Culture takes centre stage

Rob Sharp, Issue 117/09, p9, 25.08.2017

As work starts on the Factory venue, cultural leaders explain how Manchester uses the arts as a catalyst for growth

Manchester continued its run of high-profile cultural infrastructure projects with July’s ground-breaking ceremony for £110m arts venue the Factory.

Based in the St John’s Quarter and designed by architect Rem Koolhaas’s studio OMA, the Factory will be operated by Manchester International Festival. It will host dance, theatre, music, opera and visual art when it opens in 2020.

The chief executive and artistic director of the Manchester International Festival, John McGrath, says: “The big shift over the next 10 to 15 years will be taking on the Factory and making a success of it. That’s a big step-change from being a biennial festival, albeit one of significant scale, to going to a venue of this scale all year round.

“Manchester will increasingly become an importer of artists and exporter of arts. So there will be more people coming here to work and create. Equally, the work being made will be going out to other places.

“It’s worth thinking about how Manchester has invested in something new, seen how it could grow and then created potential for that growth,” says McGrath. “Rather than thinking we’ve got three theatres, two galleries and one festival – that’s enough. The city thinks: ‘What’s the next leap of imagination?’ That leap of imagination needs to be replicated.”

Culture in its DNA

Dave Moutrey, the director and chief executive of Home, a £25m film, performance and visual arts space that opened in 2015, says: “Culture is in the DNA of the city and has been for a long time. Manchester’s always done culture. As the city is growing, culture is becoming recognised as being an important part of the city’s growth strategy.”

He says Manchester City Council regards culture as intrinsic to its long-term strategy.

“Arts and culture is written through all the objectives the city’s got,” he says, praising the “steady civic leadership” of Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council since 1996, and Howard Bernstein, who retired as chief executive in March.

Moutrey emphasises the need for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, made up of 10 Greater Manchester councils, and the recently elected mayor, Andy Burnham, to improve transport infrastructure and provide culture citywide. Arts Council England awarded the authority £1.49m in March to explore embedding relevant work in local communities, as part of the Great Place Scheme.

“It’s going to make sure we’re joined up and that the outlying boroughs of Greater Manchester are not left behind culturally,” he adds.

Manchester Museum director, and interim director of the Whitworth, Nick Merriman, also praises the city’s “long-term political stability” and the role of private developers in spearheading the likes of the First Street development, which encompasses Home, and the Spinningfields regeneration project that houses the historic John Rylands Library.

“They’ve understood the benefits of having a cultural anchor tenant to make a retail or mixed-use space attractive in terms of footfall,” he says.

“It’s about quality of life for residents and also giving people a reason to move to Manchester for employment. It has cumulatively reinforced self-confidence in the ability of the city.”

This year’s Museums Association Conference & Exhibition in Manchester (16-18 November) will include social events at the People’s History Museum, Whitworth art gallery and the Museum of Science and Industry.