The 2021 Manchester International Festival was a festival “like no other”, say the organisers.
With almost all the work created during the pandemic’s peak 2020 period, MIF21 provided a unique snapshot of unprecedented times as artists explored themes of connection, play, divisions and the relationship between urban and rural.
Though short on theatre and dance – which the Covid-19 restrictions would have greatly diminished in scale and attractiveness anyway, the festival ploughed on instead with a wide programme of arts, installations and other public eyecatchers.
More than half of this year’s programme was free, with several public artworks by international artists staged at prominent locations – meaning almost three million people were able to experience at least a small part of this year’s event.
Over 1,000 people attended Arcadia – the first event held on the site of the new landmark arts space and MIF HQ-to-be The Factory, where director Deborah Warner invited audiences to wander through a field of tents accompanied by a murmuring soundscape of poetry.
MIF celebrated a return to live indoor music with sold-out gigs from Damon Albarn and Arlo Parks – their first in 18 months.
Over 100 Greater Manchester artists played across three stages on Festival Square, where thousands of people enjoyed the food, drink and free entertainment until midnight.
Collaborations with local galleries presenting work from internationally-acclaimed artists ran throughout the festival and still continue (Manchester Jewish Museum, HOME until 30 August), and the Whitworth on Oxford Road has a major exhibition of ground-breaking Forensic Architecture until October 17.
Greater Manchester residents – 1,529 of them – were at the heart of many events, from contributing life stories to a book of love letters, curating a talks and discussions series, having their portraits taken or performing in Sea Change on the festival’s opening night, which involved a dance routine aling the length of Manchester’s Deansgate.
Around 1.2 million people experienced the festival’s wide-ranging online events, including All of This Unreal Time starring Cillian Murphy (left), and specially-created films by artists such as Akram Khan, Lucinda Childs and Ibrahim Mahama, digital interpretations of exhibitions, broadcasts of music and theatre productions and a video game – much of which will remain online throughout summer.