Record audience for this year’s Manchester International Festival despite pandemic

Cephas Williams – Portrait of Black Brittany

A report to the board’s 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. back in town.

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 the 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 took part in this expanded digital program during the festival, bringing the total number of audiences this year both in person and online to more than 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 feel for 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 main ambition for the organization to be on the path to a commitment to zero carbon activity by 2025.

With the Council, the MIF has 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 items were reused either through community groups, donations or reuse networks.

The amazing 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 has 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 MIF21, either as participants in Festival events or as one of 440 Greater Manchester residents who volunteered to support Festival delivery.

The main findings of this year’s evaluation report include:

– A total of 68 events, including 18 original commissions from leading international artists and other special events took place over 18 days as the city reopened, attracting more than 1,462,244 attendees

– 1.2 million more people took advantage of the Festival’s extensive online offering which included artist-created films, digital interpretations of exhibitions, broadcasts of musical and theatrical productions and a video game

– More than half (57%) of this year’s MIF program was free, with a range of public artwork by internationally renowned artists in prominent venues and neighborhoods in Manchester

– More than 100 artists from Greater Manchester performed on three stages in Festival Square, where thousands of people enjoyed free food, drinks and entertainment from noon to midnight.

– Over 1,000 people visited Arcadia, the first-ever event at The Factory – the iconic new art space currently under construction in central Manchester

– 5,761 people were supported by the Creative Engagement team to get involved in the Festival in a variety of ways – from contributing their life stories to a book of love letters for Kemang Wa Lehulere I love you too, organizing a series of talks and discussions, having their portraits taken for Cephas Williams Portrait of black Brittany, and performing in the play by Boris Charmatz Sea change during the opening night of the Festival

– In every district of Manchester, residents participated in engagement activities with Hulme, Harpurhey, Ardwick, Moss Side and Rusholme, all showing high levels of engagement.

– A team of 450 volunteers helped bring the Festival to life, supporting backstage artists and welcoming audiences to Festival events.

– MIF’s expanded participation programs have improved the confidence, health and well-being of residents. Participants identified impacts such as building self-confidence, connecting with creative skills, helping with career decisions and making new friendships.

– Despite travel restrictions related to COVID19, MIF21 has retained its international focus. More than 70 artists from more than 20 different countries on six continents including France, Argentina, South Africa, Ghana, United States, Pakistan, Ireland and Japan performed in the Festival Manchester International this year.

– MIF21 generated strong media coverage in print, online and broadcast media, including news announcements, previews of MIF broadcasts, reports, interviews and reviews.

– Maintaining its strong national media profile, 118 journalists from 85 outlets attended MIF21 in person, despite travel restrictions to review individual shows or a cross section of the program.

– 4 and 5 star reviews have been earned for many shows including All of This Unreal Time, Poet Slash Artist, Arlo Parks, Damon Albarn, The Global Playground and The Long Waited Weighted Gathering.

– Highlighting the festival’s contribution to the city’s creative scene, 91% of the public either “agree” or “strongly agree” that the festival contributes to making Manchester a cultural city of world class

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 closings and places closed.

Sir Richard Leese, Head of Manchester City Council, said: “For the Manchester International Festival, not only to have organized a festival this year, but to have increased its audience many times over from what it has been in the past is a testament to everyone involved and the whole city to to have supported it.

“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 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 was definitely one of the toughest things we’ve ever done as an organization – collaborating with artists around the world, most of whom couldn’t travel, keeping Covid safe for the public and teams. , and planning everything in the midst of a global emergency – but the results made it all very useful.

“The enthusiasm and gratitude of the Manchester public, who told us how much they needed this moment of joy and meeting, 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 to our city.We all need our Festival more than ever and I am delighted that we made it happen.

Darcy J. Skinner