The Manchester Weekender event, taking place October 11th-14th in Manchester and at `The Quays', features lots of poncy stuff including Will Self `Close Up' and `The Flaneurs Guide to the Northern Quarter'.
The "annual art and culture extravaganza" claims that visitors can "experience the real Manchester." Except that loads of it is taking place in Salford Quays, or `The Quays', as it's billed. And an internal marketing plan reveals that the Weekender is being aimed primarily at the affluent, despite both the organisers and many of the companies taking part being backed with public money.
The leaked document identifies main Weekender target markets, including the `Urbanistas' - `highly educated', `highly spending'. And the `Early Urbanistas' - `younger', `reasonably affluent'… It adds that it is "not trying to reach those currently not engaged with art and culture".
All this would be okay, except that everyone is paying for the Weekender. It's being organised by Creative Tourist, a project developed by the Manchester Museums Consortium, which includes The Lowry, Manchester Art Gallery, and the, er, People's History Museum. A Weekender event at the People's Museum called Songs of the Caged Bird is centred around American civil rights with a previous tour around `Manchester's civil rights past'. At the same venue, Salford's Hot Bed Press will be running a `Radical Print Shop' centred around `Manchester's political/protest past'… Let's hope the affluent Urbanistas enjoy them...
Creative Tourist's website features logos including ManchesterHistory.co.uk - supported by the European Regional Development Fund and Visit Manchester - and Visit Manchester itself which in turn is financed by the Association of Greater Manchester Councils (AGMA), of which Salford City Council is a member. One of AGMA's stated priorities is "Better Life Chances in Deprived Areas".
There's also a logo up there for Renaissance North West – an Arts Council museum project, praised a few years ago by the DCMS director of culture for its policies on "social inclusion".
Salford companies taking part in the weekender include The Lowry (£1million from Salford Council), the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra (£3million per year from Salford Council), the University of Salford, Islington Mill, Hot Bed Press and Happystorm Theatre.
The Weekender's marketing plan notes that the Arts Council estimates that the `Urbanista' audience it's aiming at "accounts for 3% of the population" – "we would like to lead with a photographic image aimed particularly at the Urbanista/early Urbanista markets" it states.
"…we can assume certain characteristics across all markets" the marketing plan adds "cultural literacy/awareness; further or higher education qualifications; comfortable use of digital technologies and social media; an understanding of how marketing/advertising works…and a position towards the top of the socio-economic scale."
The Salford Star asked Susie Stubbs of Creative Tourist for an explanation and she sent us a long reply, basically arguing that the marketing plan had been taken out of context…
"It isn't exclusive" she states "The Weekender is really popular with Manchester residents and visitors alike. It has something for everyone - whatever the budget.
"Cultural tourists are a demographic that we alone are attracting- on behalf of and in constructive partnership with all our cultural sector partners" she adds "Obviously, none of the events we promote exclude local people - far from it - and we have a very supportive local following, but it just isn't where we put the emphasis of our marketing activity for the Weekender…that's the job of our partners
"Whilst receiving funding from a mix of public sector sources, we do not receive any money direct from Salford City Council or Salford arts organisations in receipt of public money" she stresses "but we do work in partnership with the arts, culture and tourism sectors to promote the city region's offer to cultural tourists from outside the city, and to ensure that by collaborating and working together, we make the most of the arts and cultural offer in Manchester and The Quays."
We asked Salford Council - which is a financial partner in AGMA, which in turn funds Visit Manchester which in turn supports the Weekender – for a comment but so far it has declined.
We also asked The Lowry to comment but have had no reply. Happystorm Theatre did respond and quoted us their policy… "To increase accessibility of theatre to a non-theatre audience; to encourage social cohesion…; to continue the growing sense of pride in Salford through artistic and meaningful theatre produced in and for the community."
For the Weekender, Happystorm is showcasing its production of Borderline Vultures (backed by The Lowry, Peel Media and the Arts Council), set in "a secret and unusual location at The Quays from where you will navigate your way through a multi-storey universe of touching and absurd encounters".
Tickets are on sale at £12 and £10 but director Susi Wrenshaw states that the company is going out of its way to make the performances accessible…
"We have 22 performances altogether. 21 are on sale to the public" she says "We are offering tickets to our 2 previews for just £5 and have cheap Tuesday shows for £7 for all tickets to make this accessible. One of the performances (13th Oct 2.30pm) was added on top of our other shows to be part of the Manchester Weekender for which we are also offering tickets at just £7 to increase accessibility.
"The production is also part of Black History Month" she adds "After meeting with the Refugee Network it became apparent that even the £5 charge for previews would be a barrier to its members being able to attend…We therefore added an additional show which is free of charge in celebration of BHM. The Refugee Network and other agencies will be supplying transport to the free show so that nobody is excluded. Most of these people have never been to or rarely attend the theatre."
The Manchester Weekender runs 11th -14th October and Salford related events include Behind The Scenes at BBC North (£5.75, £7.25 and £8.50); BBC Philharmonic Orchestra play Mozart and Mahler at the Bridgewater Hall (£10-£34) and the Joke Boat at the Quays (£3/£2) – Sam Avery will be giving a `comic's view of the buildings, facts, fiction and unsuspecting passers-by along the way"…
For further details on the Manchester Weekender – click here