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Manchester’s art scene is booming right now – and the future looks bright

'The pandemic was not going to quash the North’s passion for supporting great artists and purchasing great art'

One of the largest and most ambitious art fairs in the UK, Manchester Art Fair looks set to make an impressive return to the city next month as it reports its biggest ever ticket pre-sales, rise in sponsors and new and returning exhibitors.

Thousands of people are anticipated to attend the three-day art fair, viewing the works of more than 130 exhibiting galleries and artists, paving the way for the largest event in Manchester Art Fair’s 12-year history. 

In fact, just five weeks after announcing the event was to return, visitor pre-registration for Manchester Art Fair was up 54.5% on 2019, the event’s previous largest year, with interest showing no signs of slowing. 

And it’s not just visitors who are keen to embrace the return of the leading event, with Manchester Art Fair also recording its largest ever increase in new and returning exhibiting artists and galleries, up by 12% on 2019.

It’s a significant result for the fair’s organisers who, like many other event businesses, haven’t been able to operate since the start of the pandemic, and a positive sign for the future of the North’s art scene, following the recent news that an exhibition curated by artist Grayson Perry has helped push visitor numbers at Manchester Art Gallery back up to pre-pandemic levels.

“The level of support for Manchester Art Fair is phenomenal,” says fair director, Sophie Helm.

“We’re finding there is a real excitement as cultural events start to come back to the city and we’ve been inundated by artists and galleries eager to be involved. 

“We have more than 130 brilliant exhibitors at this year’s event and visitor numbers already look set to exceed expectations.

“We’ve also been heartened by the generosity of our sponsors and partners who share our passion for the Northern art scene, which is booming right now. 

“We can’t wait to welcome art lovers back to Manchester Art Fair, as we give them an opportunity to discover stunning works by some exceptionally talented artists.

 “The minute the pandemic hit we knew we had to do something to continue connecting our artists and galleries with our community of passionate art buyers and collectors.

“Within six weeks, and with no funding or support, we had created EASEL, an online art sales platform, and I’m proud to say that from a standing start we sold over £50,000 of art and signed up over 150 subscribing artists and galleries.

“It was at that point we knew the pandemic was not going to quash the North’s passion for supporting great artists and purchasing great art.”

In a further display of support for art and culture, Manchester Art Fair has reported a 12.5% increase in sponsorship compared with 2019, setting another record for the event.

Among the businesses championing the 2021 edition of Manchester Art Fair are headline sponsor White Circle interior design, a business built on the foundation of art; creating and shaping spaces that are defined by its influence. 

Associate sponsors include Cass Art, Cheadle Hulme School, EPR Architects, INNSiDE by Melia, Jack Arts, GF Smith, The Landmark Group, Kennedys, Manchester School of Art, Manchester City Council, Sensed, Salboy and EASEL.

Speaking on the boom in art sales, director at Saul Hay Gallery, Ian Hay, said: “Contrary to what some might expect, the last five months have been the best in our five-year business history. 

“We reopened in April with a show entitled Brutal, featuring work inspired by brutalist architecture, and it has been our best-selling show by some considerable distance. 

“Whilst the last 18 months have been difficult, the time has, I think, seen many of us re-connect with our surroundings and re-evaluate what’s important to us. 

“We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of people engaging with art and in-turn, investing. 

“We’re looking forward to Manchester Art Fair, where we’ll be showing new work by some of the artists from the Brutal exhibition among others, with great optimism and to building on what has been a strong bounce-back.”

Proving the city’s philanthropic spirit is as strong as ever, this year also sees the largest ever Manchester Contemporary Art Fund, which was set up by local businesspeople and private individuals to acquire new works for Manchester Art Gallery. 

Since 2017, the fund has gifted nine pieces of work from galleries at the Manchester Contemporary to the people of the city, worth a combined £16,000.

Manchester Art Fair opens with a launch night at Manchester Central on Friday 19th November from 5-9pm, followed by public days on Saturday (10am-6pm) and Sunday (10am–4pm). I Love MCR readers can get FREE tickets – available here.

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