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18th October 2022

Welcome to Factory International: An exclusive first-look at Manchester’s £186m landmark arts venue

Manchester’s newest cultural landmark – Factory International – is set to debut in 2023 and host performances by the leading artists
Welcome to Factory International: An exclusive first-look at Manchester’s £186m landmark arts venue

On September 29, the opening plans for Manchester’s landmark cultural venue Factory International were announced to the press. The venue boasts the largest investment in a national cultural project since the Tate Modern in 2000, with backing from the UK Government, Manchester City Council, and Arts Council England.

The project costs a staggering £186 million, almost £100 million of which is funded by the UK government. At the press opening, Arts Minister Stuart Andrew highlighted that such financial support demonstrated the “government’s commitment to levelling up [the North].”

Photo: @ Factory International Press

Factory International will open its doors in 2023 for Manchester International Festival, which will run across the city from June 29 to July 16. Manchester International Festival attracts more than a quarter of a million attendees from around the world every other year. Spectators are expected to flock to the new venue, situated in St. John’s neighbourhood.

The building was designed by Ellen van Loon, a partner at the world-leading Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). Van Loon’s impressive career has produced a plethora of notable buildings; from Off-White’s flagship store in Paris, to De Rotterdam – the largest modern building in the Netherlands. This will make Factory International OMA’s first major public building in the UK!

The venue will debut with a succession of major exhibitions and performances from world-renowned creatives throughout 2023. So, with that being said, let’s see what this new art venue has to offer!

Danny Boyle’s Opening Production: Free Your Mind

From October 18 – November 5 2023, Factory International will host a dramatic retelling of The Matrix films to mark the official opening of the venue. The immersive production will see hundreds of Mancunian participants recreate some of the film’s most iconic scenes.

Intending to produce ‘visions of an alternative future’, choreographers Kendrick Sandy MBE and Michael Asante MBE (co-founders of estimable London-born collective Boy Blue) will work together with designer Es Devlin and writer Sabrina Mahfouz to create something spectacular.

Danny Boyle, Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante MBE, Es Devlin, Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy MBE. Photo: @ Factory International Press

Director Danny Boyle describes the show as “a radical and accessible piece for a radical and accessible space.”

Considering Boyle’s multi-award-winning career (think Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, and the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics), there is no doubt Free Your Mind is going be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

There are 5,000 tickets priced at £10 up for grabs from 10 am on October 6, after which full-priced tickets will sell for £15.

Yayoi Kusama: You, Me and the Balloons

From June 29 to August 28 2023, Factory International will celebrate three decades of Kusama’s sculptures in her specially-curated exhibition, You, Me and the Balloons. The event will mark Kusama’s largest-ever immersive project, featuring sculptures over 10 metres tall.

Kusama, renowned for her Infinity Mirror Rooms, encapsulates surrealism through the use of psychedelic installations and hallucinatory paintings.

Photo: Yayoi Kusama @ Factory International Press

Regarded as one of the most important living Japanese artists, Kusama is the first woman to be awarded the Order of Culture – one of the highest honours bestowed by the Imperial House of Japan.

The exhibition will promise “an exhilarating journey through Kusama’s giant dolls, spectacular tendrilled landscapes, and a vast constellation of polka-dot spheres.”

Tickets go on sale at 10 am on October 6, priced at £15 with concessions from £7.50.

The Welcome

Described as an “invitation from Greater Manchester residents to their neighbours,” this nine-day programme fills Factory International with a wide range of music, circus, art, and fashion performances.

The programme is being developed by residents of Greater Manchester, aged 17 to 70, from an array of backgrounds. Organisers hope that the event encourages locals to meet, learn and play in the state-of-the-art space.  This will take place on the 11th – 19th of November 2023.

Photo: @ Factory International Press

Architectural Design

Van Loon has specifically designed the Factory to be a world-first phenomenon. Essentially, it incorporates a warehouse the size of a Boeing 747 aeroplane, surrounded by a 1,600-seat auditorium, an orchestra pit, 2 foyers with bars, and a 22m theatrical stage. Performers can choose to incorporate each of the spaces, or personally reconfigure the dimensions of their own exhibition.

The warehouse’s ceiling operates a sliding grid-system, with a 21-metre tall acoustic wall that can be adjusted to divide the space. During a private tour of the venue, van Loon describes how there could be a “spoken word performance in one room, and a rock concert next door, and no one would know.”

At the end of each event, the venue is stripped bare, allowing the next artist to mould the space as they see fit. Such flexibility will offer artists the opportunity to explore the broadest range of art forms, while immersing the audience as agents in the display, rather than just observers. The aim is to inspire a new generation of young artists to ask themselves “what next?”

The venue will also explore digital technology, providing a platform for live broadcasting of hybrid performances. The possibility for innovation in the virtual art space is endless – it’s easy to see why Boyle has chosen The Matrix films as a theme to mark this truly ground-breaking endeavour.

Architectural Renders. Photo: @ Factory International Press

Opportunities and Accessibility

Factory International has pledged to continue Manchester’s flourishing cultural and economic renaissance. In addition to The Welcome, residents can expect to see year-round activities, including workshops, food markets, and over 80 music gigs each year.

However, the project is not solely intended for entertainment purposes. Factory International will also be a philanthropic institution, playing an important role in providing opportunities across Greater Manchester.

Factory Academy is an initiative run by the venue that promises to train local residents and artists in technology, production, and other creative talents through its Factory Fellowships programme. The initiative will also partner with schools and universities to help students develop the skills required for a career in the arts – a sector often disregarded.

Organisers have also anticipated considerable financial advantages, predicting that the project will provide an additional 1,500 jobs, as well as over £1 billion to the city’s economy over the next decade.

It’s safe to say that if these promises materialise, Factory International will further solidify Manchester’s reputation as a world-leading city for art and culture. Aspiring creatives – watch this space.


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