Report spells out economic and wider benefits of last year's Manchester International Festival and successful opening season for Aviva Studios

  • Tuesday 6 February 2024

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Aviva Studios officially opened in October with Free Your Mind

A report to the council's Economy and Regeneration Scrutiny Committee (6 February) reveals that last summer's Manchester International Festival attracted over 325,000 visitors to the city and generated £39.2m of economic activity.

The report also highlights the success of Aviva Studios, the city's landmark new cultural venue, both in the run-up to its official opening in October and in its opening season, which began with the spectacular Free Your Mind directed by Danny Boyle and written, choreographed and composed by a world-class creative team including Es Devlin, Boy Blue co-founders Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy and Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante and Sabrina Mahfouz, and featuring over 50 dancers from the North West and across the UK. 

Last summer saw the ninth edition of the biennial festival take place from 29 June to 16 July with new work from artists including Ryan Gander, Maxine Peake, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tino Sehgal and Juan Mata, and music from John Grant, Angélique Kidjo, Alison Goldfrapp and more.

As well as presenting events at venues across the city, for the first time the festival also presented events at Aviva Studios - the city's landmark news cultural venue - with over 230,000 visitors taking up the opportunity to preview the building ahead of its official opening last October.

A major exhibition of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s inflatable sculptures formed a centrepiece of the Festival, the first work to be presented at Factory International’s new home, Aviva Studios. You, Me and the Balloons took over the vast warehouse space of the building, inviting audiences to take an exhilarating journey through Kusama's psychedelic creations, most of which had not been seen before in the UK.

A diverse programme of music acts took to the stage in the Hall of Aviva Studios, including Angélique Kidjo, Alison Goldfrapp and revered Sufi singer Sanam Marvi, a collaboration between AFRODEUTSCHE and Manchester Camerata, as well as the premiere of a new show from John Grant and the Richard Hawley band celebrating pop and country legend Patsy Cline.

Festival Square relocated to the outdoor spaces of Aviva Studios with free live music from over 190 performers, and a wide variety of food and drink, creating a new riverside destination for the city – drawing 83,000 visitors over the period.

Many other events at the festival were also free - with 174,700 attendees enjoying a range of free events across the city including a quest for collectible coin artworks by Ryan Gander and a celebration of our connection to water on the banks of the River Medlock by Risham Syed and Angie Bual.

Building on the significant digital presence the Festival has pioneered since 2017, MIF23 also featured a broad online offer including livestreams and behind-the-scenes broadcasts, and a programme of talks from Guardian Live that took place in person and online.

Greater Manchester residents were once again at the heart of MIF23, from performing on Festival Square, to volunteering in an array of roles across the Festival. 

A record number of 428 volunteers from across the region helped bring MIF23 to life getting involved in everything from supporting shows behind the scenes, to being the face of the festival. Over 96 per cent of the volunteers rated their volunteering experience as excellent or good.

Factory International also offered paid opportunities to more than 150 local musicians and performers from Manchester and the city region to showcase their talents live onstage at Festival Square, with performances ranging from indie and punk bands and classical contemporary collectives, to hip hop artists, community choirs and dance troupes. 

Over 1,160 children and 25 schools were involved in creative activities as part of MIF23 – including a creative fashion project responding to the iconic style of Yayoi Kusama and culminating in a fashion show on Festival Square.

Reflecting its commitment to developing the next generation of creative talent, MIF23 also saw artists from all stages of their careers given platforms to develop and learn during the festival. 

Six artists from the North shadowed the creation of MIF23 projects through the Factory Creative Fellowships, and ten creatives involved in Manchester’s music scene were offered financial support towards the creation of a new project and the opportunity to perform on Festival Square as part of Factory Sounds.

The Festival's international links with arts organisations around the world were once again very strong.  As in previous years, much of the work made in Manchester for MIF23 will now go on to travel internationally - building on an audience to date of over 1.8 million people in more than 30 countries who have experienced MIF's work overseas.

Headline results from the festival evaluation report include:

- The amount of money spent in Manchester by MIF23 attendees and by MIF is estimated to have been £39.2m

- MIF23 attracted a total of 325,300 visitors to festival events

- 47 per cent of visits made to MIF23 were by first-timers attending the festival, which compares to 36 per cent in 2019 and 40 per cent in 2021

- More than half of the first-time visits were made to Yayoi Kusama's You, Me and the Balloons

- 127,000 people visited the Kusama exhibition, the highest visitor attendance at a MIF23 event, attracting a mammoth 72 per cent of all visitors 

- Free events during MIF23 attracted over 174,700 attendees

- Over 83,000 people visited Festival Square during MIF23

- 1,164 children involved in creative activities during MIF23

- 500 pupils from 18 local schools attended Yayoi Kusama's exhibition You Me and the Balloons at Aviva Studios

- 178 artists benefitted from a development opportunity at MIF23

- 80 per cent of artists on development programmes identified as global majority

- 428 volunteers contributed 9,000 volunteer hours to help make the festival a success

- 29 residents gained direct pathways into employment through the Factory Academy

- MIF23's International Weekend for curators, presenters, artistic directors, programmers and producers from across the world welcomed 145 guests from 55 cities and over 100 organisations to Manchester

The report to Scrutiny also highlights the hugely successful opening season of Aviva Studios, the country's brand-new cultural venue, located here in Manchester, which has seen well over 300,000 visitors pass through its doors since last summer.

Of these, 32 per cent of visitors were from Manchester, 32 per cent from Greater Manchester, and the remaining 36 per cent of visitors were from the rest of the UK and beyond - a clear sign of the impact the building is already making in its first few months of opening and demonstrating that the venue's reach and reputation goes far beyond Manchester alone.

The official opening of the building in October with Free Your Mind garnered attention globally and headlines across the world with over 1,500 mentions of Factory International and Aviva Studios in the press across 39 countries.

The making of the venue also featured in a one-off TV documentary by BBC Imagine with Alan Yentob and was complemented by the full-length broadcast on New Year's Eve of 'Free Your Mind' on BBC TV, both still available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

The venue's opening season continued with The Welcome, a cultural celebration to invite local people through the doors of the building, and which saw well over 11,000 people visit the building and take part in activities between 11 and 19 November, all curated by Factory Assembly, a group of Manchester residents who have worked over the last two years on the programme. 

Gig-goers were welcomed to the venue in December for the first time with music from Johnny Marr and a 30-piece orchestra that saw over 10,000 attendees over three nights, whilst December saw the venue's first-ever Christmas show for families, Lost and Found.  

Councillor Luthfur Rahman OBE, Deputy Leader Manchester City Council, said: "2023 was without doubt a stand-out year for culture in Manchester and MIF23 had a big part to play in this.  

"The perfect prelude to the opening season of the much-anticipated Aviva Studios, the figures behind the festival speak for themselves in terms of demonstrating the economic and wider impact that investing in culture has on Manchester.

"From visitor spend and audience numbers, to volunteer hours and the number of amazing opportunities for local artists, residents and young people to get involved, together with a world-class programme of new work to see and enjoy, the festival delivers on every front. 

"And now with the opening of Aviva Studios, the country's landmark new building for the arts, it's very clear that Manchester is the cultural place to be.  The visitor numbers alone are a clear sign of the impact the building is already making in its first few months of opening and the global attention it is receiving around the world demonstrate that the venue's reach and reputation go far beyond Manchester and that it has a key part to play in helping attract more visitors and more business to the city.

"As a city we're proud of our long-standing support for culture and the arts and are committed to continuing to support the sector which is such a big part of what helps shape and make Manchester a place people want to live, work and invest in."

John McGrath, Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Factory International says: “Looking at the impact MIF23 and our opening season at Aviva Studios has had, as well as its exceptionally good critical response, it’s impossible not to be proud both of the work and of the city that makes it all possible  -  from the incredible artists who took to the stage to explore some of the most important issues of our time, to the great range of communities and participants who got involved with the festival and beyond.

"And it's been such an honour and thrill to welcome our first visitors to an amazing series of projects in the opening months of Aviva Studios. From Yayoi Kusama’s ‘You Me and the Balloons’ and gigs by the likes of Angelique Kidjo and John Grant, to our epic opening show Free Your Mind, and The Welcome - an invitation from local people to celebrate the new venue in the heart of their city, artists and audiences have truly embraced our new space.”


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