Award-winning developer Tom Bloxham MBE steps down as Chair of Factory International this week, the organisation behind the biennial Manchester International Festival (MIF), and Manchester’s landmark new arts venue Aviva Studios. He will hand over the baton to Moira Sinclair MBE, who has been announced as the new Chair from 1 March.

Bloxham’s near 20-year year tenure has seen the establishment of MIF – now one of the world’s leading arts festivals, and the first to be entirely focused on the commissioning and producing of ambitious new work – and the conception and development of Aviva Studios, the landmark new home of Factory International which opened in October 2023.

Tom Bloxham says: “I’ve had an amazing 19 years, working initially with Sir Richard Leese and Sir Howard Bernstein and latterly Bev Craig, Joanne Roney and Luthfur Rahman at Manchester City Council to develop the concept of Manchester International Festival and Aviva Studios. It’s been a delight to work first with Alex Poots, then John McGrath, on establishing from scratch one of the world’s great art biennials, and then seizing the opportunity to harness considerable financial support from HM Government and Arts Council England to build our new home Aviva Studios – bringing new money to the arts and new money to Manchester. I am hugely proud of what we have created for the people of Manchester – showing what can be achieved with ambition and allowing great artists to create the works they have always dreamed of here in Manchester. Now that we have successfully opened Aviva Studios, I’m delighted to hand over the baton to Moira who I know will do a brilliant job overseeing the organisation as it continues to grow and flourish.”

Formed from an ambition to grow Manchester’s reputation internationally as a creative city following the 2002 Commonwealth Games, MIF has been staged every two years in Manchester since 2007, commissioning, producing and presenting world premieres by world-renowned artists including Marina Abramović, Damon Albarn, Laurie Anderson, Björk, Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah, Akram Khan, David Lynch, Wayne McGregor, Yoko Ono, Skepta and The xx. The festival’s success under the artistic direction of Alex Poots initially and now John McGrath, has attracted significant national and international audiences, widespread critical acclaim, and generated over £300meconomic activity for the city since its inception. Working closely with cultural organisations globally, much of the work made at MIF has also gone on to travel the world, reaching an audience of 1.8 million people in more than 30 countries to date.

Aviva Studios, the new home of Factory International and the UK’s newest cultural landmark, grew out of the festival’s legacy – sharing its focus on commissioning new, large-scale work and building on MIF’s record of working with communities, and bringing jobs, skills, training and creative opportunities. With its epic scale and ultra-flexible design, Aviva Studios is a unique and invaluable addition to the national and international arts landscape – a place where artists can create work of invention and ambition of a kind not made anywhere else in the world – and bolstering Manchester’s credentials as an economic and creative powerhouse. Its development unlocked over £100m of new public funding into Manchester including £99.05m from HM Government and £7m National Lottery funding from Arts Council England – the largest investment in a national cultural project since the opening of Tate Modern in 2000. Over the next decade, Aviva Studios is projected togenerate £1.1 billion to the city’s economy and support 1,500 direct and indirect jobs.

Aviva Studios provided a centrepiece to the 2023 Manchester International Festival in July, hosting a series of preview events including a spectacular exhibition by Yayoi Kusama, and gigs by the likes of Angelique Kidjo and John Grant. A report to Manchester City council’s Economy and Regeneration Scrutiny Committee this month revealed that MIF23 attracted over325,000 visitors and generated £39.2m of economic activity to the city. In October, the venue officially launched to sold out audiences and critical acclaim with its opening production, the Matrix-inspired Free Your Mindcreated by a world-class creative team including Danny Boyle, Es Devlin, Boy Blueco-founders Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy and Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante and Sabrina Mahfouz and featuring over 50 dancers from the Northwest and across the UK. It was followed by The Welcome, an invitation from local people to celebrate the new cultural space opening in the heart of their city, programmed by Greater Manchester residents; two nights with Johnny Marr and an orchestra of northern musicians; and a stage adaptation of Oliver Jeffers’ award-winning book Lost and Found from BAFTA award-winning director Will Brentonwith music from Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals.

John McGrath, Artistic Director & Chief Executive, Factory International says: “Tom has been a truly inspiring Chair at every stage of the journey for Manchester International Festival, and Factory International.  From the very first plans to create a unique festival of new commissions for the ‘Original Modern City’, to the vast ambitions of our new venue, Aviva Studios, Tom has guided and supported the team here in such a generous and wise way. We simply wouldn’t be here now without his leadership and spirit.  Manchester as a city, alongside myself as an individual, and so many artists and audiences, all owe him a huge debt of gratitude.”


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