Born from the success and international repute of Manchester International Festival (MIF), when producing organisation Factory International first confirmed plans for a permanent, year-round home in which to stage mind-blowing dance, music and visual arts it was huge worldwide news. Now Britain’s biggest public arts investment since Tate Modern, Aviva Studios finally opened its doors in 2023.
The space certainly makes the kind of impact you’d hope for. A vast blank canvas in a city centre neighbourhood that has become a focal point for modern Mancunian culture, entertainment and lifestyle, Factory International can do pretty much anything with their new HQ. Essentially a 13,350 square metre modular blank canvas, it is adaptable to any purpose. That means immersive exhibitions, inimitable theatre, outdoor parties, intimate concerts and vast, sprawling, whole-of-site shows. Not to mention a daily food and drink offering, and some excellent books and gifts for sale, with the institution open Tuesday to Sunday.
If you’ve ever held a ticket to anything Factory International and MIF do, the scope and vision should be familiar by now. Some of the most critically acclaimed and daring performance work from the past two decades has been born at MIF, which still runs bi-annually at venues across the city with a hub at Aviva Studios. Productions lean towards things that haven’t really been done or dared before, from Bjork crafting her own instruments for Biophilia, to Monkey’s Journey To The West saga, Skepta hosting a massive future rave in a disused warehouse, to a bold, immersive, technically astounding Matrix rethink, Free Your Mind. But there’s also a real focus on community input and impact, with Factory International running annual bursaries for musicians and citizen-curated programming, betraying a commitment to increasing access and engagement in the arts, hence the highly commendable affordable and pay-what-you-can ticket policies.