A national festival celebrating British creativity that cost taxpayers £120million has attracted 18million spectators since it opened in the spring, but with just 2.8million live events, according to its organisers.
The main figure includes the TV audience for a special edition of the BBC Countryfile program aired last month, which included a 15-minute segment of content created by Unboxed. Countryfile has an average weekly audience of 6 million.
Unboxed, commissioned by Theresa May in 2018 and originally known as the “Brexit festival”, was “a real investment in the taxpayer”, said Phil Batty, its executive director.
In addition to the 2.8 million people who visited free live events, 13.5 million accessed digital content and streamed and 1.7 million took part in learning, volunteering and engagement activities community.
The viewing figures far exceed a report by The House magazine in August which claimed 238,000 people visited Unboxed in its first few months. They are also a far cry from the ambitious 66 million “stretch target” set by the festival’s creative director Martin Green, who left Unboxed last month to host next year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool.
Unboxed did not provide any breakdown for the 10 projects that made up the overall arts and science festival, saying detailed data would be included in a National Audit Office report due out next week.
The spending watchdog is investigating whether the eight-month festival was profitable after a parliamentary committee warned of an “irresponsible use” of public funds.
The NAO said it would report on “the costs and benefits associated with Unboxed; its management as a program, including responsibilities and decision-making processes; and the planning work undertaken, including forecasting the number of visitors. »
Calling on the NAO to investigate, Julian Knight, the Tory MP who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said: “That such an exorbitant amount of public money has been spent on so- saying celebration of creativity that has barely failed to register in the public consciousness raises serious red flags about how the project was handled from conception to delivery.
Batty said key audience data was released ahead of the NAO report because “there’s still misinformation out there.”
He added, “Unboxed has been a real investment for the taxpayer because we’ve had free access to culture in person and online over the eight months of a year where free stuff for people to access and take advantage of it have been really important.
“Underneath, the program has supported thousands of jobs not only in the cultural sector, but also in science, technology, engineering and local communities. So there’s a return on that investment, both in terms of the incredible cultural participation and the social benefits it could bring, and benefits for the places we’ve been and the organizations we’ve invested money in .
Green’s aspiration of 66 million has never been a hard target, Batty said. The aim of the festival was “to create something for the whole of the UK, something that anyone, no matter where they live, could have access to. So we moved away from traditional festival forms of delivery to find a much broader, much broader, much more open form of delivery.
The live program ended the weekend with the closing of See Monster, a public art installation housed on a disused North Sea oil rig relocated to Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and About Us, an immersive light show, at the Tower of London.
The 10 projects, chosen from 300 submitted ideas, were available at 107 locations across the UK during the festival. Six thousand jobs and “paid development opportunities” have been supported by Unboxed. Green described it as “the UK’s largest and most ambitious public creative program to date”.
Free events, installations and digital experiences included an immersive group hallucination triggered by lights, a journey through 13.8 billion years of history from the big bang to the present day told through a light show, a scale version of the solar system as an 8.5 km sculpture. pathway and a city center garden celebrating the diversity of the UK through the lens of plants.
But the project was pursued by the ‘festival of Brexit’ label which sprung up after May commissioned it.
“It’s not a Brexit festival. It’s never been a Brexit festival,” Batty said. “And we had to challenge that a lot over the life of this project, which means it absorbed an unfair proportion of the oxygen around the conversation.
“The conversation when people engaged with the commissions was not about Brexit. It was about science and the planet and what we could do with structures like the gas rigs at the future if we were to find new goals for them.
Stuart Andrew, Minister for Sport, Tourism and Civil Society, said the festival had ‘brought culture to the doorsteps of millions of communities across the UK’ and ‘inspired people who attended events , got involved online or watched on TV”.