Manchester International Festival reveals programme for 2021

For the first time, the curation of the festival’s talks and discussions programme has been handed over to local people

Manchester International Festival is returning to the city this summer with a programme of original new work from across the spectrum of visual and performing arts and music by artists from over 20 countries.

Events will take place safely in indoor and outdoor locations across Greater Manchester, including the first ever work on the construction site of The Factory, the landmark cultural space that will be MIF’s future home.

A series of online events will include a mix of performance, live music, exclusive interviews, and a range of commentary and talks.

Online audiences will also be able to visit the Virtual Factory – a major series of online artworks inspired by the building – which include a playable interpretation of The Factory in Fortnite Creative.

With almost all the work created in the past year, MIF21 provides a unique snapshot of these unprecedented times.

Photo: Lee Baxter

Artists have reflected on ideas such as love and human connections, the way we play, division and togetherness, equality and social change, and the relationship between the urban and the rural.

And for the first time, the curation of the festival’s talks and discussions programme has been handed over to local people, building on MIF’s work involving the community as artistic collaborators and participants in work shaped by them.

Local people are at the heart of many commissions, and other opportunities for Greater Manchester residents to get involved in this year’s festival includes a volunteer programme involving hundreds people from the region, a new Neighbourhood Organiser initiative connecting the festival to communities around Greater Manchester and a wide-range of opportunities to perform on Festival Square.

Events include I Love You Too by South African artist Kemang Wa Lehulere, which will see the publication of a book of love letters told by over 100 Greater Manchester residents from across Manchester to a team of poets and writers, alongside a new installation in the grand Reading Room of Manchester Central Library.

Photo: Marta Minujin Archive

Argentinian art pioneer Marta Minujín will present Big Ben Lying Down with Political Books, a monumental 42m sculpture of the iconic London landmark in Piccadilly Gardens assembled from 20,000 copies of books that have shaped British politics.

And opera and theatre director Deborah Warner will unveil a new sound and light installation, Arcadia, created specifically for the site of The Factory.

Festival Square will return in new location Cathedral Gardens with a packed programme of food and drink and free live music and DJs, including nights from Jamz Supernova, Homoelectric, Mr Scruff and DJ Paulette.

As one of the first major public events in the city, MIF21 will play a key role in the safe reopening of the city’s economy and provide employment for hundreds of freelancers and artists.

Artists include Angélique Kidjo, Akram Khan, Arlo Parks, Aaron and Bryce Dessner, Boris Charmatz, Cerys Matthews, Christine Sun Kim, Cillian Murphy, Deborah Warner, Forensic Architecture, Ibrahim Mahama, Kemang Wa Lehulere, Laure Prouvost, Marta Minujín, Lemn Sissay and Patti Smith.

Photo: Hamish Brown

Much of the programme will be free to attend, with more work than ever in public spaces around the city.

“MIF has always been a festival like no other – with almost all the work being created especially for us in the months and years leading up to each festival edition,” said artistic director, John McGrath.

“But who would have guessed two years ago what a changed world the artists making work for our 2021 festival would be working in?”

“I am thrilled to be revealing the projects that we will be presenting from 1st-18th July this year – a truly international programme of work made in the heat of the past year and a vibrant response to our times.

“Created with safety and wellbeing at the heart of everything, it is flexible to ever-changing circumstances, and boldly explores both real and digital space.

“We hope MIF21 will provide a time and place to reflect on our world now, to celebrate the differing ways we can be together, and to emphasise, despite all that has happened, the importance of our creative connections – locally and globally.”

Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said: “After the year we’ve all had that has been such a massive challenge for our cultural sector – which was the first to lockdown a year ago and will be the last to reopen – Manchester needs MIF this year more than ever.

“Manchester has always been a city that values and champions culture and is rightly recognised across the globe for its strengths and innovation in this.

“As we now begin to move out of the pandemic, we’re very clear that the cultural sector has an enduring and important part to play in our recovery.

“Thanks to the determination and creativity of the MIF team and all the artists and others who are part of this year’s festival, I have no doubt that MIF21 will put Manchester back in the spotlight once more, firmly centre-stage again, leading the way as ever and showing the rest of the world what Manchester does best.”

Manchester International Festival will run from 1st-18th July 2021 at locations across the city. Tickets will be on sale on from 20th May 2021 and can be purchased from


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