From free events to joining a catwalk and soaking up the atmosphere in Festival Square, here’s how to do MIF on a budget

A perceived lack of community engagement saw Manchester International Festival (MIF) 2015 accused of ‘forgetting’ Manchester. That and the ‘highbrow’ connotations that inevitably come with such a major arts festival, meant new festival director and former National Theatre Wales chief, John McGrath, had a challenge on his hands: how to make MIF inclusive for everyone, not just art luvvies.

Alongside announcing community-focused events first, one of the most compelling solutions was 'Festival in My House', which saw Greater Manchester residents offered the chance to host a micro-festival in their own home. The scheme has so far seen everything from world music culture in Whalley Range, to storytelling in Old Trafford and reflections on life at a Chorlton retirement village.

Aside from hosting a fest in your house, however, there are plenty more conventional ways to get involved with MIF - whoever you are and whatever your budget.


MIF launches with What is the City but the People? on 29 June, an inclusive catwalk in which the ‘models’ are Manchester residents. Fast forward to 1-7 July and HOME1947 reflects on the creation of India and Pakistan - a division which displaced ten million people, resulting in the largest mass migration ever witnessed - through a series of short films and the reimagining of a pre-partition home at the Lowry. The festival comes to a close on 16 July with Ceremony; in which Phil Collins (the Turner Prize-nominated artist, not the singer) unveils a Soviet-era statue of Friedrich Engels - the main author of the Communist Manifesto who lived in Manchester, on and off, for almost 22 years - displaced from from Russia and driven across Europe to its new home in First Street. Engels’ ‘return’ will be accompanied by live music, performance and an extraordinary film. 

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HOME1947 reflects on the partition of British India


MIF 2017, like all previous years, will see artists from across the globe descend on Manchester to create new and original works - from cities as diverse as Berlin, Cairo, Karachi and New York. But, for three major shows, the focus is a little closer to home, with organisers seeking Greater Manchester residents to get involved. Be one of hundreds to take part in the aforementioned What is the City but the People? and walk a runway stretching over 100 metres through Piccadilly Gardens, designed as a vibrant self portrait of Manchester. Have a few party tricks up your sleeve? Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari of the acclaimed Shunt Collective are after people aged 18+ to help them teach the essential skills needed to survive an apocalyptic party, for Party Skills at the End of the World.

Or, if you’re an adult male who enjoys singing, Fatherland - an ambitious new show about modern-day fatherhood - is looking for chorus members. You’ll work with a vocal coach and two of the show’s co-creators, Karl Hyde from Underworld and Scott Graham from Frantic Assembly, before performing in the Royal Exchange production (no experience necessary). 

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Fatherland is looking for male chorus members


MIF 2017 has four exhibitions, all very different and all completely gratis. True Faith at Manchester Art Gallery (30 June - 3 September) explores the ongoing significance and legacy of New Order and Joy Division through four decades’ of contemporary art from the likes of Peter Saville, John Baldessari and Barbara Kruger.

ToGather at the Whitworth (30 Jun - 3 Sept) addresses the ongoing relevance of migration through a rich collection of art and personal objects themed on separation and togetherness - as well as a free public event on 9 July, combining food and dance.

No End to Enderby (30 June - 17 September) pays homage to seminal writer Anthony Burgess through visual art and two playful films.

And as part of One of Two Stories or Both, Samson Young - inspired by mythic tales of seventeenth century Chinese travellers - asks how journeys are remembered and retold at CFCCA from 7-16 July. 

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True Faith explores the legacy of Joy Division and New Order


MIF’s first ever game commission comes courtesy of Nina Freeman, one of the most innovative and individual video game talents of our time. The Portland-based designer has won huge renown for autobiographical video games such as Cibele, which draw strongly on her own life and experiences, and her new game for MIF17, Lost Memories Dot Net, is every bit as frank and intensely personal; harking back to the early 2000s, when Freeman was a young girl discovering the twin joys of online chat and creating websites. You’ll play a role based on the young Freeman, building both relationships and websites online while following a narrative that grows more intimate as the game goes on. It will be available as a free download from during the festival. 

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Lost Memories Dot Net is a free video game created for MIF


Reggie ‘Regg Roc’ Gray directed one of the big hits of MIF15: FlexN Manchester, a thrilling transatlantic street dance collaboration featuring dancers from Greater Manchester and Gray’s native New York. Two years on, the genre pioneer will be returning to the MIF for a residency at Contact, part of a series of MIF17 events exploring contemporary dance. In this unticketed event, he’ll be introducing a group of young dancers to his ‘flexn’ style, working with local spoken word collective Young Identity to explore new ways of telling stories through words and movement.

Alongside these workshops, MIF will be presenting a series of masterclasses and open rehearsals from Boris Charmatz (10000 Gestures), the Lucinda Childs Company (Available Light), Company Wayne McGregor (ToGather) and Frantic Assembly (Fatherland): sign up to My Festival for more details. 

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Reggie 'Regg Roc' Gary will be running workshops


From 6-14 July, in a city centre venue yet to be announced, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith will cast a spotlight on the plight of Manchester’s homeless by covering the walls with words and phrases drawn from the streets, and filling the space with a powerful soundtrack built on recordings of those without shelter across the city. The aim? For the catch-all term ‘homeless’ to give way to individuality, identity and integrity. Find out more at Manchester Street Poem

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Karl Hyde and Rick Smith will highlight the plight of Manchester’s homeless through poetry


Pioneering project Music for a Busy City features six new pieces of music by six leading composers, created in response to a specific space in Manchester. Each recording lasts up to ten minutes and will be played on rotation every hour in the place that inspired it, so you can journey around town and hear each one in succession: Mohammed Fairouz (St Ann’s Square), Matthew Herbet (Great Northern Warehouse), Huang Ruo (Town Hall), Anna Meredith (walkway linking Selfridges and Marks & Spencer), Olga Neuwirth (Victoria Station) and Philip Venables (Canal Street).

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There'll also be free live music in Festival Square


Albert Square will again become the MIF hub this summer, with a new look courtesy of two of the country’s most exciting young designers and students from the MMU School of Art. Admission is always free and the square will be open from noon til late daily - promising a roster of food traders, free live music and a series of nightly DJ sets in the now famous teepee (tales of spontaneous nights in the teepee are often the best of the lot).

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Albert Square will again become the festival hub


With some performances costing up to £50, MIF can be prohibitive for those on a lower wage. That’s why around 10% of all tickets have been made available for £12 for Greater Manchester residents who earn the UK living wage or less. A proportion of £12 tickets will be sold from the box office on a first-come, first-served honesty basis, with a maximum of two tickets per show. The remainder will be allocated by MIF to groups and communities that qualify for the scheme. For full details, see the website.

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£12 tickets are available for shows such as Cotton Panic!

Manchester International Festival takes place citywide from 29 June to 6 July