Meet John McGrath, Artistic Director & CEO of Manchester International Festival

John E. McGrath is Artistic Director and CEO of Manchester International Festival.

His first Festival in 2017 featured world premieres from leading international artists; a new digital direction for MIF; a series of participatory commissions in public spaces, and My Festival a year-round programme forging closer connections with Manchester communities.

John was previously Artistic Director of National Theatre Wales, where he achieved a reputation for large-scale site-specific work, digital innovation and extraordinary community involvement. As CEO of MIF John will also be responsible for The Factory, a flagship cultural space for the creation of ambitious new work, opening in 2020.

10 minutes with John…

How would you describe what you do in 5 words?

Make International Art in Manchester

What was your first job?

Crushing Cardboard Boxes in British Home Stores

What was your worst job?

Overnight shifts in a New York summer loading coat rails in and out of hotels!

What achievement are you most proud of?

Re-Imagining Contact and founding National Theatre Wales, but watch this space.

What’s your greatest fear for the creative and cultural sector?


What are three unexpected qualities any leader needs?

Readiness to make a big decision on limited information, Ability to see things from the other side’s perspective, Ability to laugh at yourself.

What’s your superpower?

I can see the shape of things.

What motivates you every day?

The certainty of surprise, the joy of creating, the goodness of people.

What was the best piece of early career advice you received from a mentor?

Heartbreak is good for your art.

What advice of your own would you give to an aspiring or emerging leader?

It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it…

John McGrath joins Emerging Futures for The Big Debate – Leadership & Innovation, where we’ll discuss how cultural and creative leaders can harness progressive potential.

Follow John on Twitter @johnmif