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Last chance to see free public art across the city – and take home your own MIF artwork

The Big Ben is Lying Down sculpture is covered in 20,000 copies of books that have shaped British politics - and if you visit this weekend, you can take one for free

It’s taken over the city for the past three weeks – but soon, Manchester International Festival is coming to an end.

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.

And this week is the last chance to catch some of the free public art exhibitions across the city, whether it’s Captioning the City, Portrait of Black Britain, Poet Slash Artist or Big Ben Lying Down.

Which MIF events are free?

Photo: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire

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

Christine has installed 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? 

Find out more here.

The city as an art gallery

Photo: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire

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 have 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.

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.

Take home a free book

Big Ben has quit Westminster and come to Manchester – to give itself to us, the people.  

Created by artist Marta Minujín for MIF21, this huge sculpture is covered in 20,000  copies of books that have shaped British politics. 

And if you visit this weekend,  you can take a book for free. 

The 160 different books covering Big Ben tell an electrifying story about the British people – from Thomas Paine’s Rights of  Man, written in 1791, to Marcus Rashford’s You Are a Champion, published this year.  

Just head over to Piccadilly Gardens on Friday 16th July from noon-10pm, Saturday 17th July from 10am-10pm, or Sunday 18th July from 10am-10pm. Tickets are not required – just turn up on the day.

Find out more here.

Free entertainment every day

Photo: Lee Baxter

Festival Square, the hub of the festival in the heart of the city, is back until 18th July in a new COVID-19 safe seated format in Cathedral Gardens with a free daily programme of Greater Manchester talent.

Highlights this week include R&B artist Femi Tahiru on Thursday 15th July; One Mic Stand returning to Festival Square on Saturday 17th July with spoken word artists including Ella Otomewo, Billie Meredith, Isaiah Hull, and Jardel Rodrigues; and Manchester DJ and producer Mr Scruff presenting a night of performances on Friday 16th July from across the UK including Rebecca Vasmant and Secret Night Gang, ending the night with a special B2B DJ set with hip hop pioneer Mikey D.O.N.

Manchester record label Swing Ting take over Festival Square on Thursday 15th July with MCs, DJs and live performances from residents and special guests including Tai Chi Rose, Tarsza and Samrai.

Fabaret returns to Festival Square on Saturday 17th July curated by Greg Thorpe, supported by Superbia (Manchester Pride), with a celebratory showcase of Manchester-based LGBTQ+ artists including drag legend Cheddar Gorgeous, dancer and choreographer Jason Andrew Guest, performance duo Tom Yum Sim and spoken word artist Taylor Le Fin.

And in an epic Festival Square finale on Sunday 18th July, Manchester creative agency Big People Music presents Misha B and Abnormal Sleepz performing with the Big People Music Orchestra plus special guest DJ sets from some of Manchester’s best.

Plus don’t forget that select performances on Festival Square programme are being 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.

So you needn’t miss a thing.

Manchester International Festival (MIF) is taking place safely in indoor and outdoor locations across Greater Manchester from until 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. 


Manchester is a successful city, but there are many people that suffer. The I Love MCR Foundation helps raise vital funds to help improve the lives and prospects of people and communities across Greater Manchester – and we can’t do it without your help. So please donate or fundraise what you can because investing in your local community to help it thrive can be a massively rewarding experience. Thank you in advance!

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