Media and the City – Seeking Participation in the Futureeverything Festival

Media and The City is the theme of this year’s group projects for the 2011/2012 Polis block in Manchester. The broad theme has given us (8 students with 3 small groups) creative licence as to what we can explore, research and present; with a specific look at Manchester and the myriad of mediums manifest in this city. The theme is purposely apt, due to the changes that have occurred in Manchester recently. This last year has seen the opening of the new BBC headquarters: Media City in Salford Quays. The move from what many perceived the BBC to be as a ‘Londoncentric’ institution to ‘The North’ has determined the decentralisation of the BBC. Only time will tell how it will change the landscape of Media in Manchester and perceptions of The North, as well as creating local jobs for local people and possible subsequent gentrification in areas of Salford – if at all!
The Riots of summer 2011 sparked the I Love MCR marketing campaign which was designed to raise money to put back in to Manchester’s economy after parts of the city centre and Salford were damaged from fires and looting. Both of these examples demonstrate the changeable landscape of Manchester’s cultural identity and how this is portrayed through the media.

The medium that our group decided to focus on was festivals in Manchester. There is a rich mix of festivals in the city – from music orientated festivals such as Dot to Dot and Parklife to family orientated ones such as the Manchester Science Festival to the new to 2012 Manchester Histories Festival. Manchester International Festival; a bi-annual cultural festival that takes over the city centre, has only been running three years yet has had huge critical acclaim, drawn a variety of internationally known names and also attracted a wide audience. Not Part Of is the fringe festival that runs alongside the aforementioned Manchester International Festival. This focusses more on home-grown talent and showcases many weird and wonderful local artists. Events for Not Part Of can be discovered in unlikely venues across the city; such as the basement of Joshua Brooks and back rooms of bars along Canal Street.

When deciding to take on the topic of festivals for the group work we wanted to look at the accessibility of the arts in festivals and the participation that occurs from a variety of people from different backgrounds and ages. We wanted to also look at digital culture also due to the digital participation and how this has changed not only the cultural landscape and how we consume the media, but also how we participate. The decision became clear to research the Futureeverything Festival which comprises of three strands: music, art and a two day conference; which will take place in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in May 2012. “FutureEverything is all about discovering and celebrating the latest developments at the intersection of art and technology. We find and share with you the small sparks that grow into fresh ways of seeing the world”. Futureeverything (formerly Futuresonic) started in 1995 and the long running festival, now in its seventeenth year,  has evolved over time from being seen as an exclusively niche digital arts festival to become more mainstream in its output due to the growth and accessibility of digital culture and the digital age in which we live in today.

The changing cultural landscape in the way that we participate in the creative sector, digital culture and society at large have brought about this year’s theme of participation and exploring connectivity and collective action. Due to our interest in participation in the arts and through digital culture; it became a natural choice for the group project to research Futureeverything and something we wanted to focus on in more depth. Topics explored within this year’s conference will include a look at Participatory Media, Arab Spring, Future Cities and Mass Observation.

In conducting our research, this initially began by looking at what information was online and how much information we could access through digital participation alone. Futureeverything are, as to be expected, active on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and have two main blogs. Yet to really get underneath the surface of the Futureeverything brand we needed to talk to the staff of the festival. Jackie Malcolm, the General Manager of Futureeverything Festival kindly gave us an interview which allowed us to dig deeper in to what their focus is and see what goes on behind the scenes. Jackie sees Futureeverything as firmly rooted in Manchester and it has always been active across different disciplines and niches. Although part of the city as a whole, many neighbourhood networks exist in Manchester’s Northern Quarter which Futureeverything fits within – both geographically and in the independent, alternative spirit of the area. The feeling that Jackie gave was that those that do participate in Futureeverything “feel part of something bigger” which is what the festival instils in its users.


Despite spanning across different fields and engaging with a wide audience, Futureeverything want to expand their audience and encourage younger people to participate in their festival. Through having the opportunity to talk to Drew Hemment, the Founder and Chief Executive of Futureeverything and through correspondence with Jackie Malcolm, it has allowed us to work alongside them and write a project based on what their needs are for the future – and any recommendations we can make. The Arts Council England has five main goals for Achieving Great Art. Goal five is that “every child and young person has the opportunity to experience the richness of the arts”. In attaining this goal it is a priority of Futureeverything, who is primarily funded by the Arts Council to work with arts organisations to build creative partnerships for the future and enhance the cultural experience of young people.

The group project in Manchester has proved a challenging and stimulating experience for all involved. To be given creative licence of the project from the beginning was very refreshing, yet this also gave us ‘stress-of-choice’ to some degree in choosing what festivals we wanted to focus on, to the themes explored throughout the research. From what we envisaged at the start of the Manchester block to what we feel our project is now has been a changeable process but it has been rewarding to be able to work alongside a festival which we feel is a firm part of Manchester’s cultural identity.