After more than a year in lockdown, what better way to celebrate our freedom than the return of one of Manchester’s most renowned festivals.
Manchester International Festival is making its long-awaited return to the city this week with a packed programme of free events, exhibitions, music and more.
Kicking off on July 1 and running until July 18, MIF21 is set to be the biggest event that Manchester has hosted since the pandemic first began.
The 18-day festival celebrates the very best of arts, culture, theatre, music and film and is set to put a spotlight on brand new talent at different locations all across the city centre.
From a 42m sideways sculpture of Big Ben made from 20,000 books, to an exciting mass dance act on Deansgate – much of this year’s festival is free to attend with more work than ever on show in public spaces around the city.
This year’s festival will also include a huge online programme showcasing a range of virtual events for those who are unable to join in on the fun in person.
Running throughout the duration of the festival, MIF LIVE is a broadcast channel streaming shows such as All of This Unreal Time created by a team including Max Porter and Cillian Murphy, and Notes on Grief written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
You can also catch live music from Festival Square via MIF LIVE which will feature a rolling schedule of free talks, Q&As and more.
Here’s everything you can expect from Manchester International Festival’s exciting programme this year:
On the opening night of the festival on July 1, 160 Greater Manchester residents are set to take part in an extraordinary new dance piece along Deansgate.
The mass dance project, Sea Change, is a unique and captivating response to the pandemic, celebrating togetherness in a post-lockdown world.
Created especially for the festival and designed by French choreographer Boris Charmatz, Sea Change is a huge human jigsaw and requires the audience to pull together and complete the picture.
Best of all, attending this event is complete free.
Big Ben Lying Down
Big Ben has quit Westminster and has upped sticks to Manchester in a new and unique form.
Big Ben Lying Down is an incredible 42m sideways sculpture created just for Manchester by Argentine artist Marta Minujín.
Homed in Piccadilly Gardens for the duration of the festival, the Big Ben replica lies almost horizontal and is covered in 20,000 political books that have shaped British politics.
The temporary landmark aims to inspire new conversations about what we value, drawing from Manchester’s unique and independent spirit.
You can visit Big Ben Lying Down for free every day, with no need to book.
You can, however, reserve a free ticket to explore inside from 10am to 9:30pm daily, where you can experience a film and soundtrack created by artist Marta Minujín.
Portrait of Black Britain
A moving public exhibition is set to take centre stage at Manchester Arndale that will profile a range of black people living in the UK, the contributions they make and the roles they play in society.
Portrait of Black Britain is a powerful and timely exhibition by artist, photographer, speaker, activist and campaigner Cephas Williams, that poses the timely and poignant question: ‘What does it mean to be black, living in the UK?’.
The exhibition is a reminder that black lives matter – not just in news stories about trauma or tragedy, nor just during Black History Month – but every day.
Captioning the City
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.
Christine Sun Kim has created an extraordinary new public artwork in her mission to install captions in Manchester – not on TVs and monitors but on streets and buildings.
These are 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?
Poet Slash Artist
Poet Slash Artist showcases new works displayed around the city by poets and visual artists.
The streets of Manchester will become the art gallery with an expansive exhibition of cultures, continents, languages and generations, featuring specially commissioned work.
The heart of the exhibition will be at HOME where an array of activities will take place across the festival.
The Global Playground
Made for children and families, The Global Playground is an uplifting new show mixing dance, music, theatre and puppetry taking to the stage at Great Northern Warehouse.
Created by the acclaimed Theatre-Rites, the show explores the magic of our first encounters, how we play, how we connect – and how we make the most of our time together.
Following the sell-out success of Theatre-Rites’ The Welcoming Party at MIF17, their show The Global Playground will take to the stage at Great Northern Warehouse from July 2 to 18.
Tickets are priced at £12 for adults, £6 for children and £10* for lower-waged GM residents.
The home of the festival, Festival Square, will this year take over Cathedral Gardens.
Here, there’ll be a packed programme of food, drink and free entertainment from international artists and Greater Manchester-based performers – including curated nights from Jamz Supernova, Homoelectric, Mr Scruff and DJ Paulette.
There will also be live performances from more than a dozen local acts, plus family fun at weekends from the likes of Babyrocksampler, The Playhouse Project and others.
And there’s even more music at the festival this year, including a celebration of Manchester’s Hip Hop underground in Rooted in Rhyme, and a showcase of the most exciting music from Africa, the diaspora and beyond, in Homecoming Live.
As well as following all government and industry guidelines, organisers of MIF are working closely with specialist safety consultants to ensure all venues are COVID-safe and secure for everyone.
To discover more about MIF21 and to book tickets, click here.