Interview: Under the Skin with John McGrath

Under the Skin is a series of interviews conducted during DaDaFest International 2016. The interviews aimed to delve deeper and explore key disability-related issues relating to the arts sector and beyond. We spoke to several artists and industry leaders who attended our second international Congress.

Below is the first in our series, an interview with John McGrath, Artistic Director of Manchester International Festival. Stay tuned to our site for further text/ video interviews in the series.


John McGrath speaking at the 2016 DaDaFest International Congress. Photo by Mark Loudon.

1)   Can you tell us who you are and about your work?

I’m Artistic Director of Manchester International Festival, a biennial festival of new commissions by leading international artists.  The work is often cross-artform, and ambitious in scale.  The next festival is from June 29 – July 16 2017.

My background is as a theatre director and before this I was Artistic Director of National Theatre Wale, and Contact Theatre Manchester. I trained as a director in New York.

Many years ago, I founded Arts Integrated Merseyside – the organisation which eventually turned into DaDaFest.

2) What can we expect from Manchester International Festival 2017?

We’ve just announced four of our commissions, which range from a performance-film-debate project, inspired by Dr Strangelove, called “What if Women Ruled the World” to a huge fashion runway being built in Piccadilly Gardens! The full programme will be announced on March 9, 2017 with around 25 new commissions in total.  Full details can be found at

3)     What were your highlights from the last MIF?

We co-produced Akram Khan’s Giselle with the English National Ballet as a trailblazer for our new venue Factory, premiering in Manchester, and that was certainly a highlight.

4)     What do you think of the theme Skin:Deep?

It’s an interesting theme. Skin Deep tends to be taken to mean shallow or not important and yet the skin is such an important, beautiful part of who we are.

5)     What are the three things that you hope to see happen in disability arts in the future?

I hope to see more great artists emerging. Also, I hope for new forms and ways of communicating and for there to be a healthy back and forth between disability culture and integration in the wider arts scene.

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