Manchester’s music scene has always rolled with a self-confident swagger. So it’s no surprise that approval for a new £110m arts venue in the city was accompanied by boasts that its arrival would make Manchester the “cultural capital of the world.”
The legacy of Tony Wilson, the broadcaster and music mogul who nurtured bands including New Order and Happy Mondays, has been secured with the approval of The Factory project, a major new arts hub located at the former Granada Studios site.
Named after Factory records, the independent label founded by Wilson, who died in 2007, the new venue will hold up to 5,000 people and provide a permanent home for the Manchester International Festival. The flexible space can be transformed from a seated theatre to a standing environment suitable for a wide range of art forms.
The Project was secured after the Government pledged £78 million in last year's Autumn statement, as part of its Northern Powerhouse initiative. Chancellor George Osborne said “anyone who is a child of the 80s” would welcome the investment, prompting speculation that he had once joined the ravers who made a pilgrimage to the Hacienda nightclub in his youth.
The venue, approved at a Manchester City Council meeting on 29 July, is scheduled to open in July 2019. Councillor Rosa Battle, executive member for culture and leisure, claimed that The Factory would make Manchester the cultural capital of the UK “if not the world”.
Located at the heart of a new creative village, St John's, in the former Granada Studios site in Manchester city centre, the Factory, together with the MediaCityUK development at Salford Quays which now houses many BBC services, will help cement the cultural reputation of a city which has prided itself on artistic regeneration.
The Factory Project was given a warm welcome by Peter Hook, bassist with Joy Division and New Order, the Factory label’s most significant acts. “Undoubtedly what Tony did with the Hacienda and Factory is going to stay with Manchester forever so it’s a wonderful compliment for someone like George Osborne to use that as the starting point for the next catalyst,” Hook told the Manchester Evening News.
The theatre’s location on the former ITV site was particularly appropriate since Wilson used his Granada TV role to bring emerging bands to a new audience, Hook said.
The St John’s neighbourhood - which a report says will "create vibrancy similar to Covent Garden in London" - covers six hectares and promises to incorporate 15,000 sq m of “creative performance space”.
“There's a real buzz around the city's creative scene,” Councillor Battle said. “The Factory will be an amazing class ultra-flexible space to compare with the best in the globe - attracting the best artists from around the world and audiences from all over the country and beyond as well as supporting home-grown talent.”
The Factory will “commission works in partnership with leading national and international organisations - not competing with existing venues.”
It is anticipated that the new arts centre will act as a catalyst, encouraging other creative industries and specialist suppliers to cluster around it, establishing Manchester as the country's most significant arts and cultural employment centre outside London.
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