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Arts festival widely dubbed ‘Festival of Brexit’ claims 18 million visitors

Arts festival widely dubbed ‘Festival of Brexit’ claims 18 million visitors

(Illustration | Tracy Worrall)

3 min read

Unboxed, the arts festival widely called the “Festival of Brexit” says it has achieved an audience of 18 million people – but just 2.8 million people attended the events in person.

The festival, which cost over £120m to put on, delivered free events at 107 locations across the UK throughout the past year and promised to deliver “important new ideas and possibilities from the future” including events on sustainability and “the power of the human mind”.

According to Unboxed organisers, 2.8 million people attended the events in person, while an additional 13.5 million joined events online and 1.7 million took part in learning or community events.

The headline figure includes the TV audience of an episode of the BBC's Countryfile, which included a 15-minute segment of Unboxed content. 

An initial "stretch target" was for 66 million people. An exclusive investigation by The House magazine earlier this year revealed that the festival had struggled to gain visitors, having seen just 238,000 as of August.

The project's director, Martin Green, said at the time it had been "unfortunate" that the "Festival of Brexit" tag had stuck to the event. "We all must learn from this. Rule one of major events: don’t politicise them. And unfortunately a few chose to politicise it from the beginning,” he told The House earlier this year.

It was also slated by MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in March, who described it as a “recipe for failure” and a “prime example” of a large-scale project with aims that are “vague and ripe for misinterpretation”. The value for money of the event is to be examined by the UK’s public spending watchdog, The National Audit Office, following a request from the committee.

Responding to the latest figures, Phil Batty, Executive Director of the festival, said that Unboxed had “enabled thousands of creative minds to experiment and work together on major creative projects". 

“I am proud that through Unboxed, we have been able to create joyful memories for millions of people in communities across the UK,” he said.

Stuart Andrew, minister for sport, tourism and civil society, praised the initiative, claiming that it had “showcased the world-leading creative talent and innovation we have right here on our shores”.

“Since March, ten groundbreaking commissions have taken culture to the doorsteps of millions in communities right across the UK,” he said.

“Unboxed formed innovative creative coalitions in programming that inspired people who attended events, got involved online or watched on TV.”

The House reported that participants in the festival had even insisted that it would be part of their contracts that Brexit not be mentioned. A spokesperson for Unboxed said, “There are absolutely no references to Brexit in our Full Commissioning Agreements with the 10 projects”, but declined to provide further details.

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