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Ask the Experts at MIF

The role of culture in cities and place making

20th July 2020, 10:45 am

When I arrived in Manchester as a student in the 1980s, much as I loved the place, it was a far cry from the vibrant, buzzing city it is today. While we had Factory Records and the Hacienda, and a lively student population, few people lived in the centre, and at night it quickly became a ghost town.

It’s been my home ever since, and the emergence of new areas of Manchester, such as the Northern Quarter, Ancoats and Castlefield – all of which Urban Splash has been involved in creating – has made for a city like no other.

Part of its success is the way that the city works together to be greater than the sum of its parts. Anyone can thrive here; there are great places to do business in, great people to do business with, plenty of homes, cafes, bars, restaurants and, underpinning it all, great cultural institutions.

Manchester has set an extraordinary example, not just to the UK but to the world about what culture can mean to a city. We had already built up real credibility as an important sporting centre, which is why we were chosen to stage the Commonwealth Games in 2002, but generating a reputation as a cultural hub has taken real vision and investment, alongside support from a passionate community of businesses and philanthropists.

Manchester, once again, dared to be different – having the courage to believe that sustained investment in culture would help turn around the economy, make the city centre a better place to live and work, and increase its reputation around the world.

The success of the Commonwealth Games inspired the birth of Manchester International Festival (MIF), the world’s first festival of original work and special events, which I chair. Since launching in 2007, it has staged productions in spaces all across the city and attracted significant international attention, drawing visitors and artists from across the globe and delivering millions of pounds to the local economy.

We were fortunate to already have the Royal Exchange, but other developments such as the extension of the Whitworth and the birth of HOME were further game changers for the city. And Manchester is continuing to show its forward thinking with the creation of upcoming new landmark cultural space The Factory, backed by central Government funds that wouldn’t otherwise be invested in the city.

As the new home for MIF, The Factory will build on its adventurous spirit and internationalism, helping to cement Manchester as one of the great cultural centres of Europe. Designed by world-leading architects OMA, and built on the former Granada studio site, The Factory’s adaptable spaces will enable it to stage work of invention and ambition on a scale that isn’t made anywhere else, alongside intimate and immersive events. It will also bring new jobs and training opportunities for local people and more skilled, talented and ambitious people into Manchester. Add to that the further boost it will bring to tourism, the economy, and the arts, culture and technology scene in the north, and I believe that the great things happening here will stay in the eyes of the world.

So now is the time to support the arts sector in the city. As our city’s history proves – it’s important for the economy, it’s key in bolstering our city’s international reputation, and, ask any of the 60 + businesses in Manchester who support MIF – it’s good for business.

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