Behind the scenes at Aviva Studios

Already being touted as Manchester’s answer to Tate Modern, this dynamic cultural venue will focus on original and unexpected new work. We talk to artistic director and CEO John E McGrath about his plans for the space

It’s hard to find a good news ­story about the visual arts sector in the UK right now. With cuts to funding and huge energy costs, plus a lack of recovery in visitor numbers after the pandemic, many public institutions are being forced to reconsider how they operate, or even close altogether.

In addition, creative education is being undervalued, from primary school through to higher education, with the government cutting funding to arts and creative courses after stating in 2021 that these were not among its “strategic priorities”.

With a backdrop this bleak, the arrival of Aviva Studios, a huge new cultural space in Manchester, seems like a small miracle. Nearly ten years in the planning, the design of the venue has been led by Ellen van Loon of Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and marks the renowned firm’s first public building in the UK. Its development has been led by Manchester City Council, with backing from the government and Arts Council England.

The space will be run by Factory International, the organisation behind the biannual Manchester International Festival, which has been staged in venues across the city since 2007 and has presented new work from an array of artists and musicians – from Yoko Ono to Skepta and Steve McQueen to Björk.

Aviva Studios construction images, August 2022, by Hélène Binet