Manchester International Festival tickets 'selling faster'

Image caption Bjork has invented a range of new instruments for her live shows at Upper Campfield Market

Arts and culture enthusiasts are snapping up tickets for the upcoming Manchester International Festival (MIF) - despite the recession.

Sales are faster than previous years, with about 30% of tickets for some shows being bought by people abroad, MIF chairman Tom Bloxham said.

He said the festival had hit its stride in 2011 and was set to be the best yet.

Damon Albarn, Bjork, Victoria Wood and performance artist Marina Abramovic are among those bringing shows to the city.

The third biannual festival, which showcases original new works and one-off special events, begins on 30 June.

Mr Bloxham paid tribute to festival director Alex Poots as the "brainchild" behind the festival, which he said had now established itself after finding its feet in 2007 and 2009.

'More buzz'

"I think this third festival will be the best. I've been challenging Alex a bit like a musician," he told BBC News.

"The first album they have been writing all of their life, the second one they make it big and it's their third one that really matters. I think he's come up trumps with this one actually.

Image caption Tom Bloxham said MIF 2011 would be the best yet

"There's a lot more buzz about it than the previous ones. Despite the recession, the ticket sales are much faster than they were in the previous two.

"For some of the shows, 30% of the ticket sales are going to overseas purchasers, so they will be bringing people from all around the world to Manchester to see our great city and to experience the great works and the festival."

Bjork will launch the 2011 event with the first of six shows based on her new album Biophilia, which Mr Bloxham said promised to be "extraordinary".

Funding boost

"It's the first time she's done this. She's been writing it for five years and she's going to open it in Manchester, and tour it around the world," he added.

The festival chairman said he was also excited by Damon Albarn's stage show about 16th Century alchemist Doctor John Dee, the Life and Death of Marina Abramovich and blind Mali music duo Amadou and Mariam's staging of a concert in total darkness.

Despite uncertainty in arts funding, last month it was revealed the festival had secured Arts Council funding of £500,000 a year until 2014/15.

Although not its only source of funding - ticket sales, private sector sponsorship and local authorities also play a large part - the backing came as a welcome boost to organisers.

"I think they were impressed with how well the festival is run, impressed with its creative edge and I think its a real endorsement to the quality of the festival that despite the pressures the Arts Council are under they were able to substantially fund us," Mr Bloxham added.

For MIF's chairman and the rest of the festival team, with the 2011 programme announced, ticket sales strong and some shows already sold out, the focus is now on growing the festival into the envy of the rest of the world.

"Our ambition is to become one of the world's great festivals," said Mr Bloxham.

"The seed of the festival was really what does Manchester do post Commonwealth Games? Manchester is a great city. It's always been famous for sport, it's famous for regeneration, it's famous for commerce.

"But it's never really been famous for culture - apart from perhaps contemporary music - and this is the real effort to put Manchester on the international map as a centre of culture."

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