The Best FREE Events at This Year’s Manchester International Festival

You don't need to pop your hand into your pocket to enjoy the festival...

Manchester International Festival opens this week, and the packed Festival programme contains plenty of free events, exhibitions, music and more.

From a 42m sculpture of Big Ben in Piccadilly Gardens made from 20,000 books, to a series of outdoor artworks that caption the world around us, much of this year’s Festival is free to attend, with more work than ever in public spaces around the city. Here’s what’s on offer for the grand total of nowt…

Sea Change
On the opening night of MIF21, 150 Greater Manchester residents will be taking part in an extraordinary new dance piece along Deansgate – a celebration of togetherness in a post-lockdown world. The event is free, with tickets available to book online.

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Festival Square
The home of the Festival taking over Cathedral Gardens. There’ll be a packed programme of food, drink and free entertainment from international artists and Greater Manchester-based performers…

  • Live sets from the likes of Billy Nomates (Tue 13 July), The Untold Orchestra (Fri 2 July), Honeyfeet (Sun 11 July), TYSON (Tue 6 July), The Lounge Society (Mon 12 July) and more
  • Nights curated and hosted by Homoelectric (Sat 10 July), Jamz Supernova (Fri 9 July), Swing Ting (Thu 15 July), Mr Scruff (Fri 16 July) and others
  • DJs including Mark Rae (Wed 14 July), Jane Weaver (Wed 7 July), DJ Paulette (Fri 2 July), Konny Kon (Sun 4 July) and Dave Haslam (Mon 5 July)
  • Music and chat from Lamb’s Lou Rhodes (Fri 2 July), Norman Jay MBE (Mon 5 July), Afrodeutsche (Wed 14 July) and others in our Records of Reflection series

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Big Ben Lying Down
An incredible 42m temporary sculpture created for Manchester by legendary Argentine artist Marta Minujín – visit for free every day in Piccadilly Gardens

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Portrait of Black Britain
A powerful and timely exhibition by artist, photographer, speaker, activist and campaigner Cephas Williams – poses a timely and poignant question: ‘What does it mean to be Black, living in the UK?’ Visit for free every day in Manchester Arndale

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Captioning the City
An extraordinary new public artwork by Christine Sun Kim – explore for free around the city centre and experience Manchester in a new dimension.

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Poet Slash Artist
Showcasing new works displayed around the city by poets and visual artists – explore for free around the city centre and visit the exhibition at HOME.

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I Love You Too
Inspired by a residency in Manchester’s network of libraries, artist Kemang Wa Lehulere presents a special installation at Central Library – plus a new book of Manchester love letters.

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Cloud Studies
From Palestine to Beirut, London to Indonesia and the US–Mexico border, Forensic Architecture investigate, explore and expose how power reshapes the very air we breathe in this urgent and compelling exhibition.

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One of the world’s leading visual artists, Rashid Rana explores new ways of looking at the world in this enthralling new project. ‘EART’ describes moments of self-expression beyond the arts: ways of thinking, being and acting creatively in real life. In addition, Rana has opened a pop-up shop at nearby Sparklestreet, stocking products that turn capitalism inside out and consumerism upside down.

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MIF is committed to presenting a safe Festival for everyone. As well as following all government and industry guidelines, organisers are working closely with specialist safety consultants to ensure all venues are COVID-safe and secure for everyone.

And for those who can’t join in person, you can follow much of the action wherever you are, whenever you want via MIF’s biggest ever online programme.

MIF LIVE is the Festival’s broadcast channel – going live on Thursday 1 July and running until Sunday 18 July. You can stream MIF21 shows such as All of This Unreal Time (created by a team including Max Porter and Cillian Murphy) and Notes on Grief (written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) – and you can catch live music from Festival Square via MIF LIVE, which features a rolling schedule of free talks, Q&As and more.

To discover more about MIF21 and book tickets, visit



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