Free for all. Last few days of the Free for Arts Festival.

Emily Morris

A live soap opera, new music and art delivered by bike are just two of the happenings in the Free for Arts Festival. With two days left to run, Emily Morris investigates

‘We knew there were enough people in Manchester with the creativity and capability to make something like this happen. We just had to find a way to bring them and their talents together without the restraints and stresses of funding,’ says Lois Macdonald of a festival whose underlying aim is to serve up a full multi-arts festival – for free.

Macdonald is one of three former MMU Interactive Arts students behind the week-long Free for Arts Festival, and it appears she and fellow organisers Helen Collett and Alex Wheeler are onto something. The inaugural festival in 2009 was such a success that they decided to expand this year’s event. ‘We have a huge range of artists from Manchester and beyond, delivering everything from music and performance to illustration and photography,’ she says.

In fact, there is so much on this year that the one problem organisers faced was finding enough space for their artists to perform and exhibit. But Manchester has plenty of redundant spaces, and Macdonald, Collett and Wheeler managed to wheedle their way into a good number of them. The result is an impressive list of unconventional sites, such as railway arches and retail units.

‘It brings art to people who might not usually venture into a gallery, and it benefits landlords too,’ Collett points out, informing me that, last year, at least one empty unit was let as a result of the interest generated by the festival.

Free For Arts really does bring art to the high street, with shows in Piccadilly Place, The Triangle and even the AMC cinema. As we reported a few weeks back, if you’re lucky, you might be passed some rolled-up art from the back of a bicycle as part of the Papergirl project. Created by Aisha Ronniger in Berlin in 2006, Papergirl’s UK debut will see work from international artists handed out like rolled-up newspapers, alongside a static show at Soup Kitchen – on until 21 October.

With two days to go, there’s still plenty to see, from an exhibition in the shop window of art supply store Fred Aldous to fashion-meets-performance-art event, Panoply! (Thursday, 8pm-11pm, Piccadilly Place). The Free For All Arts Festival spreads art across the city, but don’t wait to stumble across it, go ahead and seek it out. What have you got to lose?

Free for All Arts Festival, various venues, until Friday (8 October). Free. Images (top to bottom): This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us, Lois Macdonald & Helen Collett (Network Rail Archway, 18C New Bailey Street, Salford); The Toy Shop, The Art Corner (Trof Fallowfield, 2A Landcross Rd).

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