How the Factory International will supercharge Manchester's art and creative scene
A major new cultural landmark opens in Manchester next year. We explain what it will offer creatives.
You might not realise it, but Creative Boom is proudly based in Manchester, and we've seen a lot of changes here over the years. The city has had a chequered past, with highs like the revolutionary Hacienda nightclub mixing with lows like the IRA bombing of 1996. But in recent years, it truly seems to have turned a corner, and in 2022 it's incredible to think how far Manchester has come.
Right now, it can boast two world-class football teams, a tram network to rival any modern city, first-class universities, and some of the friendliest people you'd ever meet. And that's drawing more and more people and businesses to come here.
In recent years, a property boom has transformed Manchester's skyline, and development continues at pace. This year alone will see the completion of several major projects, including Mayfield's Public Park, the city's first public park in 100 years; a major redesign of Piccadilly Gardens; the restoration of London Road Fire Station as a 91-room hotel with retail, restaurant and events space; and a £1bn investment set to transform 50 acres of Salford Central.
Also coming soon, and perhaps the most enticing for creatives, is Factory International, a new landmark cultural space programmed and operated by the team behind the Manchester International Festival (MIF).
Factory International: what and where is it?
Primed to welcome its first visitors in June 2023, Factory International will be a global destination for arts, music and culture, commissioning and presenting a year-round programme by leading artists from across the world. It represents the largest investment in a national cultural project since the opening of Tate Modern in 2000.
Situated in the new St John's neighbourhood, it's being developed on the site of the former Granada Studios next to the River Irwell. And it will be a major contribution to the ongoing regeneration of this part of the city centre.
Designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), with Ellen van Loon as lead architect, Factory International will span 13,350 square metres and be designed with maximum flexibility to enable large-scale artistic work of invention and ambition.
The impressive building includes a 21-metre-high warehouse with a capacity for up to 5,000 people standing, which can also be divided by a movable, full-height acoustic wall and a hall with a flexible stage – one that can house an audience of up to 1,600 seated or 2,000 standing, as well as other spaces inside and out. The warehouse and the hall can also work together, with the proscenium capable of opening fully into the warehouse and allowing the stage to run deeper into the building.
"Factory International will be a new type of performance space – a unique crossover between a fixed theatre and flexible warehouse," explains Ellen. "Super-sized moveable walls enable endless configurations within a large space, allowing audiences unexpected vistas of performers. I hope that whenever people come to Factory International, they always experience something different as if with each visit they encounter a different building."
Factory International: what will it offer?
Audiences will be able to enjoy a broad array of art forms here, from major exhibitions and concerts to intimate performances and immersive experiences. Outside, its public areas will feature pop-up performances, events and markets.
Factory International aims to host over 80 gigs a year, including in-house concerts and collaborations with local and national promotors. There will also be a focus on developing the profile of music creatives in the region, building on the success of MIF Sounds, which provided financial support and development opportunities to musicians, producers and record labels during the pandemic.
Factory International will also be home to Factory Academy, which will help people from all backgrounds to start new careers in the creative industries. Working in partnership with cultural organisations and employers across the city, Factory Academy is already delivering a range of training opportunities, including paid internships, training academies and work experience programmes. Upcoming initiatives include courses to develop skills in live events, social media, and broadcast and film production, including filming, editing and visual effects.
Factory International: what events are planned?
Before the official opening, the new venue will form the centrepiece of the 2023 Manchester International Festival, which will return across the city from 29 June to 16 July, with a major exhibition in its main warehouse space.
You, Me and the Balloons celebrates three decades of Yayoi Kusama's inflatable sculptures, shown together for the first time. Created especially for Factory International, this will be the renowned Japanese artist's largest ever immersive environment, featuring works that are over 10m tall, including giant dolls, tendrilled landscapes and a constellation of polka-dot spheres. The exhibition will run from 29 June to 28 August 2023.
The official opening production will be Free Your Mind, a large-scale immersive performance based on The Matrix films, presented across the building's flexible spaces and running from 18 October to 5 November 2023. Five thousand tickets will be made available at £10 or less.
This dramatic retelling through dance, music and visual effects will be directed by Danny Boyle and bring together dance led by choreographer Kenrick' H2O' Sandy, a score from composer Michael' Mikey J' Asante, designer Es Devlin's large-scale stage sculptures, and the work of the writer Sabrina Mahfouz. Promising spectacular visual effects, a cast of professional dancers and hundreds of Manchester participants, it will recreate some of the film's most iconic scenes, provoking visions of an alternative future.
"I'm delighted to be part of Factory International as a starting point for a kind of identity that this extraordinary new building is going to have," says Danny Boyle. "It's a space that gives you an enormous amount of potential. It's wildly ambitious in terms of its scale. In my lifetime, to see a new space like this open is hugely empowering, and I hope the new generation of artists feel that power."
Next will come The Welcome, a nine-day programme developed by Greater Manchester residents. Building on Manchester International Festival's history of working with local people, The Welcome is an invitation from Greater Manchester residents to their neighbours to meet, learn, and play in the new cultural space from 11-19 November 2023.
Ahead of the opening, artist Luke Jerram will celebrate the births of hundreds of babies born locally with a spectacular installation outside the building, which will cast beams of light into the sky to represent new births. Each of the families with babies born in January will receive a lifetime membership to Factory International – providing priority booking, discounted tickets and exclusive invitations. The online Virtual Factory project, which has featured artists such as Tai Shani, Robert Yang and LaTurbo Avedon, will conclude with a new film by Jenn Nkiru to be released in 2023, exploring the resonances of the building's historic site.
"Since its inception in 2007, Manchester International Festival has produced some of the most innovative and urgent works I've been fortunate enough to witness," says Es Devlin, artist and designer. "Including such pioneers as Steve McQueen, Adam Curtis, Marina Abramović, Björk, Akram Khan, Yoko Ono and more, they have had an immense impact on my practice. Factory International will continue to cultivate these world-class collaborations, with each project rooted on this specific site and within the community in Manchester. It's a profound privilege to be invited to take part in its inception. Like a new musical instrument, a new building needs to be 'tuned in,' and it's immensely energising to be present when it starts to sing."