By Steve Cooke
What a relief! A festival of creativity in the real as well as the virtual world!
Created, in lockdown and with more work than ever in the public realm, this year’s MIF truly was a ‘festival like no other’. I was able to share with many others the exhilaration of live performances from Arlo Parks, Damon Albarn and Manchester Camerata.
With almost all the work created in the past year, MIF21 provided a unique snapshot of these unprecedented times, artists explored themes including the nature of love and human connection, the way we play, global and local divisions and connections, and the relationship between the urban and the rural.
More than half of this year’s MIF programme was free, with a range of public artworks by internationally acclaimed artists at prominent locations and in neighbourhoods across Manchester meaning that almost 3 million people were able to experience MIF21. From a landmark sculpture in Piccadilly Gardens, an installation of Black British portraits in Manchester Arndale, a pop-up grocery shop, Christine Sun Kim’s captions across 36 sites and buildings, and poster displays by artists such as Tracey Emin and Lubaina Himid throughout the city.
Over 1,000 people went to Arcadia, the first ever event on the site of The Factory the landmark new arts space currently under construction and the future home of MIF, where director Deborah Warner invited audiences – for one weekend only - to wander through a field of tents accompanied by a murmuring soundscape of poetry inspired by the natural world.
More than 100 Greater Manchester artists played across three stages on Festival Square, where thousands of people enjoyed the food, drink and free entertainment noon till midnight.
Collaborations with local galleries presenting work from internationally acclaimed artists ran throughout the festival and will continue beyond! These included an exhibition from Laure Prouvost (until 3 October) marking the opening of the redeveloped and extended Manchester Jewish Museum; an exhibition of work from poets who are artists and artist who are poets at HOME (until 30 August); and a major exhibition from ground-breaking investigative collective Forensic Architecture at the Whitworth (until 17 October).
1.2 million people experienced the Festival's wide-ranging online offer that included All of This Unreal Time starring Cillian Murphy, specially created films by artists such as Akram Khan, Lucinda Childs and Ibrahim Mahama, digital interpretations of exhibitions, broadcasts of music and theatre productions and a video game – much of which will remain online throughout summer.
John McGrath, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of MIF said:
“MIF21 was certainly one of the most challenging things we have ever taken on as an organisation - collaborating with artists all across the world, most of whom couldn’t travel, ensuring Covid safety for audiences and teams, and planning everything amidst a global emergency - but the results have made it all very worthwhile. The enthusiasm and gratitude from audiences in Manchester, who told us how much they needed this moment of joy and coming together, the creativity of artists and production teams who worked so hard to make this ambitious programme happen, and the word of mouth internationally have all demonstrated the importance of creativity to our city. We all needed our Festival now more than ever, and I’m delighted that we succeeded.”