Aviva Studios

Johnny James, Managing Editor
Factory International
Factory International. Image courtesy of OMA.

Aviva Studios, home of Factory International, is a landmark new cultural space in the heart of Manchester, with grand plans to “reshape the city’s cultural output”, attract 850,000 visitors a year and bring in £1.1bn to the economy over a decade.

Designed by the world-famous Rotterdam-based practice OMA (originally the Office for Metropolitan Architecture), the 7,000-capacity Aviva Studios can be found on the site of the old Granada TV studios, where it will host theatre, concerts and exhibitions from major national and international names. Promising “one of Europe’s most ambitious and adventurous year-round creative programmes”, the venue houses a vast, hangar-like space called the Warehouse (currently housing the Yayoi Kusama exhibition You, Me and the Balloons) which has a standing capacity of 5,000, plus a 1,600-seat theatre dubbed the Hall. Both are ultra-flexible, configurable spaces, and can be made to work together or separately, enabling artists to develop and create large-scale work of invention and ambition, of a kind not seen anywhere else in the world.

You, Me and the Balloons
Yayoi Kusama and Dots Obsession, 1996-2011 Installation (Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo). Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Victoria Miro and David Zwirner.

The venue recently opened its doors to audiences of the hugely successful Manchester International Festival 2023 (the venue will be the biennial festival’s home going forwards), and continues to welcome visitors for both the aforementioned Kusama exhibition and for Endless Summer, a series of free events and activities, from arts workshops to live gigs. That being said, the venue is still a little way off completion and will officially open in October.

Danny Boyle directs the official opening production, Free Your Mind (18 October – 5 November 2023), a large-scale performance inspired by the Matrix films. This grand spectacle is expected to feature eye-popping visual effects, professional dancers and hundreds of Manchester participants. With a stunning creative team that includes choreographer Kenrick ‘H20’ Sandy and composer Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante of the Olivier-award winning Boy Blue, world-leading designer Es Devlin and acclaimed writer Sabrina Mahfouz – we’re certainly in good company.

Free Your Mind at Factory International.
Free Your Mind at Factory International. Image courtesy of North Design.

Following the performance run of Free Your Mind, the brand-new building will spring to life with a nine-day celebratory programme specially developed by Manchester residents. The Welcome will feature circus, music, art and fashion with a range of events that everyone can get on board with.

Alongside its artistic programming, Aviva Studios is set to become a training centre for people in pursuit of careers in the creative industry. Delivered by Manchester International Festival, the Factory Academy will offer local residents the opportunity to gain expertise working alongside world-leading creatives, with apprenticeships for budding producers, technicians, and arts marketeers on the cards. There will also be opportunities for local artists to develop and grow, with the venue making plans to work with communities and involve them as artistic collaborators in participatory projects and productions.

Located in the St John’s neighbourhood next to the River Irwell, Aviva Studios aims to be at the heart of a burgeoning city centre hub for culture, creativity and digital innovation and to make a major contribution to the ongoing regeneration of this part of the city centre.

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