Row between ‘Festival of Brexit’ chief and Nick Robinson as event director insists event HAS been a success and says 18m have taken part despite attacks over ‘eye-watering’ £120m cost
- A baffling row over the festival erupted this morning over the number of visitors
- Exec director Phil Batty said he thought the £120million project was success
- But Nick Robinson said on Radio 4 it had missed its 60 million visitor target
- Prompted Mr Batty to insist the number was not a target, but ’creative ambition’
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The director of the £120million ‘Festival of Brexit‘ insisted today it had been ‘very successful’ in a row over whether it had drawn just five per cent of its hoped visitors.
Unboxed aimed for 66 million people to go to its attractions, but only three million have come so far.
But in a tit-for-tat interview this morning executive director Phil Batty insisted the number was not a target – bafflingly describing instead as a ‘creative ambition’.
The unusual exchange happened on Radio 4’s Today programme between Mr Batty and Nick Robinson.
He insisted 18 million people took part in events overall, including those broadcast online and through virtual reality.
Mr Batty said: ‘These cultural experiences have showcased the very best of science, the very best of tech and the very best of the arts through live and through digital.’
But Mr Robinson pressed ‘That wasn’t the original target was it, the original target was for 66million visitors?’
See Monster was 35 metres tall and covered four publicly accessible levels animated by a 10-metre-high waterfall and features a multi-level slide offering an alternative route through the monster
The £8 million ‘PoliNations’ project is just one aspect of the giant nationwide festival called Unboxed
Mr Batty insisted: ’66 million was never a visitor target for this programme. It was a creative ambition for the programme.’
A confused Mr Robinson went again with ‘It was an ambition, not a target?’
But Mr Batty stood firm, responding: ’It was an ambition because we wanted to be really inclusive for the whole of the UK, and I think we’ve delivered that.’
Robinson then fired back: ‘Well you’re way off it aren’t you? If you were aiming for 66 million and you only got three million to actually go to anything that means you were dramatically under it.
‘Are you saying everyone has got it wrong, this was a triumph and a success. Wouldn’t it be more honest to say we’d hoped to do quite a bit better but we think there are some things we can celebrate.’
Mr Batty then doubled down with: ‘I believe it has been very successful because we’ve seen that whether that’s live events in towns and villages there’s been an economic boost, but also we’ve seen major free cultural projects provided to millions of people right across the UK, and that’s hugely important.’
The ‘See Monster’ is one of the projects in ‘Unboxed: Creativity in the UK’ which was originally dubbed the ‘Festival of Brexit’ by Jacob Rees-Mogg
Unboxed proudly boasted it was presenting a number of free ‘once-in-a-lifetime celebration of UK creativity’, spanning the UK until October, including artwork called ‘Dreamachine’ which aims to unlock the kaleidoscopic power of the human mind.
Another, ‘StoryTrails’, used virtual reality technology to bring to life the ‘hidden histories’ of 15 UK towns and cities, and runs from July until September.
The ‘Festival of Brexit’ celebrations were announced in 2018 by then-prime minister Theresa May.
She promised a ‘year-long festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ – before they were transformed into ‘Unboxed’, an eight-month ‘celebration of creativity’ with a series of events across the UK.
Unboxed says on its website that it is funded and supported by the UK Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, Scottish Government and Welsh Government.
The events were chosen following what organisers described as an ‘open call for ideas’ in 2020, which saw them receive 299 submissions involving around 3,000 organisations, freelancers and other creatives to take part in a research and development programme.
In November that year, 30 creative teams were shortlisted by representatives of the festival team and the delivery bodies, with input from a group of creative advisors, to take part in the funded research and development project.
Organisers said a ‘rigorous selection process’ saw ten teams commissioned to work on their project ideas in March 2021 – comprising of six UK-wide teams, plus one each for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
But earlier this year, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee said the festival was ‘an irresponsible use of public money’ and that it is ‘far from clear’ that it will deliver a return on investment.
Committee chairman Julian Knight said: ‘Far from showcasing the UK’s creativity and innovation to the world, the Unboxed festival seems to quickly be disappearing without trace.
‘That the Government is clinging to the idea that it is a success does not inspire confidence that lessons are being learnt about how best to deliver events in the future.
‘Without a commitment to a proper strategy, major events will continue to run the risk of squandering the potential benefits for the country and wasting taxpayers’ money.’
‘Unboxed: Creativity in the UK’: What were the ten art exhibits at the £120m former ‘Festival of Brexit’?
‘Unboxed: Creativity in the UK’, originally dubbed the ‘Festival of Brexit’, has cost British taxpayers £120m and ran from March to October this year.
Across 2022 it featured 10 ‘awe-inspiring new ideas’ across, science technology, maths and the arts.
- ‘About us’ (March – May): ‘Open-air spectacular’ show of ‘sound and light’ to ‘celebrate extraordinary connections’
- ‘Dandelion’ (Spring – Autumn): 1x1m ‘Cubes of Perpetual Light’ used as ‘miniature vertical farms’ in Scotland
- ‘Dreamachine’ (Spring – Autumn): ‘Explore your own mind’ by sitting in the exhibit like a giant kaleidoscope - Spring to Autumn
- ‘Galwad’ (September – October): Brings together Welsh talent to tell a story through digital, broadcast and live events
- ‘Green Space Dark Skies’ (April – September): Participants become ‘Lemenators’ carrying a low impact light onto the UK’s most beautiful green spaces
- ‘Our Place in Space’ (April – October) 10km sculpture trail of an ‘epic’ scale model of the solar system touring across the UK
- ‘PoliNations’ (August to September): A ‘Magical city-centre forest-garden’ in Birmingham Reflects on UK’s ‘complex histories surrounding migration and diversity’
- ‘See Monster’ (Summer): A disused North Sea offshore platform regenerated in Weston-super-Mare ‘StoryTrails’ – July to September
- ‘StoryTrails’ (July – September): A ‘magical AR and VR immersion in the hidden histories’ of 15 UK towns and cities
- ‘Tour de Moon’ (May – June): Described as a ‘cosmic journey into the possibilities of tomorrow: live shows, nightlife, digital experiences and more created in collaboration with the Moon’
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Row between ‘Festival of Brexit’ chief and Nick Robinson