In Culture

Creativity comes in different forms. For example, some people paint pictures. Some people get other people to paint pictures…in 30 minutes, in a disused mill, as a competition, in front of a live audience.


They’re called art battles. They’ve been happening in Manchester since 2013 and the idea is simple: ten artists get 30 minutes to create something. After the 30 minutes, the audience vote for a winner and the artworks are auctioned off at the end.

Oil, water colour, spray can, marker pen, wax crayon, mucky stick – it doesn’t matter. It’s live art and the audience are free to walk around and get up close. It’s a unique challenge for the artists but valuable exposure for their work and talent.

There have been 13 art battles in Manchester so far - all thanks to Manchester couple Sophie and John Macaulay. When they first met, like any couple, they shared their interests with each other. John: music. Sophie: art. Going to gigs was easy (this is Manchester, after all) but cool art events weren’t as easy to find. They decided to change all that and organised Art Battle Manchester I in the Northern Quarter. It went down a storm.

The world’s first art battle took place in Toronto in 2009. Since then, they’ve popped up in other US and European cities. Sophie and John would be the first to tip their hats to their Canadian art battle counterparts but Art Battle Manchester is fiercely independent and distinctly Mancunian. This is no international franchise.

Mills, warehouses, building sites, theatres, skate parks, fire stations, bars, landmarks – every Art Battle Manchester is held in a different place. Sophie and John look for extraordinary spaces that don’t mind the odd splat of paint here or there.

For Battle Royal (Art Battle Manchester XI), more than 1000 people filled Manchester’s glorious Albert Hall to watch a Champion of Champions event. The winner was flown out to compete in a New York art battle.

As most art battles are theatre-in-the-round events, the Royal Exchange Theatre (possibly the world’s largest theatre-in-the-round) made the perfect choice for Art Battle Manchester XII.

Not many organisers would see the potential for ProjektsMCR Skate Park (just below the Mancunian Way) to host a live competitive art event – but Sophie and John did. Manchester is their canvas and they bring in the compere, music and bar. They love to spring a few surprises (skaters, fire eaters, break dancers, circus performers) and with average attendances of around 500-600 people, there’s always an excited vibe.

Sophie and John pour a lot of energy into each event. They organise everything themselves. No grants, no funding, no staff. They’re totally committed to creating something special in their home town – even if that means going into labour mid-art battle, as Sophie did. No kidding! That happened.

And when the artworks are auctioned off, 50% goes to the artist and 50% goes to a local grassroots charity. They don’t do this for profit. To date, thanks to local artists contributing their work and other significant contributions, Art Battle Manchester has raised around £95,000 for charity.

Looking ahead, we can expect two or three battles per year for the foreseeable. Art Battle Manchester have some exciting plans for the next 12 months and some very cool ideas for venues. We can’t give any clues. They’d never forgive us.

Tickets go very quickly so keep an eye on Art Battle Manchester. Or if you’re a talented artist who likes to take risks in front of a live audience, the Macaulays would love to hear from you.




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