Vital Topics: Alex Poots, founding director of MIF in conversation with Peter Saville


The Business of Culture

As young people are priced out of living in London, Manchester has a unique opportunity to attract talent and create a UK hub for creative industries.

That was the key message at our Vital Topics discussion at Whitworth Art Gallery between city of Manchester Creative Director Peter Saville and Alex Poots, founding Artistic Director of the Manchester International Festival.

Saville, who famously co-founded Factory Records and designed some of the most iconic pop album covers of the late 20th century, described what was happening in London as an “unprecedented phenomenon”.

“The creation of such a truly global hub, newly connected in a mobile world, has never ever happened before on such a global scale. But at the same time London doesn’t work for you unless you are very, very well paid or rich. Young people cannot afford to live in London so talent is excluded, it is a massive problem for the city.”

He said this provided opportunities for other UK cities which now needed to step up to the plate. “Thinking of London as the capital of the UK is misguided. I actually think of Manchester as the UK capital because London is an entirely separate city state. The opportunity could be created to make Manchester an unmissable attraction, and many things could be done to accelerate the reinvention of Manchester society.”

However Saville warned that retaining graduates in the city was crucial. “We have the largest university campus right here in Europe, which means all this talent is passing through the city, but it has to have a reason to stay. The grown up city needs to understand better what the growing up city is all about. If graduates do not want to stay here, then why not? Talent ultimately goes to a place where it will get better. It is about centres of excellence and how you can nurture those centres of excellence.”

peter saville

Peter Saville

Saville was appointed by Manchester City Council 10 years ago to help redefine the perception of Manchester away from just a football city. He said the Manchester International Festival (MIF), which began in 2007, had since been very successful in terms of influencing the perception of Manchester internationally.

“MIF works as a strategy. The reason artists come here is the freedom they get.” He added: “Most great things happen because someone can do them, they do not happen because of a financial objective. The freedom to do what is possible is behind people going further and giving more.”

The view was echoed by Poots, who said that thanks to the cultural legacy of the likes of Factory Records, there was still a certain credibility that artists viewed Manchester with. “It is the cool, independent end of popular culture. That gives us an edge. MIF shows it is possible that a well-invested festival can do very well outside a capital city.”

Poots added that any city without culture is a dead city. “Great culture is made by people, and giving them the chance to express themselves without an economic objective.”

Poots recalled that when he was first asked by Manchester City Council to take on the MIF job he replied that the key to the festival’s success would be “less is more” in terms of the number of shows, and warned that the council would have zero control over its investment. “It was amazing that the Council agreed to it, but it trusted the process. It was all about empowering great artists to do what they do best.”

This year’s MIF runs from July 2nd – 19th.




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