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Manchester International Festival is back with free events celebrating local talent

Much of this year’s festival is free to attend, with more work than ever in public spaces around the city

Manchester International Festival launches this week, with a series of live events, free public artworks and online events.

From a giant sculpture of Big Ben in Piccadilly Gardens made from 20,000 books, to a series of outdoor artworks that caption the world around us, much of this year’s festival is free to attend, with more work than ever in public spaces around the city.

Festival Square will also have a new COVID-19 safe seated format in Cathedral Gardens offering a free daily programme of Greater Manchester talent.

Which MIF events are free?

Photo: Lee Baxter

On the opening night of MIF21, 160 Greater Manchester residents will be taking part in an extraordinary new dance piece along Deansgate – a celebration of togetherness in a post-lockdown world. 

Sea Change will fill Deansgate with a chain of professional and non-professional dancers, each performing and repeating a section of choreography. 

Rather than the work moving on in front of you, it’ll be up to you to ‘move on’ the work: walking or even running past waves of dancers to animate the action into your very own living flipbook.

The event is free, with tickets available to book online here.

Big Ben in Manchester

Photo: Marta Minujin Archive

Big Ben Lying Down is an incredible 42m replica of Big Ben created for Manchester by legendary Argentine artist Marta Minujín, which you can visit for free every day in Piccadilly Gardens.

Lying almost horizontal and covered in 20,000 copies of books that have shaped British politics, this temporary landmark will inspire new conversations about what we value – conversations drawing from Manchester’s unique and independent spirit.

You can also reserve a free ticket to explore inside, (10am-9.30pm daily), where you can experience a film and soundtrack created by the artist.

Find out more here.

Photo: Sam Shaw

Portrait of Black Britain, meanwhile, is a powerful and timely exhibition by Cephas Williams, which you can visit for free every day in Manchester Arndale.

In the work, Cephas – artist, photographer, speaker, activist and campaigner – poses a timely and poignant question: ‘What does it mean to be Black, living in the UK?’

Find out more here.

Captioning the City

Photo: Lexi Sun

Captioning the City is an extraordinary new public artwork by Christine Sun Kim, which you can explore for free around the city centre.

Christine is installing captions in Manchester – not on TVs and monitors but on streets and buildings, vast physical captions you can seek out on purpose or discover by chance. 

Some are descriptive, depicting the world that surrounds us. But others are more poetic, asking: what do we perceive and understand about where we are? 

Playful, powerful and political, Captioning the City invites us to consider what makes up the essence of a city – and to experience our world in a whole new dimension.

Find out more here.

Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Lemn Sissay, Poet Slash Artist sees new works displayed around the city by writers and visual artists which you can explore for free around the city centre.

The streets of Manchester will become the art gallery featuring specially commissioned new work, and the heart of the exhibition will be at HOME because home is where the art is.

Free tickets are available here.

There’ll also be a day of spoken word and music at Homeground, HOME’s summer-long open-air stage, and a film season at HOME featuring artists whose work overlaps the worlds of poetry and visual art. 

Free music and more in Festival Square

Photo: Louis Reynolds

Festival Square is moving to Cathedral Gardens this year, with food and drink from top traders alongside family events, guided tours and live music and DJs across three stages – all of it free.

Expect live sets from the likes of Billy Nomates, The Untold Orchestra, Honeyfeet, TYSON, The Lounge Society and more, with nights curated and hosted by Homoelectric, Jamz Supernova, Swing Ting, Mr Scruff and others.

DJs will include Mark Rae, Jane Weaver, DJ Paulette, Konny Kon and Dave Haslam, with music and chat from Lamb’s Lou Rhodes, Norman Jay MBE, Afrodeutsche and others in the Records of Reflection series.

From 12pm-2pm every Saturday and Sunday during the festival there will also be free family activities on Festival Square including family friendly gigs and craft workshops.

More information is available here.

And for the first time, select performances on Festival Square programme will be streamed to people’s homes all over the world via United We Stream, Greater Manchester’s world leading cultural streaming platform set up by Stream GM to support the city region’s night time economy, cultural organisations and charities.

Manchester International Festival (MIF) will take place safely in indoor and outdoor locations across Greater Manchester from 1st-18th July. It features a vibrant programme of original new work from across the spectrum of visual and performing arts and music by artists from over 20 countries. 

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