What Is the City but the People?

Created by the People of Manchester. In association with Islington Mill

Thu 29 June, 2017

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2017's Festival opened with an invitation – for everyone to come to Piccadilly Gardens and join friends, neighbours and total strangers for this self-portrait of the city.

Raised high above the pavements, a unique selection of individuals from across Manchester walked along a runway stretching more than 100 metres through Piccadilly Gardens.

All eyes were on the people of Manchester as they become the opening event of the Festival.

With live music from Graham Massey assisted by an unexpected mix of local musicians, What Is the City but the People? captured and celebrated Manchester as never before.

Commissioned by Manchester International Festival. Supported by Arts Council England's Ambition for Excellence and My Festival Circle.

What Is the City but the People? can be found internationally on 15th September in Utrecht, Netherlands as the opening event to Uitfeest 2018.

Image credits: Tarnished Vision


Utrecht, Netherlands (Uifeest 2018)
Sat 15 September, 2018 -
Sat 15 September, 2018

This is a beautifully simple idea from Deller... a piece tapping deep into the power of public spaces to generate fleeting human connections between strangers. For many participants, it was more than a parade: it was an act of self-affirmation.

The Telegraph

Set in Piccadilly Gardens, devised by the ever-quotidian Jeremy Deller, What Is the City but the People? was nothing more complicated than a parade of Manchester folk and their stories, but it was mounted with care and precision, and it did something to me that hasn’t happened at MIF before. It made me cry.

Waldemar Januszczak, The Sunday Times

Proud Mancs strut their stuff on the catwalk at the spectacular launch of the Manchester International Festival. This was the flesh, bones, heart and soul of Manchester in all its pulsating, exciting glory.

Manchester Evening News

Several thousand turned up in the square to watch for free: laughing, whooping and sometimes weeping at the diverse inhabitants of the reliably rainy city.

The Guardian

A platform that normally celebrates superficial appearance is instead used to celebrate the everyday brilliance and resilience of the people of the city. And it’s more beautiful than any fashion show. Beautiful, heartwarming and life-affirming.

BBC News

This was not about superficial beauty. Instead, the show captured the rich, diverse tapestry of people who underlie everyday life in the city.


From an idea by Jeremy Deller

Richard Gregory Director

Simon Banham Designer

Graham Massey Musical Director

Sonia Hughes Writer

Gavin Parry Photographer

Hawkins\Brown Architects