Manifest Arts Festival 2017
Manifest Arts Festival returned this year, for its second outing. This year also saw a step change in the festival with more artists and venues across Greater Manchester. An artist led festival, with its aim of promoting North West artists, Manifest programmed its 5 days to run along-side the multi-million pound Manchester International Festival.
With 33+ venues and 250 artists putting on this festival was bound to be a challenge for the organisers. So I asked Artist and Manifest17 Co-Director Elisa Artesero about this year’s Manifest Arts Festival.
B -This year’s biennial Festival had more artists and venues. Why did you, and fellow directors, Roger Bygott and John Lynch decide to run Manifest Arts Festival again this year?
EA -2015 was a pilot to see whether there was an appetite for a festival celebrating and promoting artists working in the region. We ran it on a shoestring and the passion of the participants involved, and it went extremely well! There was a buzz about the cities, a community coming together to showcase what they do all year around. We know the level of talent and interesting exhibitions and events that happen in the region as we go to them and participate in them ourselves; this was an opportunity to coordinate a taster of that into a short snapshot over a few days.
Feedback of the pilot was brilliant! Visitor numbers were good, artists sold work, made new professional connections and collaborators; it seemed like a no-brainer to do it again. This year we were fortunate to have the support and funding from Arts Council England, this really helped us to up our game. We extended the festival from 3 to 5 full days and had 33 events in the printed programme, plus several more Manifest Arts Extras added and promoted through social media closer to the time. We also extended the physical festival coverage to Bolton as there’s a thriving arts scene there that we wanted to promote.
Funding allowed us to dedicate specific time away from our usual work towards planning the festival. We also had PR support from Fourth Day PR and volunteer social media coordinators to help increase our online presence. We were also able to commission films to further document the festival and create archive material of artistic practice in the region for years to come.
The main reason for running the festival is to strengthen the networks of a thriving arts scene, and to showcase it to a wider audience. This audience could include new visitors to the city, people who already live and work in the area (but don’t know how to access it normally), as well as an excellent trip for curators and arts professionals to visit to everything in a very short timeframe! It’s an exciting time!
B – You ran the Festival at the same time as MIF. Was this a conscious decision?
EA – Yes. There’s an increased media spotlight on the region brought in by MIF, so why not make use of that. There’s so much going on in the artist scene in the NW that it makes sense to want to show it off to as wider public as possible. Now we’re a little more established there have been suggestions that it could work just as well at other times of the year, this is something we’ll have to think about as well as discuss with the artists.
B- You all have artist careers, organising a Festival of this size must take a considerable amount of your time?
EA – It certainly does! Until you start to plan a thing like this you really can’t imagine the amount of work that’s needed behind the scenes to get it off the ground, planned, heard about, and run. Manifest Arts is on our minds throughout the year, not just in the lead up to the festival. We even do interim projects (podcasts, art fairs) to help keep it in people’s minds and further support the promotion of fellow artists.
I’ve personally always had the split between artistic practice and curation. Even when I was studying at Manchester School of Art I ran The Link Gallery for 2 years, curating weekly exhibitions alongside developing my practice as a Light and Text Artist. It’s where I met Roger, as I invited him to co-curate the gallery with me in my second year; so I guess he’s had a similar issue, too. John, similarly, always had a thirst for organising exhibitions, taking photos of artists’ work and bringing interesting artists together, so it’s probably not a surprise the three of us ended up working together in this way.
I can’t say it’s not a challenge trying to balance two disciplines. I’m still an emerging artist myself, and I’ve been fortunate to have been given some fantastic commission and exhibition opportunities in my field of practice (Light Art installations), but planning the festival takes time away from that. I do try to plan wisely though; most of my practice is undertaken in the winter anyway (festivals) so it’s just about manageable at the current level. I’ll keep assessing it as time goes on – the arts scene, political, and personal life continues and changes all the time, so nothing’s a given.
B – Manchester has a vibrant contemporary arts scene and Manifest seems very much an Arts Festival for artists as well as art lovers, do you think this is because you and your fellow directors are artists?
EA – I think it was useful, if not essential, to be artists working in the region to get the festival off the ground and coordinated in the first place. We had many of the contacts already and we were able to build up a level of trust, or at the very least the other artists and studios were willing to give the idea a go. However, there are many talented arts organisers out there, putting together fantastic arts festivals, so it would be egotistical to suggest we’re any better at doing it. If anything, we’ve also had to learn a lot of the more strategic work on the job, too, so we’re still developing our skills. In the first instance many people didn’t think it was a sustainable endeavour (this is still a question) and we had to do the first festival without funding, so perhaps that passion, or naïvety, is to our credit.
B – Getting The Portico Library for Andrew Brooks’ ‘The Library and the Mountain’, and Chetham’s Library for Ruby Tingle’s ‘Ermine’ was a real coup. How difficult is it to find suitable venues? And how do you decide on types of event, where it will be held, and do you match artist to venue?
EA – John organised those two venues and exhibitions, so you’d be better asking him! However, I think after the pilot, having evidence of its success and the standard of work being produced made it much easier to open up those conversations. Our decisions on events are mainly fuelled by open conversations with the artists and studios, sometimes with a specific idea in mind, but mainly to offer them the chance to put forward the types of exhibitions they want to showcase during the festival. It’s about showing off the scene that’s going on all year round, so scheduling content isn’t really a problem, it’s fitting it all in to one, relatively coherent programme that is the challenge!
B – The mix of the art and performances across Manifest has been great. Are you now finding venues and artists are putting themselves forward for future Manifest events?
EA – We’re still in post-promotion phase, showing off all that happened during the festival to anyone who might not have made it, as well as putting it on the website as an archive of this year’s activities. We also need to review feedback, visitor numbers and evaluate how it went, so we’re currently focussed on that. Having said that, we have had quite a few emails asking about 2019!
B – MIF is scheduled to have its own permanent venue in The Factory art space from 2019 Will this help or hinder Manifest?
EA – Hard to tell. It’s not something we’ve actively thought about to be honest. I personally can’t imagine it will hinder the festival. As long as there are artists and studios in the area, then there’s scope to promote them in a festival like Manifest. A more pressing concern for artists in the region is affordable studio space, and not being pushed further on the outskirts of the areas to which they add so much. It’s interesting to compare the festival map of 2015 and 2017 – there are some noticeable changes! That’s another topic, but one that really needs to be addressed more widely.
B – The question both my readers and I really want to know will manifest return in 2019?
EA – You’ll have to wait and see!
B – My thanks to Elisa for speaking with me about Manifest 17.
Elisa Artesero is Co-Director of Manifest Arts Festival, she is also an internationally exhibiting Light and Text Artist based at ArtWork Atelier in Salford currently shortlisted for a 2017 Darc Award. Find out more about her artwork here www.elisaartesero.com Find out more about Manifest Arts Festival here www.manifestartsfestival.com
For more of what Manifest had to offer see my earlier blog