A UK government-funded festival to celebrate creativity after Brexit has had fewer than three million visitors in eight months, organisers said Tuesday, facing accusations of wasting taxpayers’ money.
The arts and science festival opened in March with organisers denying any link to the UK’s divisive exit from the European Union.
Allocated £120 million ($142 million) in government funding, its free events included a disused oilrig turned into an art installation.
Figures presented Tuesday show that 2.8 million people attended UK-wide live events, well short of the 66 million projected by organisers.
The event was initially unveiled as a one-off festival of UK creativity and innovation.
When Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg referred to it as the “Festival of Brexit”, the name stuck despite its official name “Unboxed”.
Executive director of the project Phil Batty defended the festival to the BBC on Tuesday, calling it “very successful”.
Organisers said the total audience was 18 million, including 13.5 million who watched events online and on television, and 1.7 million who took part in youth activities.
The National Audit Office, the UK’s independent public spending watchdog, announced last month it would compile a report into the costs and benefits of the project, which is due to come out in the next few weeks.
It was ordered after Conservative MP Julian Knight, chair of the UK parliament’s committee for digital, culture, media and sport, condemned the festival as “an unadulterated shambles”.
The festival was launched by then-prime minister Theresa May in 2018 as “a once-in-a-generation celebration” after the UK’s departure from the European Union.
At a presentation in February, chief creative officer Martin Green stressed the festival had “absolutely nothing” to do with Brexit, which is seen increasingly as having damaged the UK economy.
Green is now in charge of the UK’s arrangements to host the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool next year.