Finally some good news for MIF’s beleaguered future home

Manchester’s landmark new arts centre, and the future home of Manchester International Festival (MIF), was plagued by delays and price hikes even before the coronavirus pandemic hit…but let’s just say 2020 hasn’t helped matters. October saw The Factory - which is currently under construction in St John’s, the new neighbourhood being developed at the former site of Old Granada Studios - undergo yet another budget increase, largely due to the impact of COVID-19 on construction. The damage? £45m, taking its total to a whopping £186m.

Culture enriches lives and also livelihoods - it helps make, shape, and grow communities.

While the majority of costs were covered by national funding, Manchester City Council had still pledged a sizeable sum of £50.6m before the latest revision and stated it would be unable to contribute further; alongside increased fundraising, it said, ‘the majority of the £45m will be found through bids to national funding sources.’ 

Now there’s finally some good news for the project, as it has been awarded £21m from the government's ‘Cultural Capital Kickstart Fund’ - one of several grants announced in the latest round of its £1.57bn coronavirus cultural recovery fund, also including recipients like Manchester Museum.

The Factory 2
£120m of the government’s cultural recovery fund has been allocated to support construction on cultural infrastructure like The Factory

Designed by OMA, the practise founded by acclaimed Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, The Factory is backed by the city council alongside HM Government and Arts Council England. Now due for completion in December 2022, it’s predicted ‘to bring a £1.1 billion boost to Manchester’s economy over its first decade alone (and) will be one of the largest, most ambitious, and most versatile purpose-built arts spaces in the world.’ 

Managed by MIF and building on the festival's success, the venue will commission and present a year-round programme of ‘extraordinary, ground-breaking, and interdisciplinary work’ by leading artists from across the globe and is expected to attract up to 850,000 visitors a year; helping power Manchester’s economic recovery from the shock of the COVID-19. 

Central to the development of the new £1bn St John's Quarter currently being developed by Allied London in partnership with Manchester City Council, it is also hoped The Factory will act as a catalyst for the regeneration of this new creative neighbourhood; home to initiatives like Enterprise City, which has the potential to accommodate 17,000 jobs in start-ups, media and tech companies.

2019 11 08 Mif The Factory Copyright Oma 5
The building will be capable of hosting ‘everything from epic concerts to intimate performances including music, dance, theatre, opera, visual arts, and innovative contemporary work incorporating the latest digital technologies’ OMA

The arts centre additionally promises to create and directly support 1500 new jobs in the city over a decade and help the next generation of creative talent to flourish, offering a programme of backstage training and skills for people living across Manchester. And the Factory Futures programme, part of MIF’s ongoing Factory Academy, will benefit up to 10,000 unemployed young people in the next few years.

Despite the ongoing delays on its new home, MIF has continued to operate throughout the pandemic; offering a range of support to Manchester's arts community and devising a typically varied events calendar. Upcoming happenings include a fun participatory celebration of domestic spaces for modern women from Girl Gang Manchester; part of a new series of online micro-festival events, Festival In My House… And Yours, which continues in 2021 alongside Virtual Factory - a series of online commissions by leading international artists inspired by the architecture and concept of The Factory. 

Next year will also see MIF’s biennial festival return with 18 days of original work and special events from across the arts spectrum from 1st - 18th July: already announced is The Walk, featuring giant puppet Little Amal, with more to be revealed soon.

2020 10 07 Little Amal 1
Giant puppet Little Amal will launch MIF 2021

On The Factory’s new £21m funding, Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese said: "This is fantastic news for Manchester and for the cultural economy not just of the North but of the whole country. After a year that none of us could have foreseen and that has brought with it challenge after challenge for every one of us, and that has hit the culture sector harder than most, this will now secure the completion of a world-class cultural space that is quite literally going to change lives.

"We're extremely grateful to DCMS (the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) and Arts Council England for their continued support for The Factory and for the substantial award announced today to help address the unforeseen additional costs and delays on the project due to COVID-19. 

"Culture enriches lives and also livelihoods - it helps make, shape, and grow communities. The importance of The Factory and the part it will play in this to Manchester, the wider region, and to the cultural economy of the UK as a whole cannot be overstated.

"The Factory is going to re-draw the UK cultural map and will do much to bolster Manchester and the North's credentials as an economic and creative powerhouse to rival not just London, but the rest of Europe and beyond."

And in other Manchester arts news…

Great Northerners exhibition

Great Northern Warehouse has expanded its Great Northerners exhibition - launched in 2017 and featuring portraits of iconic Mancunians by illustrator Stanley Chow - to honour and celebrate the city’s black and ethnic minority communities. Four individuals were chosen via a public vote; including poet Lemn Sissay MBE, professor Erinma Bell MBE DL, boxer Phil Martin and footballer-activist Marcus Rashford MBE (who recently added yet another accolade, ‘Lockdown Supernova’ in the This is Manchester Awards, to his impressive collection). The extended exhibition is now open, and merch is also available; with proceeds to charity Forever Manchester.

50 Windows of Creativity auction

50 Windows of Creativity, the public art trail that has inspired and entertained thousands of city-centre dwellers during lockdown and beyond, concludes with a festive finale on Thursday 17th December - an online auction livestreamed from the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel, hosted by auctioneer and TV personality Charles Hanson. Going under the hammer will be 72 trail artworks, all created by local artists; spanning mosaics, installations, fine art, photography, craft, murals and more. With proceeds split between the makers and The Lord Mayor of Manchester Charity Appeal Trust, which supports the city’s disadvantaged communities and individuals, organisers hope that bidders will be inspired to bag a special piece…and support a great cause as they do. View the lots and register to bid here.

Tier 2 for Manchester?

A myriad of Manchester events are clamouring to go ahead should the wider region move to Tier 2 this Wednesday, after its placement in Tier 3 following the national lockdown shut down much of the hospitality and entertainment industry. These include the eagerly-awaited Grayson’s Art Club exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery, the launch of Winter Island and a range of festive and NYE shows at Mayfield’s Escape to Freight Island and Christmas Barrel of Laughs at Frog and Bucket. Several theatre shows are also waiting in the wings, from the circus-themed Letsby Avenue at NIAMOS and Sh!t Actually at HOME (both of which are meantime offering live streaming options) to SIX at The Lowry and Sleeping Beauty at the Opera House, now postponed to 24th December but nevertheless relying on a Tier 2 decision. Fingers crossed…

Read more: ‘The Walk’ - Giant puppet Little Amal to launch MIF 2021 

Also: Galleries, gardens and gowns - there are LOADS of things to look forward to in 2021