Arts and culture and a thriving economy

    Blog, Manchester City Centre

    Pre-pandemic, research from Arts Council England revealed how arts and culture in the UK contribute more to the economy than agriculture. The cultural sector added £10.8bn to the UK economy in 2016, a rise of £390m since the previous year, yet this is in spite of cuts across the sector with 74 per cent of arts organisations having been negatively affected by cuts to public funding.

    Thriving economy

    For arts and culture to continue to thrive in the UK there must be a mixed funding model and as there is less public funding on offer, income from other sources is key. At Bruntwood, we’ve long recognised the economic value that arts and culture bring to our cities, it’s why we champion and support over 30 arts and cultural organisations. We’ve supported Manchester International Festival (MIF) since its inception in 2007 but our involvement with the festival goes far beyond economic investment.

    MIF is the world’s first festival of new and original work. Taking place biennially, the festival brings world premieres in performing arts, music, visual art and popular culture to the city. MIF has been a huge addition to the city culturally, socially and economically.

    Through our support of the festival we’re able to promote social inclusion - encouraging participation from residents, workers and visitors to a city, helping creativity and imagination to thrive. The benefits of the partnership for MIF is in making it possible to reach broader audiences, be that through increasing awareness of the festival within a specific target audience, reaching an audience that wouldn’t normally attend a cultural event, or by allowing the festival to focus some of their resources on widening participation.

    Each year, audiences are invited to explore innovative and forward-thinking works, hosted in some of Greater Manchester’s most popular venues. Our support for MIF is all about investing in creativity and creating the best environment in which people and business can thrive.

    Thriving Spaces

    For us, much of the benefit of our partnership is about place - a sense of place gives focus to the common purpose of a partnership, and cultural partnerships are often connected by an ambition around place, or a mutual concern or desire to improve the city or region in which it operates.

    In Manchester, tourism overall is worth £8.4bn per year and much of this is made up of cultural attractions and events, such as MIF. The economic impact of the 2017 festival came in at £40.2m, with audience numbers of over 300,000 - 40 per cent of whom came from outside the region. Commissions from previous festivals have toured globally and a further one million people have seen them, which serves to put Manchester on the map as a destination for bold new works within arts and culture.

    Over the years, the festival has taken over theatres, galleries and concert halls and brought life to closed down, unloved, or otherwise ordinary spaces such as out of use railway depots and car parks. Day-to-day the festival’s hub for the duration of the 18-day event is Festival Square, a temporary social space located at Albert Square with its own programme of free events. The Square at the heart of the Civic Quarter, already a popular public space truly bustles with life like never before when MIF takes over, demonstrating the obvious but overlooked principle of city planning that what attracts people most is other people. Public street life allows people to interact with each other equally because everyone has the right to be there, Festival Square is a social leveller, and we hope to see the public spaces across the UK thrive the way it does.

    What the festival does is to create a density of people, and to engage those people, and in doing so demonstrates how cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.

    Thriving People

    Thousands of people contribute to MIF be that through volunteering, skills development workshops, or creative activities. Through an arm of the programme called MyFestival people are invited to get involved, and Greater Manchester residents are even invited to curate their own micro-festival at home with production and financial support from MIF.

    This year the festival launched the Greater Manchester Cultural Skills Consortium with support from a whole range of cultural institutions across the city. The consortium is a training and skills development programme for people on low income, school leavers, those not employed and care leavers, and it aims to initiate a change in the current training provisions for arts and culture in the region.

    The Consortium comes at a time where the arts are on the precipice of social change. Alistair Hudson, Director of Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth, is a champion of the ‘useful museum’ and has positioned the Whitworth as a new home for problem-solving and influencing social change Hudson says the gallery will ‘value art for what it can do, not how much it is worth.’ Hudson hopes this ethos will be adopted by other institutions and the arts will be used to empower people in realising they can determine a way we can live better as a society and show how they can influence decision making in cities; from its architecture and planning to the environment and education.

    There are myriad reasons our support for our cultural partners is vital to us. We’ve talked about the need to create thriving cities but the waterfall effect of doing that is immeasurable, and we can’t always check in or know the people who have benefitted. To see organisations like MIF engage with communities directly through the Consortium provides us with a window to those positive outcomes.

    The positive impact MIF has on the economy, culture and the community is invigorating and important, and we’re proud to have been one of the first to support the internationally renowned event. The festival returns on 4 July for 18 extraordinary days, there will be various ways for Bruntwood customers and communities to engage with the festival so keep an eye on Bruntwood's social channels for announcements.

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