Meet the movers, change makers and rule breakers of Manchester’s arts scene

On Wednesday 24 November, Confidentials attended an award ceremony at Manchester’s Kimpton Clocktower Hotel. The third annual Manchester Culture Awards were back after a two-year break due to the pandemic.  

The prestigious awards were launched in 2018 by the council to acknowledge Manchester's rapidly growing reputation for culture and the arts and recognise the very best of culture and arts in the city.

Culture is firmly fixed in Manchester's DNA

Almost 300 nominations came in for the awards that recognise the exceptional contributions made by individuals and cultural organisations of all sizes across the city from April 2019, to the end of March 2021. These had been whittled down to a shortlist for each category with the winners announced on the night.

This year's awards also celebrated cultural organisations and individuals in Manchester that stepped up during the last year and creatively helped keep Manchester connected and entertained at a time when many of us were feeling isolated and anxious.

Awards were presented by North West Tonight’s Annabel Tiffin and Manchester-based writer, performance artist and producer Keisha Thompson. 

Judges were actress and campaigner Julie Hesmondhalgh, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council Luthfur Rahman OBE, Strategic Director for Neighbourhoods for Manchester City Council Fiona Worral, Manchester College Principal Lisa O Loughlin, Manchester Health and Care Commissioning’s Doctor Cordelle Ofori and Jennifer Cleary of MIF and The Arts Council. 

Who were the winners of the 2021 Manchester Culture Awards?

Best Business Partnership Cultural Hardship Fund For Freelancers Award At The Manchester Culture Awards 2021
Best Business Partnership award went to Cultural Hardship Fund for Freelancers - Savannah Wisdom Foundation with B&M Retail Ltd, HOME & Manchester City Council Image: Manchester City Council

Best Business Partnership: Cultural Hardship Fund for Freelancers - Savannah Wisdom Foundation with B&M Retail Ltd, HOME & Manchester City Council 

This discretionary fund was launched with the aim of supporting freelancers, many of whom fell through the furlough cracks during the pandemic. It made up to £500,000 available in grants of £1,500 to individual freelancers. A huge number of people that work in the arts do so on a freelance or ad hoc basis and this fund provided essential support during one of the bleakest periods ever for people working in this sector. Recipients reported feeling valued and with reduced anxiety around their finances and general mental health.

Best Performance: RENT - Hope Mill Theatre

Team Confidentials are huge fans of Hope Mill Theatre and its edgy, creative theatre performances in an intimate, urban setting. Directed by Luke Sheppard, the downtown New York-based love story in the midst of the AIDS crisis only managed five performances before the second lockdown put us all back in our bubbles but it was made available online afterwards bringing the arts to our homes when we needed it most. 

Together In One Voice Accept Their Award At The Manchester Culture Awards 2021
Best Event went to Together in One Voice Image: Manchester City Council

Best Event: Together in One Voice - Rose Marley & Dan McDwyer with partners the Co-op, Manchester City Council, Manchester International Festival and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority

Launched by Rose Marley and Dan McDwyer, Together in One Voice brought people across Manchester together for a virtual mass doorstep singalong during the first lockdown in May 2020. It was supported by some big kahunas in the world of music: Liam Gallagher, Mark Owen of Take That, James' Tim Booth, Emeli Sande, Mike Pickering from M People, Tom Walker, Denise Johnson, Liam Fray from The Courteeners and the city’s newest star Aitch all appeared on screen for the event.

Best Exhibition: The Manchester Open - HOME and Grayson's Art Club - Manchester Art Gallery

Judges struggled so much to choose one winner in this category that a joint win was declared. The Manchester Open Exhibition at HOME gave over 450 Manchester residents the rare opportunity to have their art presented in a major city centre gallery. Grayson’s Art Club brought together works from Grayson and Phillippa Perry as well as various celebrities and members of the general public all made during the lockdown. 

Princess Arinola Adegbite Accepts Her Award At The Manchester Culture Awards
Princess Arinola Adegbite won Young Creative of the Year Image: Manchester City Council

Young Creative of the Year - Princess Arinola Adegbite

Poet Princess Arinola published her first poetry book, Soft Tortures, at just 16. She has won Slambassadors, BBC Words First 2020 and One Mic Stand. She’s also been commissioned by the likes of Manchester International Festival and the BBC. She’s a member of Young Identity (that works in partnership with HOME to deliver weekly poetry and performance workshops for young people) and is also an artist on Contact Theatre’s Level Up programme. 

Creative Care in COVID-19 (individual) - Mark Fisher

Mark Fisher is a composer who delivers music projects in healthcare settings. As part of the Songbirds project - amongst others - Mark visits places such as children’s brain injury wards proving live music entertainment and interactive music sessions to monitor response and aid relaxation and wellbeing. During the pandemic, he took his projects online. His work was included in an international health and communication programme which was used to help front-line staff in 120 countries.

Culture Feast Accept Their Award At The Manchester Culture Awards 2021
Culture Feast won an award for the promotion of culture and education Image: Manchester City Council

Promotion of Culture and Education - Culture Feast - Manchester Enterprise Academy, Include Group

This event at Wythenshawe Public Library was organised by students from Manchester Enterprise Academy working closely with community arts non-profit Creative City. Students dealt with everything from budget management to promotion to stage management on the day. The event brought people together to celebrate cultures of the world with a diverse range of food and entertainment so attendees could listen to a Brazilian samba band while snacking on Indian samosas. 

Creative Care in COVID-19 (organisation) - Afrocats

Afrocats is a female-led, Manchester-based charity that supports people who have been excluded due to their immigration status, class, age, cultural inexperience and education. It aims to break down barriers and dismantle inequality. During the pandemic, the charity ran culturally sensitive writing workshops and supported 70 vulnerable refugee children, adults and families, helping to combat isolation.

Reform Radio Accept Their Award At The Manchester Culture Awards 2021
Reform Radio accept their award at Manchester Culture Awards 2021 Image: Manchester City Council

Promotion of Environmental Sustainability AND The Manchester People's Culture Award: Reform Radio

Reform Radio was the only initiative to win two awards this year. This radio station broadcasts music, arts and culture live from Old Granada Studios 24 hours a day seven days a week. Reform Radio also supports young adults - often from disadvantaged backgrounds, delivering employment, creative workshops and traineeships alongside genuine opportunities to develop and practice new skills within an industry-standard radio station. Reform offers in-house traineeships aimed at 16-24-year-olds with little to no work experience and qualifications. During the pandemic, Reform delivered the We Out Here festival which paired artists from all over the world to create music tracks via Zoom amongst many other creative online sessions and wellbeing support. It also has a keen eye on its sustainability, using environmentally ethical practices where possible.

Promotion of Equality and Social Justice - Sadia Habib

Sadia Habib worked with Manchester Museum to develop a programme for young people to explore heritage culture and identity in a relevant and exciting way. She also founded the Our Shared Cultural Heritage Young Collective which describes itself as “young people disrupting and redefining cultures, histories, and identities”. This is a British Council project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund Kick The Dust programme. Dr Sadia continues to support this creative and practical project exploring and celebrating the shared histories and cultures of the UK and South Asia.

Jane Lawson Of Castlefield Gallery Accepts Her Award At The Manchester Culture Awards 2021
Jane Lawson accepts her award at The Manchester Culture Awards 2021 Image: Manchester City Council

Promotion of Health and Wellbeing - Halle Workplace Choir

Among the words most celebrated orchestras, Manchester’s 162-year-old Hallé orchestra little introduction. Now entering its 9th year, the Hallé Workplace Choir Programme brings its rich choral heritage into the workplace, improving well-being and offering a unique type of team building. During the pandemic the choir programme shifted online, continuing to combat loneliness and promote workplace connectivity. 

Promotion of Talent and Leadership - Jane Lawson - Castlefield Gallery

FOr almost ten years, Jane Lawson has driven forward Castlefield Gallery's artist development programmes such as Salford Scholars and Castlefield Gallery / Manchester School of Arts mentees, bOlder, the Manchester Open Awards, and SUSTAIN. Through this, she has supported hundreds of artists and creative freelancers in Greater Manchester. During the pandemic, Jane immediately moved the artist-development programmes online minimising disruption and increasing activity to continue nurturing and supporting artists and keeping them connected.

Christine Cort Accepts Her Award At The Manchester Culture Awards 2021
Christine Cort accepts her award at Manchester Culture Awards 2021

Special recognition awards

Two special recognition awards were also presented to two individuals who have made a long term contribution to culture and creativity in the city.

The first of the awards went to Sarah Frankcom - with an emotive presentation speech from Julie Hesmondhalgh. During her 20 years at the Royal Exchange Theatre as literary manager, joint Artistic Director, then sole Artistic Director, Sarah changed the face of that iconic cultural institution forever, and in doing so shifted the artistic ecology of the city. During her time there, the Royal Exchange received many accolades. In 2018 alone receiving a record six nominations in the UK Theatre Awards, and winning four of them, including Best Director for Our Town.

The second special recognition award went to Christine Cort, a founding member of Manchester International Festival. Christine was recognised for delivering impact locally, nationally and internationally – helping to put Manchester on the global arts and cultural map and providing support and mentoring to many colleagues and young creatives. Since its inception, Christine has raised over £20m in private income for the festival and has been a driving force behind The Factory, one of the largest cultural developments currently under construction in Europe. She stepped down from the festival to pursue other projects including the forthcoming “Christine & Friends” earlier this year.

Councillor Luthfur Rahman Speaks At The Manchester Culture Awards 2021
Councillor Luthfur Rahman speaks at Manchester Culture Awards 2021 Image: Manchester City Council

Awards judge, Councillor Luthfur Rahman OBE said:

"After a year off last year due to the pandemic, we always knew this year's awards were going to be special - and they did not disappoint.  

"The sheer breadth and quality of the nominations we received showed off once again just what an incredible cultural scene there is here in Manchester.  Of course, we always knew this, but what was so heartening and good to see was also the lengths organisations had gone to and their determination, in spite of Covid, to reach out to and connect with their audiences and artists. 

"Evidence, if it was needed, that culture is firmly fixed in Manchester's DNA. Far from being an optional extra, we see time and again that it delivers real social and economic benefits.

"Manchester is and always will be a city that champions culture and creativity and we embrace everything the arts have to offer as an essential part of what helps make Manchester great."

Read next: Top things to do in Manchester for December, Xmas and New Year 2021

Read again: Julie Hesmondhalgh on Take Back Theatre: 'where acting meets activism'

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