Record audience for the Manchester International Festival, despite the pandemic

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A report to the Manchester City Council executive reveals that this year’s Manchester International Festival (MIF21) achieved record audiences, significant economic impact and much needed welfare benefits, despite the current context of a global pandemic.

As one of the first major cultural events after the lockdown, MIF21 had a key role to play in helping launch Manchester’s cultural recovery program, and its vibrant program of arts, dance, theater and events. music has helped attract both local residents and people from further afield. far into the city.

In the unprecedented context of the pandemic, the festival saw 68 events unfold over 18 days, including 18 original commissions from leading international artists, and additional special events.

A socially distanced festival due to COVID-19 meant there was a limited number of tickets available for MIF21 events compared to previous festivals. However, with the large number of free and online events scheduled this year, it has been possible to reach a record number of audiences locally, nationally and internationally.

With the health and safety of the public and attendees at the forefront of planning, this year’s festival program also maximized the use of outdoor spaces.

There were 36 works of art and events in the public domain during the festival, which meant that the audience reach was much wider than in previous years, and the outdoor festival events would have been seen in person. by 1,462,244 people.

At the same time, the festival has also managed to reach an audience who could not make it to Manchester, with an expanded program of live and interactive online content. This included artist-created films, digital interpretations of exhibitions, broadcasts of musical and theatrical productions, and a video game.

An additional 1.2 million people from 187 countries engaged in this expanded digital program during the festival, bringing the total number of audiences this year both in person and online to over two million (2,662,244 ).

The festival also featured the first event at The Factory – the new world-class arts space run by MIF – drawing 1,000 people over a weekend and giving audiences a taste of what to expect when it opens. in 2023.

Support for local artists was a key priority identified for this year’s festival, building on a range of support programs developed for them during the lockdown. As the city and its cultural venues began to emerge from the blockages of the previous 18 months, the festival provided jobs for hundreds of freelancers and artists.

MIF21 also had environmental sustainability at its heart with a primary ambition for the organization to be on the path to committing to zero carbon activity by 2025.

With the advice, the MIF invested in the provision of electricity connected to the network of the National Football Museum in place of the Festival in the gardens of the cathedral. The works are permanent, which means that not only would the festival be able to operate stages and booths from grid-connected electricity – rather than diesel generators – but all the events that will take place in the future in the gardens of the cathedral will have access to this power source.

For the first time, no additional dumpsters were hired for waste management during the festival and the majority of project materials and objects were reused either through community groups, donations or reuse networks.

The incredible Big Ben Lying Down installed for the duration of the festival on Piccadilly Gardens saw plastic containing 30% recycled content used for its book bags and structural packaging. The material – Sustane – is part of a closed production loop, and the materials have been returned to the manufacturer for recycling after use.

Other environmental measures put in place this year included the continued promotion of green travel measures and ensuring that all cups, cutlery and serving dishes at Festival Square were compostable and sent for anaerobic digestion for processing – thus diverting them from landfill or incineration.

Local residents were at the heart of many of this year’s festival events and MIF21 played an important role in bringing people together, allowing them to reconnect after a prolonged period of separation.

Almost 6,000 people in total participated in the MIF21 activity, either as participants in festival events or as one of 440 Greater Manchester residents who volunteered to support the delivery of the festival .

While the effects of COVID-19 necessarily meant that the economic impact of the 2021 festival was lower than in previous years, this year’s festival is nonetheless estimated to have had an economic impact of £ 19.5million – an amount far from insignificant after a year of repeated confinements and closed places.

Sir Richard Leese, Head of Manchester City Council, said: “The fact that the Manchester International Festival not only hosted a festival this year, but increased its audience several times over what it has been in the past is a testimony for everyone. involved and to the whole city for supporting him.

“Our long-standing support for the arts, coupled with an unrivaled cultural offering – in no small part thanks to the thousands of artists and creators who have made Manchester their home over the years – is what helps shape and make Manchester a place where people want to be.

“The festival plays a central role in this and MIF 21 did not disappoint, helping during this most exceptional year to once again consolidate Manchester’s position in the spotlight on the world stage. “

John McGrath, Artistic Director and CEO of MIF, said: “MIF21 has certainly been one of the most difficult things we’ve ever done as an organization – collaborating with artists around the world, most of whom don’t. could not travel, keeping COVID safe for the public and teams, and planning everything in the midst of a global emergency – but the results were worth it.

“The enthusiasm and gratitude of the Manchester audience, who told us how much they needed this moment of joy and coming together, the creativity of the artists and production teams who worked so hard to make this ambitious program a reality , and word of mouth internationally, have all demonstrated the importance of creativity for our city.

“We all needed our festival more than ever and I’m so glad we made it happen.


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Darcy J. Skinner