Manchester International Festival announces dates and 2021 programme

Events include a world premiere of new Cillian Murphy film, a one-off concert from Arlo Parks and 150-strong dance performance on Deansgate

Events are making a comeback. After waiting for so long it feels almost surreal to imagine going to large scale events once again: gigs, theatre shows and festivals. But this summer, that might just become possible once again.

One big date in the calendar for events in the city is of course the Manchester International Festival, which takes place every two years.

MIF has announced it will return from 1 to 18 July this year with a vibrant programme of original new work from musicians, visual and performing artists from over 20 different countries.

Events will take place at indoor and outdoor locations across Greater Manchester, as well as a programme of online and live-streamed events.

There will also be the first ever work on the construction site of The Factory – the landmark cultural space that will become MIF’s future home.

Many of the works have been created as a direct response to the events of the past year, reflecting on themes such as love and human connections, division and togetherness, equality and social change, and the relationship between the urban and the rural.

Manchester International Festival Artistic Director & Chief Executive, John McGrath says:

MIF has always been a Festival like no other – with almost all the work being created especially for us in the months and years leading up to each Festival edition.  But who would have guessed two years ago what a changed world the artists making work for our 2021 Festival would be working in?

“I am thrilled to be revealing the projects that we will be presenting from 1-18 July this year – a truly international programme of work made in the heat of the past year and a vibrant response to our times. Created with safety and wellbeing at the heart of everything, it is flexible to ever-changing circumstances, and boldly explores both real and digital space.

“We hope MIF21 will provide a time and place to reflect on our world now, to celebrate the differing ways we can be together, and to emphasise, despite all that has happened, the importance of our creative connections – locally and globally.”

Festival Square

Festival Square will move to Cathedral Gardens this year

The centre of the action, and free to enter throughout the event will be Festival Square, which will find its new home in Cathedral Gardens.

There will be free entertainment including curated nights from Mr Scruff, DJ Paulette, Homoelectric, Jamz Supernova and more artists from across the UK.

There’s always a great selection of food and drink to be found at Festival Square too. Previous years have seen restaurants and traders like Kala, Levanter, Majit’s Kitchen and Firebird Hope serving food on the Square.


Arlo Parks will perform a one-off concert for MIF21

Alongside the free live music programme on Festival Square, there will be ticketed live music events throughout the festival. Live music performances include a one-off concert from singer-songwriter Arlo Parks who will be performing with musicians from the Royal Northern College of Music.

Poet, musician and activist Patti Smith will perform two nights of shows and there will be a journey into Manchester’s hip hop underground with Unity Radio and Manchester Hip Hop archive.

There will also be performances from Islamic culture festival Salaam and a concert with Manchester Camerata called The Patience of Trees.

Performances and installations

The opening night will see hundreds of dancers take over Deansgate, including 150 local residents. The work, called Sea Change, by French choreographer Boris Charmatz has been created as a celebration of togetherness in a post-Covid world.

There will be a 42 metre sculpture of Big Ben in Piccadilly Gardens by Argentinian artist Marta Minujín. The London landmark will be assembled from 20,000 copies of books that have shaped British politics.

Marta Minujín

Artist and activist Cephas Williams will create 100 portraits of Black British people, including many from Manchester. The portraits will be displayed throughout Manchester Arndale, highlighting the contribution of Black people living in the UK.

Cillian Murphy stars in a new film, All of This Unreal Time, which will have its world premiere at MIF, shown as an immersive installation in surround sound.

Another world premiere for MIF21 will be a theatre performance of Girl Woman Other author Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche‘s 2020 essay for the New Yorker Notes On Grief, following the death of her father will be staged by Director Rae McKen.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

The Factory will house a new sound and light installation, Arcadia, by opera and theatre Director Deborah Warner. For one weekend only, audiences will be invited to wander through a field of luminous tents housing a soundscape of poetry inspired by the natural world.

There will be a partnership with Lagos-based festival Homecoming, a celebrating of African creativity and culture. This will be the first in a long-term relationship between the two events, marking a cultural exchange between Nigeria and Manchester.

Other installations include one with Turner Prize winner Laure Prouvost and the newly redeveloped Manchester Jewish Museum; the opening of an ‘anti-consumerist’ grocery shop by Pakistani artist Rashid Rana; and the publication of a book of love letters from 100 Greater Manchester residents to poets and writers by South African artist Kemang Wa Lehulere.

The Factory site will house a new sound and light installation


Following the success of its free programme for at-home audiences during lockdown, MIF’s online channel will return for the Festival.

Audiences from anywhere in the world will be able to access performances, live music, exclusive interviews, and a range of commentary and talks.

Online audiences will also be able to visit the ‘Virtual Factory’ – a series of online artworks inspired by the architecture and the ambition of the building.

When is it?

Manchester International Festival is taking place from 1 to 18 July 2021.

The Festival Square is at Cathedral Gardens and other live performances and events will take place at venues across Greater Manchester.

Tickets go on sale on Thursday 20 May. To view the full programme, visit:

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