Manc of the Month: John Macaulay

We love a good art event here in Manchester, and John Macaulay (alongside his with Sophie) are doing these events a little differently! They set up Art Battle Manchester. This event mixes a lot of art, a healthy dose of competition, stirred in with live music and alcohol, with a dash of surprise elements. That all equates to a delicious night out! That is why founder John Macaulay is August’s Manc of the Month!

We chatted with John about his highlights and his challenges, about being on TV and the upcoming event at Manchester Art Gallery, 16th August!

Cotton On MCR: What is Art Battle Manchester?

John Macaulay: ‘We’ve been called Manchester’s most energetic art event. We give ten artists only 30 minutes to create a masterpiece in front of 500 people. The crowd gets to watch the art evolve and vote for their favourite. Add in a DJ, live music, a bar, circus acts, and a few random surprises. It’s art for the people. We turn the artists into Rock Stars for the night and each time a champion is made.’

CO: Tell us about the next battle at Manchester Art Gallery.

JM: ‘We’ve never used the same venue twice for an Art Battle Manchester event – we’re a bit like the Littlest Hobo. Fortunately, Manchester is blessed with some incredible buildings. We’ve been privileged to do battles at many of them including London Road Fire Station, Victoria Baths, Albert Hall, The Royal Exchange, Projekts Skatepark and some stunning old mills and warehouses. It keeps the event fresh and gives the crowd insights into some of the city’s historic buildings.’   

‘Our next stop is at the beautiful Manchester Art Gallery on the 200th anniversary of The Peterloo Massacre. It’s part of the Peterloo 2019 Festival by Manchester Histories. We’re celebrating the power of the crowd to get things done. It will be a special occasion. See you there on 16th August.’

CO: Yeah we’re excited for it! You were recently featured on the BBC’s The One Show, tell us about that.

JM: ‘Yes, they turned up to capture our last event at Victoria Baths. It was a bit surreal being on a TV show watched by over 6 million people. The editor did a lot of research about us before filming on the day, so I think they did us, and the artists proud. The BBC One Show presenter, Adebanji Alade, who is also a talented artist, painted on stage in front of 500 people to get a flavour of the adrenaline rush of taking part. His piece was off the scale.’

CO: You also had a live battle on BBC Radio Manchester. How did that come about?

JM: ‘BBC Radio Manchester asked if we could come on the show to talk about our next battle – our Peterloo Edition. They asked if we could bring some artists, so we asked two Art Battle Mcr veterans to paint live on air. Then it evolved into an Art Battle on the radio – fortunately, they have a Facebook Live camera in the studio, so people were able to watch Emma Evans and Amy Coney compete online. It was very well received with hundreds of positive comments. We’re always keen to try new things.’

CO: Which has been the best battle / venue?

JM: ‘Each has venue has its own memories. My personal favourites include Albert Hall as I’ve seen some of my musical heros play there, but Projekts Skatepark gets a special mention as my wife Sophie (the other half of Art Battle Manchester) went into labour at the event and our son Alfred was born in the early hours the following morning. He’s an Art Battle Manchester baby.’

CO: Ah that’s amazing! So how can people get involved?

JM: ‘It’s really easy, just send us a message through our website [link below]. It’s not for us to judge artists, if you are brave enough, we’ll give you an opportunity to take part. We’ve had all different types of artists take part – street artists, tattooists, painters, cartoonists, illustrators and more. 

CO: What challenges did you face in setting up these art events?

JM: ‘It’s always a challenge to put on events in Manchester, as there is so much going on in the city. We’ve been lucky that we’ve had amazing support since we started. It’s really hard to get funding and we’ve never managed it, but it’s probably for the best as it allows us to retain our independence and follow whichever direction we choose. As we use different venues, each time the logistics start from scratch each time. Herding artists can be quite challenging too. Apart from that, it’s a doddle!’

CO: What do you think of Manchester’s art scene and what do you think it needs more of?

JM: ‘It’s really vibrant and diverse art scene at the moment. There’s a great community of visual artists in Manchester and together people achieve more. It needs to continue to grow with more inclusive and interactive events.’

CO: What has been the proudest moment of the business so far?

JM: ‘Being on national TV on more than one occasion is great, but it’s a bigger buzz when we hear from an artist who tells us that taking part in Art Battle Manchester was a catalyst for them to become a full-time artist.’

CO: What’s next for Art Battle?

JM: ‘To keep on delivering stand out events in Manchester. We’re keen to bring more opportunities to the 160+ artists that we’ve met over the years too. We’re working with a charity at the moment to deliver a programme that uses art to help rehabilitate people in prison, all delivered by local artists. We’re always open for ideas.’

CO: If you could live in any painting/artwork, which would it be?

JM: ‘With two young children and the chaos of organising Art Battle Manchester, it would be nice to escape to one of Monet’s peaceful gardens!’

Apply to take part in Art Battle Manchester via their website – Also (at the point of writing this) tickets are still available for the next Art Battle at Manchester Art Gallery.

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