Update as Aviva Studios opens to acclaim

  • Tuesday 18 July 2023

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Image shows building with river flowing in front of it

Aviva Studios, Manchester

As Aviva Studios – the home of Factory International – approaches completion, the Council will receive an update on its progress and the final steps to be completed before its official opening in the autumn.

Audiences have been flocking to get their first glimpse of Manchester’s new world-class arts venue this month as it has hosted shows including acclaimed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s immersive exhibition of giant inflatable sculptures You, Me and The Balloons and iconic West African singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo as a preview of the venue during Manchester International Festival 2023. It will open officially in October with Free Your Mind, a large-scale immersive performance based on The Matrix films presented across the building’s ultra-flexible space and designed to showcase its possibilities.  

There is considerable excitement about the venue. The unique building, designed by world-leading practice Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), is based around large, open, ultra-flexible spaces that can be reconfigured to enable artistic work that can’t be made anywhere else in the world. Its cavernous 21m high warehouse (with a capacity of up to 5,000 people standing) can be divided from its hall (which can house an audience of up to 1,600 seated or 2,000 standing) by a full-height acoustic wall – or opened up into one huge space. Oscar winning director Danny Boyle, speaking at its programme launch last year, said: “It’s impossible to describe it without using the word ‘amazing.’”   

Media critics have also enthused about the venue as they experienced it for the first time: 

“Like nothing the art world has ever seen before” Wallpaper 

“Increasingly feels like Manchester’s answer to the Southbank” Manchester Evening News 

“It’s ready to compete with any arts space in the UK” Time Out 

“A potentially game-changing cultural landmark” Creative Boom 

“[Its] scale is practically limitless...it’s the north-west's answer to the Turbine Hall” The Guardian  

“Britain’s most exciting new music venue” The Times 

So too have artists, with Anqelique Kidjo telling the audience at her show: “I hope that you in this city can understand the importance of this space. This is a place where the world is going to come to you and you can discover wonderful artists from around the world.” (As quoted in the Manchester Evening News) 

Economic benefits of Aviva Studios 

Up to £1.1bn will be added to Manchester’s economy over 10 years through the operation of the venue through the jobs it creates and supports – estimated at more than 1,500 – and visitor spending. It is expected to attract up to 850,000 visitors a year – increasing to a million in MIF years.  

Social value is already being delivered through the construction of the building, with 86% of spending so far with Greater Manchester businesses and 56% of labour being sourced from the city region with a number of new jobs and apprenticeships being created.  

Creative industries are the fastest-growing sector in Manchester, making an annual contribution to the city’s economy of around £1.4bn. Aviva Studios will cement the city’s global reputation as a centre for the arts and strengthen the city’s creative ecosystem, acting as a major training centre for future generations of talent.  

The emergence of the venue has already acted as an anchor to the development of the St John’s area where it stands at the heart of Enterprise City, a major new mixed use development of commercial, cultural, leisure, residential and cultural space. A significant new cluster of innovative city centre workspaces and content production studios are also being created. Enterprise City has the potential to accommodate 17,000 jobs from new start-ups to major corporates. Among the latter who have been attracted to the city are global tech company Booking.com who chose to open its headquarters in Manchester - amid competition from other European cities - and  video game development giant Cloud Imperium Games. The St John’s area generated an extra £1.3m in business rates in 2022/23, money which through a 100% business rates retention pilot with Government was kept by the Council to support services. This income will increase as further development is brought forward.  


The development of the venue has unlocked more than £106m of new national public funding for Manchester, made up of £78.05m HM Government investment that would not otherwise have been available for the cultural sector or the region, and £7m National Lottery funding from Arts Council England’s capital programme - plus £21m from the Cultural Capital Kickstart Fund (part of the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund, administered by Arts Council England). This represents an almost unprecedented national investment in the arts outside London and the South East, the largest anywhere in the UK since the Tate Modern in 2000, and underlines the national, and international, significance of Aviva Studios. 

The remainder of its existing £210m budget consists of £64.6m Manchester City Council capital funding – money which can only be used for one-off construction and infrastructure projects and not for council services – and £39.3m through external fundraising.  

The recently-announced multi-million pound naming rights partnership between the Council, Factory International and Aviva is a groundbreaking deal for the arts sector. This is a significant investment with income split 50:50 (after fulfilment costs have been deducted) between the Council and Factory International. With opportunities for a further naming rights agreement (or a continuation of the existing one) once the initial term has expired, as well as potential for other building-related sponsorship, it is anticipated that the Council’s share of income from such arrangements over the whole 30-year initial lease period will be around £80 million. The partnerships will also provide ongoing investment to Factory International to enable them to maximise the building’s potential.  

The update report confirms that costs associated with the volatile economic climate and the complexity and uniqueness of the building have continued to increase despite hard work by the project team to contain them. These include high construction inflation increasing the price of materials and labour, long lead-in times for specialist products such as acoustic doors, prolongation costs (relating to workers being on site for a longer period than originally anticipated), acceleration costs (relating to 24/7 working to ensure the building was sufficiently complete in time for MIF23) and ongoing design costs (relating to the complexity of the building.) 

The Council’s Executive will be asked to approve an £8.7m capital budget increase when it meets on 26 July. This will be largely funded through borrowing to be repaid from income generated from naming rights and other building-related sponsorship, with £620k funded from a further Arts Council England capital grant.  

An additional £1.1m will also be requested to complete public realm works to create nearby River Square, which has recently been the site of MIF’s Festival Square, and City Square. This is separate from the budget for the building and will be funded through capital receipts. Before that, the report will be considered at the Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee on 20 July.  

It is planned that a final request for funding to complete the Aviva Studios project will then be brought to the scrutiny and Executive meetings this September. While that figure remains to be finalised it will be more than the amount being requested this month and will include the costs of the commissioning period and any changes in the construction final accounts.  

Deputy Council Leader Cllr Luthfur Rahman said: “What is being created here in Manchester is a venue which is bold, visionary and spectacular. It’s a nationally and internationally important centre for art and creativity at the heart of our city which will also create new opportunities for our people, boost our creative and visitor economy and strengthen Manchester’s global reputation.  

“Nothing great was ever achieved without difficulty. For all the challenges it has faced – and who could have predicted that these would include being built during a global pandemic and against such a difficult economic backdrop – this game-changing venue is definitely worth the investment and worth the wait. 

“The unprecedented level of national investment in Aviva Studios, both from the Government and Arts Council England and commercial backers such as Aviva, is a huge statement of confidence in this remarkable venue and in Manchester. Over time, naming rights and other partnership arrangements will enable the Council to recoup the funds we have invested in this project in full as Aviva Studios makes an enormous wider contribution to the life of the city, the region and the UK as a whole.”  

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