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Spectacular public artwork sparks five year early years arts engagement study

Luke Jerram's new public artwork will set in motion a five-year-long programme of bespoke family activities and opportunities, aimed at supporting cultural engagement and child development, and a research programme to understand the impact.

Ahead of the opening of The Factory, the landmark cultural space being developed in the heart of Manchester, a spectacular public artwork will celebrate new life throughout January 2023. Artist Luke Jerram, creator of the Museum of the Moon and Gaia, will mark births in Manchester and Salford with a large-scale installation on the banks of the Irwell, outside The Factory. ‘First Breath’ will cast bright beams of light up into the sky every evening, pulsing the number of births that day to mark the first breaths of hundreds of babies born.

Luke Jerram’s Gaia in Lancaster Priory this month, with the Choir of Sanctuary

Cultural engagement and early years

Delivered by the team behind Manchester International Festival, Luke Jerram’s artwork will set in motion a five-year-long programme of bespoke family activities and opportunities, aimed at supporting cultural engagement and child development.

First Breath Baby Box

In February, the MIF team got in touch to collaborate on a five-year arts and health project to run alongside First Breath. Remember Finland’s ground-breaking Baby Boxes, given to all newborns with a starter kit in a box that transforms into a cot? This public health initiative started in 1930s continues to this day in Finland and in Scotland, too.

Building on this concept, participating families will be offered a First Breath Baby Box, containing cultural materials and experiences, including supporting workshops, early learning social events, and birthday parties at the Factory, connecting a new generation through culture and exploring how art can be woven into daily family life from birth.

A unique research opportunity

This invitation, and subsequent research idea which we are developing into a significant bid with the University of Manchester, is a unique opportunity to better understand the impact of arts and cultural engagement in the early years, for babies and their families. This will allow researchers to explore how things like child development, school readiness, parental wellbeing and bonding can be supported through creativity activities and arts engagement.

Each of the families with babies born in January will receive lifetime membership to The Factory – providing priority booking, discounted tickets and exclusive invitations to everything from major exhibitions and epic concerts, to family performances, workshops and ground-breaking digital experiences.

In the context of a GM-level commitment to levelling up inequities (a key example being ‘school readiness’ where children in the region are 10 percentage points behind the national average), this unique offer represents an important chance to better understand the roles of arts and cultural engagement in early years. To find out more about how we are going to do this, please feel free to get in touch.

You can read more about the project at BBC OnlineManchester Evening NewsManchester’s FinestAbout Manchester.

Expectant parents due from Christmas Day 2022 until the end of January can sign-up to First Breath now

Artist Luke Jerram said, “First Breath was inspired by the birth of my daughter, Maya back in 2006. So it’s taken 16 years to be able to realise this artwork! I’m so excited that First Breath will finally be created and it’s so fitting that it will help launch the birth of this extraordinary new cultural space in Manchester. I’m really looking forward to meeting many of the expectant families involved with this project, and helping them celebrate this shared milestone in their lives.”

John McGrath, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of The Factory and Manchester International Festival said, “At the turn of 2023 we’ll celebrating new beginnings with a spectacular public artwork visible from miles around projected from the site of our future home. As we light up the sky welcoming hundreds of new-borns into the world, Luke’s artwork will also breathe life into the building and we hope set in motion fruitful life-long relationships between us and the next generation of creators.”

Luke Jerram

Artist Luke Jerram has made his name creating fantastically accessible live artworks, sculptures and experiences about everything from Covid-19 to the environment. His multidisciplinary practice involves the creation of sculptures, installations and live arts projects. Working internationally since 1997, Jerram has created extraordinary art projects which have excited and inspired people around the world.

His artwork the Museum of the Moon has travelled to more 30 countries and viewed by over 10 million people in different settings, both indoors and outdoors. The lunar installation prompts both personal reflection and a collective contemplation about the night sky, outer space and what it all means.

Gaia at Lancaster Priory, image from Lancaster Guardian

Gaia is a touring artwork – and is currently suspended in Lancaster Priory! I’ll be going this evening, 14th July, to witness the Choir of Sanctuary, a choir of women, many of whom are refugees and asylum seekers, singing under Gaia with Rioghnach Connolly, BBC Folk Singer of the Year 2020,

The Factory

Opening in 2023, The Factory will be Manchester International Festival’s permanent home, commissioning and presenting a year-round programme of extraordinary, ground-breaking and interdisciplinary work by leading artists from across the globe.

Inspired by Manchester’s unmatched history of invention, The Factory will commission, produce and present new work by the world’s most exciting artists, offering a space to make, explore and experiment.

At 13,350 square metres, The Factory will be ultra-flexible, enabling large-scale artistic work of invention and ambition that isn’t made anywhere else in the world: from major exhibitions and epic concerts, to intimate performances and immersive experiences, including dance, theatre, music, opera, visual arts, popular culture and innovative contemporary work incorporating the latest digital technologies. Working with local, national and international co-producers, it will premiere major new work, before it travels globally.

Attracting up to 850,000 visitors annually, The Factory will add £1.1 billion to the economy over a decade and create 1,500 direct and indirect jobs. Its pioneering programme of skills, training and engagement will benefit local people and the next generation of creative talent from across the city, whilst apprenticeships and trainee schemes are already underway during the construction phase.

The Factory will open in 2023. Programme plans will be announced from autumn 2022.

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