

Of course, once The Factory opens, we will be continuing our Festival every two years across the city, as well as producing and presenting new work year-round in the building. There is perhaps something special about this final Festival before our big re-invention. There is certainly an extraordinary group of artists set to gather here in Manchester to make it all happen. So, put 4-21 July 2019 in your diary and get ready for a wonderful creative party!


Artistic Director and Chief Executive

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