​Covid-11  The Show Must Go On

17 July 2020

Culture is part of the essential life-force of the City. Over the years we have built an international reputation for our cultural offer, bringing visitors to the city, but also making it a much better place to live. The Coronavirus has put much of this at risk but the sector is working hard to make sure arts in Manchester have a future. Below comes an extract from John McGrath from some of the work the Manchester International Festival are doing to keep arts alive, but they are not alone, with our Cultural Director Dave Moutrey and Executive Member Luthfur Rahman working with colleagues across the sector to keep it going.


A major focus of our work since lockdown has been to provide support for local artists and freelancers across Greater Manchester, whose creative practice and livelihoods have been severely impacted by Covid-19 or more recently affected by the murder of George Floyd.  Leading this work has been our Creative Engagement department creating a new Creative Call Out commissioning scheme and training programmes to support artists and freelancers, which have supported hundreds of artists since the start of lockdown This includes:

     -    funding 16 remote residencies supporting the development of individual’s artistic practice

     -    funding 7 online editions of Festival in My House & Yours, supporting 23 artists and reaching a combined audience of 6,268 via the MIF Live YouTube channel;

     -    funding 10 artists to deliver creative activity for communities through our Get Creative programme. Activity has ranged from virtual Bollywood dance classes to creative writing workshops and international poetry exchanges and has been hosted on a variety of platforms;

     -    responding to training and skills development needs identified by local artists and freelancers during lockdown with a programme of free on-line training and coaching led by industry experts on digital skills, fundraising, finance and administration - 268 artists and freelancers have been supported through this training and coaching;

     -    providing regular online Artist and Freelancer Drop-In sessions that have reached over 600 artists and freelancers in the past 14 weeks. We plan to continue these sessions through Summer 2020; 

     -    piloting an artist-led speed-dating service on-line, bringing artists in lockdown together to collaborate on projects. Following a successful pilot we will offer this regularly over the remainder of the summer;

     -    Providing regularly updated resources around funding and sector guidance on our website and via a dedicated Artist and Freelancers Facebook group.  Our funding guidance has been downloaded 3.5k, with 67% of those were new users to the site;

     -    launching a pilot project – Speak Out - exploring the art of speech writing, and making, and offering essential support for any young person wanting to Speak Out on the issues that affect them most; 

     -    extending Creative Call Out in September with a new micro-commissions scheme to support GM-based music creators with 20 new commissions.  

Additionally we have contributed to sector-wide responses to support artists and freelancers: through our ongoing participation with the Manchester Cultural Leaders Group; through our involvement in the GM Arts Hub and its advisory sessions for GM artists (these have so far supported 106 people with Emergency Funding advice and 191 people with half-hour advisory sessions); and by sponsoring a Manchester-based freelancer, Chanje Kunda, to join the new national Freelance Task Force to strengthen the influence of the self-employed theatre and performance community.

Evaluation of this work to date has been very positive with 92% of artists who have completed their Creative Call Out projects rating it as a ‘very useful - extremely useful’ opportunity during COVID-19. 

In addition we have continued to support participants, community partners and networks through: 

     -    donating 8 tablets and data packages to our most vulnerable participants; these have provided a vital lifeline to access online content, conversation and support during this period of isolation and social distancing; 

     -    directing financial and other support to two of our key community partners Rainbow Surprise and Mustard Tree, for example, using budgets that would have been used for MIF social events to donate food packages to those most in need and offering staff volunteering;

     -    continuing to host Talking Points online, our monthly online conversation sessions and social meet-ups for North Manchester residents. 


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