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£120m government event born of 'Festival of Brexit' has seen just 238,000 visitors

Illustration by Tracy Worrall

2 min read

Exclusive: Unboxed, the arts festival widely dubbed the "festival of Brexit", has seen just 238,000 visitors, against its organisers' initial "stretch target" of 66 million.

This is despite the festival costing £120m – more than four times the cost of the celebrations to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The revelation comes in an investigation by The House magazine, published today.

The festival dubbed the "Festival of Brexit" had been 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”, after the government shifted its purpose away from stated aims to celebrate leaving the European Union.

The project's director, Martin Green, told The House it had been "unfortunate" the "Festival of Brexit" tag had stuck to the event. He said: "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.” 

The House has also learned that participants in the Festival even went so far as insisting that it would be part of their contracts that Brexit not be mentioned.

Donald Shaw, a musician who served as the music director for one of the events, a three-day music festival at Kelvingrove Park in Scotland called Dandelion, told The House: “It was a red-line in our contracts with Unboxed. When the festival was announced we said that if literally one MP stood up and said, ‘This is the festival of Brexit’, we were all going to pull out. The Scottish government made that clear to the UK government.”  

A spokesperson for Unboxed said: "There are absolutely no references to Brexit in our Full Commissioning Agreements with the 10 projects”, but did not provide further details.

Another event attended by The House aimed to take groups that wouldn’t normally have access to areas of natural beauty and film them to produce video content. The resulting video from the event has been viewed just over 1,000 times. A spokesperson for Unboxed said: "With 10 projects (each delivered by multiple partners) and a significant number of events running concurrently, the plan has always been to release engagement data as part of the final evaluation."

They went on: "Some initial output data and information is due to be released in November once the live events have concluded. The UNBOXED team monitor attendance at individual activity for the seven projects now live and are pleased with how the public are engaging."

Read Carnival Of Brexit: How The Government's £120m "Festival Of Brexit" Went Rogue here.

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