On MIF, and why I’m miffed that students don’t know about it

Thursday 2nd June, 2011

I met Cathy, Manchester International Festival‘s Marketing Director, earlier today to discuss the possibility of my helping her team out over the next few weeks. I left their King Street office with the seemingly Herculean task of promoting MIF amongst this city’s student population. Why Herculean? Because so few students have heard of the festival!

Armed with a zealous desire to preach the good news to the culturally poor of Manchester’s universities, and a good chunk of free time (my newfound courseworklessness affords me such luxuries) I sat down on a bench in front of Central Library and wrote the following article for submission to the Mancunion…only to discover that the student newspaper closed up shop a while ago for exams and summer. So I thought it would be best to blogify it rather than deprive the world of my message! Here goes…

A biennial celebration of art and culture that invades and pervades Manchester for two and a half weeks, costing several million pounds while bringing several more million into the local economy, and attracting over 200,000 people to over 20 events in over 14 venues around the city, could surely not have slipped through your radar. But have you heard of Manchester International Festival? If not, you’re far from alone.

Back for the third time this year, MIF 2011 will be even bigger and better than ever before. At least, that’s the impression I’m getting; I can’t comment on this with any real authority because I didn’t know the festival existed until a couple of months ago! But it’s absolutely huge, the colossal cultural elephant in the metropolitan room that is Manchester. This year it’s enlisting the talent of huge names like Björk, Snoop Dogg, Damon Albarn, Victoria Wood and even The Doctor. But despite its global reputation as the greatest festival that focuses on commissioning new work – be it visual art, music, theatre and/or dance – something is hampering students’ awareness of this groundbreaking sensation.

Perhaps it’s the very fact that, as a biennial festival, someone on a three-year degree course can only come across it a maximum of twice between freshers’ week and graduation. More likely, it’s that most students are at home while MIF is happening (this year it’s 30th June – 17th July). I wouldn’t dream of missing the action, though, even if it means spending a little less time at home this summer. As soon as I heard about it, I signed up to join the 400-strong team of volunteers that play a huge part in making the festival happen. Why is it that we students are so keen to spend three months at home, perhaps venturing out to a holiday destination but missing out on the amazing things that are going on in our university cities? After all, our relationship with these places is often not that close while we’re studying; why not make more of an effort when we’re free?

I think the bottom line here is that Manchester students miss out on great things like MIF because we just don’t get out enough! Alright, we get out enough to know where to get the most intoxicated for the least outlay; we might even be relatively familiar with the music scene; but how well do we really know Manchester? This whole rant is very hypocritical, I confess; I’ve still got a great deal to learn about this unconventionally beautiful city. But that’s the aim of the dissertation I’m about to start writing; I want to investigate whether Manchester has the cultural calibre to compete with the New Yorks and Viennas of this world. In other words, I’m hoping to prove why Manchester truly is international.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdr80QoFNDs]
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