The Factory, St Johns, Manchester, M3 3JE – Visit Now
Manchester has never been a city that lacked cultural ambition. Earlier this year the city reopened its glorious Central Library after a £50m refurb., opened Elizabeth’s Gaskell House and Federation House, and raised £5m to update The Lowry. Next year sees not only the return of Manchester International Festival but the opening of the Whitworth and also HOME. And then this morning came the announcement that, actually, all this cultural building and rebuilding is just the start: come 2019, Manchester will have a new, £78m arts centre called The Factory Manchester.
The Factory – no prizes for guessing where the name came from – will become the permanent home of Manchester International Festival. Alongside will run a 2,200-seat theatre and what is promised as an “immersive artistic environment with a standing capacity of 5,000.” Think Massive Attack at Mayfield Depot, only bigger: the Factory has been described as a theatre bolted on to the side of the Tate’s Turbine Hall.
“The idea for the Factory came out of a series of brilliant conversations with Manchester International Festival about what its next step would be,” Maria Balshaw, director of both the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery, told us. “Over the past five years we have seen the festival and lots of other organisations inhabit all sorts of found spaces – from Victoria Baths to Mayfield Depot – to realise the sorts of ground-breaking work the city has become known for. So there was a collective realisation that Manchester needed this sort of space on a permanent basis.”
This is a city that has always been prepared to go out on a limb, try new things & take creative risks
Interestingly, although details at this stage are scant, the space looks set to be much less formal than the sorts of Barbican-style arts centres we are used to in this country: it will be artist-led and, apparently, capable of hosting an “MIF-style performance every week”. “It will be incredibly flexible,” continued Balshaw. “You could stage Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project in there or an immersive version of Brian Cox’s The Age of Starlight – it can be big or small. But what’s important is that it will have the technical capability to stage almost anything – theatre in the round, visual art, immersive performance – with the focus on allowing companies to produce new work here in Manchester.”
The Factory will be located on the site of the former Granada Studios, which has been earmarked for a while as the city’s new cultural quarter. The site itself was bought by developer Allied London (which also developed Spinningfields) after Granada relocated to The Quays; rechristened St. John’s, the whole thing has the potential to link Castlefield and MOSI to the rest of the city centre. “The site will see some things knocked down, some converted and others built from scratch; it’s an urban village that has a really strong cultural anchor,” says Balshaw.
Inevitably, there will be questions over the sustainability of such a huge new space, both in terms of having an audience big enough to fill it and in terms of long-term funding – something readily acknowledged by Balshaw. But, she says, this is not just an arts centre for Manchester. “The kind of work staged at the Factory will pull people in from across the north – it will stage the sorts of things you won’t even see in London, and range from pop culture and theatre to digital and science projects. And that means the potential audience is much, much bigger.”
With the plans approved today by government, and also backed by the City Council, the Factory forms part of a wider agenda for the economic development of the north. So, not just an artistic pipe dream, then? Let’s hope so. If the Factory happens, it will put Manchester, a city that has always been prepared to go out on a limb, to try new things and to take creative risks, in a very interesting place indeed.