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26th March 2023

Manchester International Festival is back (with polkadots and footballs)

Manchester International Festival is back, with a play starring Maxine Peake, a residency by Janelle Monáe, a new exhibition by Yayoi Kusama, and much more!
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Manchester International Festival is back (with polkadots and footballs)
Photo: Manchester International Festival

Last week, I attended the launch event (or, programme announcement) for Manchester International Festival 2023. MIF is a biennial arts festival, last occurring in 2021, though the pandemic kept it from being a full-scale festival. MIF19 was a huge affair, with singer Janelle Monáe musically opening the concert and the world premiere of a play by Great British icon Idris Elba OBE.

MIF 2023 will run from June 29 to July 16. Working with partners regionally and across the globe, the wide-ranging programme of original new work by artists from around the world will take place in venues and spaces throughout the city and at Factory International, MIF’s much-anticipated new home, which opens its doors for the first time for the Festival, in advance of its official opening in October.

Janelle Monáe will be returning to MIF, this time for a 3-night residency. Whilst I did not catch Monáe’s last MIF performance (I instead attended the press night for the aforementioned Idris Elba play, Tree), I saw her at Manchester Academy the year prior. She is one of the best performers you’ll ever see!

A major exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s inflatable sculptures will form a centrepiece of the Festival, the first work to be presented at Factory International’s flagship new venue. You, Me and the Balloons will take over the vast warehouse space, inviting audiences to take an exhilarating journey through Kusama’s psychedelic creations.

I last visited London in early February. I just missed the last off-peak train back to Manchester so, with hours to kill, I decided to visit a couple of exhibitions, including Kusama’s outdoor exhibit (in partnership with Louis Vuitton) at Harrods. I was mesmerised, and I look very forward to seeing her new exhibition in the capital of the North!

Manchester’s much-loved Festival Square relocates to the Festival International’s outdoor spaces, with free live music from over 100 performers, and a wide variety of food and drink, creating a new riverside destination for Manchester.

Building on the significant digital presence the Festival has pioneered since 2017, MIF23 will also feature a broad online offer including livestreams and behind-the-scenes broadcasts, plus the world premiere of a new film by artist and director Jenn Nkiru, and a programme of talks from Guardian Live that will take place in person and online – full details to be announced.

Greater Manchester residents are once again at the heart of MIF23, from performing on Festival Square, to volunteering in an array of roles across the Festival. Many of the works reflect on the personal experiences of the city’s diverse communities, from youth led performances, and exhibitions surrounding mental health as part of Balmy Army to a futuristic and interactive journey through Manchester by Blast Theory and Manchester Street Poem led by those most marginalised in the city.

Reflecting its commitment to developing the next generation of creative talent, MIF23 will see artists from all stages of their careers given platforms to develop and learn during the festival. Six artists from the North will shadow the creation of MIF23 projects through the Factory Creative Fellowships, and ten creatives involved in Manchester’s music scene will be offered financial support towards the creation of a new project and the opportunity to perform on Festival Square as part of the recently launched Factory Sounds.

Working with partners across the globe, once again much of the work made in Manchester for MIF23 will go on to travel internationally, building on an audience to date of over 1.6 million people in more than 30 countries who have experienced MIF’s work overseas.

Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Factory International & Manchester International Festival John McGrath says: “From the radical and agenda setting to the purest of celebrations, MIF23’s programme covers a huge range of art forms and styles – from a ritual on the banks of a newly uncovered river, to mixed reality from one of Japan’s greatest composers, from a hunt for artworks across the city to a residency from one of American music’s most vibrant superstars. A genuine melting pot of creativity where artists share their ideas with each other and the public, the Festival will once again take the temperature of our times, and imagine possibilities for the future.

“As always MIF is rooted in its home – in the spaces and places of Greater Manchester. So at the same time as we take up residency in our flagship new venue with our centrepiece exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s incredible inflatable sculptures, the Festival will extend its reach throughout the city: finding unexpected locations to show its work in, and working with local artists and residents to perform and take part. MIF23 will be a true celebration of the city and its cultural offerings.”

MIF23 provides the first opportunity for audiences to experience Factory International’s new venue, ahead of its official opening in October. Designed by Ellen van Loon, OMA Partner and lead architect, the ultra-flexible building is based around vast, adaptable spaces that can be constantly reconfigured, enabling artists to develop and create large-scale work of invention and ambition, of a kind not seen anywhere else in the world. It is the largest new national cultural project since the opening of Tate Modern in 2000, and is made possible thanks to initial HM Government investment and backing from Manchester City Council and Arts Council England.

Councillor Luthfur Rahman OBE, Deputy Leader Manchester City Council, says: “We take culture very seriously here in Manchester. It plays a big part in our global reputation and economic success, making Manchester a city that people and businesses the world over want to visit, work, live, and invest in. The Festival is a real celebration of that – showcasing the fantastic venues and spaces around the city, drawing national and global audiences, and creating opportunities for local people to get involved, through jobs, volunteering and the chance to perform and participate in shows.

“Being able to invite audiences to experience our brand-new building for the first time as part of this year’s brilliant Manchester International Festival, as well as a programme of events right across the city, is very exciting and should not be missed. This new chapter takes our cultural ambitions to the next level and then some. Putting a world-class building on our doorstep that brings with it a wealth of jobs, training, and opportunities that further cement our place as an international centre and incubator for culture, creativity and innovation.

“The eyes of the world are once again on Manchester, the festival, and this new space – and they will not be disappointed.”

Sarah Maxfield, Area Director, North, Arts Council England says: “I’m excited to see this year’s Manchester International Festival programme. Not only is the city welcoming back its internationally renowned festival but also presenting work for the first time in Factory International’s venue and new public spaces. This is a huge moment for both Manchester and the wider Northern cultural scene. I can’t wait to see the city buzzing with people experiencing world class arts and culture by artists from here at home and from around the world. This is going to be one exciting summer for Manchester!”



Untitled F*ck M*ss S**gon Play

Royal Exchange Theatre | June 24 – July 22

The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions

HOME (Theatre 1) | June 28 – July 2

Jenn Nkiru

Online | June 29

Risham Syed: Each Tiny Drop

Mayfield Park | June 29


Versa Manchester Studios | June 29 – July 9

Ryan Gander: The Find

Manchester city centre (various locations) | June 29 – July 16

Tino Sehgal: This Entry

The first work in the The Trequartista – Art and Football United series, which continues in the 2025 edition of Manchester International Festival

Various locations | June 29 – July 6

National Football Museum | June 29 – July 5

The Whitworth | July 7 – 16

We Cut Through Dust

Manchester city centre (various locations) | June 29 – July 16

Janelle Monáe

Venue TBA | June 30 – July 2

Yayoi Kusama: You, Me, and the Balloons

Factory International | June 30 – August 28

Economics the Blockbuster: It’s Not Business As Usual

The Whitworth | June 30 – October 22

Festival Square

Factory International (outdoor spaces) | June 30 – July 16

Sonics, Stories and Scenes of the Diaspora

Manchester Museum | July 1

Modelling Queer Utopias: A Blueprint For A Future

Islington Mill | July 1 – 15

Angélique Kidjo and Guests

Venua TBA | July 4

AFRODEUTSCGE with Manchester Camerata – conducted by Robert Ames

Venue TBA | July 5


Starring Maxine Peake

John Rylands Library | July 5 – 9

Justin Vivian Bond: One Night in Trans Vegas

Venue TBA | July 6

All Right. Good Night.

HOME (Theatre 1 ) | July 6 – 8

Sonic Geography

Bridgewater Hall | July 7

Anna Meredith: Fibs with the RNCM Festival Orchestra

Depot Mayfield | July 8

Sanam Marvi

Venue TBA | July 8

Manchester Collective and Slung Low: Noah’s Flood

Venue TBA | July 9

John Grant Sings the Songs of Patsy Cline with Richard Hawley and Band

Venue TBA | July 11

The Comet is Coming and Daisy Dickinson present Hyper-dimensional Expansion Beam

Venue TBA | July 12

Benji Reid: Find Your Eyes

Manchester Academy 1 | July 12 – 16

R.O.S.E.: L-E-V and Young with Ben UFO

New Century Hall | July 13 – 16

Alison Goldfrapp

Venue TBA | July 14

Balmy Army

HOME | July 1 – 15

50 Hours of Freedom

Contact (Space 1) | July 14

Desi Factory

Headlined by Zack Knight

Support from Ezu, Bobby Friction, and Bambi Bains

More artists TBA

Venue TBA | July 15


Tickets for MIF23 are on sale to Factory International members from 28 March and on general sale 30 March.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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