Festival of Brexit

The so-called Festival of Brexit was a national celebration in the United Kingdom first annnounced in 2018 by the Conservative government following Brexit.[1][2] Rebranded as UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, and with all mention of Brexit removed, it is to take place from March to October 2022, at a reported cost of £120 million.[3][4][5]

UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK
UNBOXED 2022 logo.jpg
UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK logo
BIE-classUnrecognized exposition
NameUNBOXED: Creativity in the UK
MottoCreativity in the UK
CountryUnited Kingdom
Opening1 March 2022
Closure2 October 2022


Under Theresa May, the festival was provisionally named as the "Festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland", and described as a "nationwide festival in celebration of the creativity and innovation of the United Kingdom".[6]

The name "Festival of Brexit" was coined by Jacob Rees-Mogg,[7] and quickly took hold as the popular description of the event. While it was never used as an official name for the event, the name "Festival of Brexit" has stuck, and remains widely used by the press.[1][3][7]

The "Brexit" branding has been rejected by the festival's organizers,[8] with the initiative being temporarily branded as Festival UK* 2022.[1][9] In October 2021, it was announced that the festival had been rebranded as UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK.[10]


The programme was first unveiled in 2018 by then prime minister Theresa May following Brexit, and was subsequently approved by Boris Johnson.[11][12] May stated that the project would “celebrate our nation’s diversity and talent” and conjure the spirit of the 1851 Great Exhibition and 1951 Festival of Britain.[2]

Martin Green CBE head of the organising team

In early 2020 it was announced that Martin Green, who previously organised the opening and closing ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympics and Hull UK City of Culture 2017, had been selected to head the initiative.[3] Dame Vikki Heywood was appointed Chair of the project.[13]

In May 2021 VisitBritain claimed that the festival would help drive the return of international tourism to the UK in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.[14] In June 2021 the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport announced details of a Tourism Recovery Plan to return tourism levels to pre-pandemic levels, highlighting the festival as a major part of this plan, along with other major national events such as the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the 2022 Commonwealth Games.[15][16]


In September 2020 an open call for project applications was issued, with applicants invited to apply to a £3m research and development programme. From this call, thirty teams were to be shortlisted and awarded £100,000 each to further develop their ideas, with a final ten large-scale projects then selected and commissioned.[17] Applicants were expected to "platform emerging talent and underrepresented voices" and include experts from across the core STEAM subjects. Lead bidders were also required to hold experience or the ability to deliver ‘complex, large-scale projects’.[18]

In November 2020 the thirty shortlisted projects were selected from 299 submissions involving almost 3,000 organisations.[19][20] Jamie Oliver, historian David Olusoga and theatre producer Sonia Friedman were involved in the thirty shortlisted teams to take part in the festival, with these teams involving over 500 creatives.[21] The British Film Institute, British Library, Eden Project, Imperial War Museum and the Tate galleries, along with tech firms Siemens and IBM and organisations including The European Space Agency, the British Antarctic Survey and the Canal and River Trust were also cited as participants in the festival.[22]

The thirty shortlisted teams pitched their proposals to a panel in February 2021.[23] The 10 large-scale projects winning projects were announced in March 2021. Each winning project receiving funding, was required to represent the arts, as well as two other STEAM sectors.[24] It was announced that all 20 of the shortlisted projects that were not selected would continue to receive festival support, and that all 30 shortlisted projects would be turned into a publicly accessible resource under a Creative Commons licence.[25]

One of the "growing cubes" to be given to secondary schools in Scotland as part of the Dandelion project.

Some of the projects selected include an educational focus, such as About Us, which is expected to be a poetry anthology and outdoor installation incorporating the work of young people's around the country and working with artists in Caernarfon, Derry, Hull, Luton and Paisley and Dandelion, were "growing cubes" will be distributed to 100 secondary schools in Scotland.[26] Other projects include GALWAD, A multimedia event hosted by the National Theatre Wales in welsh and English discussing the future of the country; SEE MONSTER, and art installation Weston-super-Mare converting a decommissioned North Sea offshore rig into a public viewing platform; StoryTrails, which will use technology from Pokémon Go developer Niantic to tell the story of 15 towns and cities across the UK.[26][27][28]


£120 million of public funds are planned to be spent on the event, with the cost of the project drawing criticism and suggestions that the allocated funds might be put to alternative use. MP Jaime Stone launched a petition to campaign for the festival’s cancellation.[4]

The festival was described in Frieze magazine by Tom Morton as being "The Spectacular Emptiness of Boris Johnson’s ‘Festival of Brexit'... To expect the progressive, internationalist art world to participate in a celebration of Brexit is to fire a volley into the culture war".[29]

The art group Migrants In Culture wrote an open letter to the festival calling it a "Nationalist Exercise" and "Culture Washing". The letter has been signed by over 750 UK artists to date.[30] A number of commentators and public figures praised the initiative. Kenny Farquharson in The Times argued that "[UNBOXED] has…transformed into something that on the face of it seems worthwhile and may yet be something great".[31]

Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian argued that "My hunch is that as a nation we’re going to be rubbishing the festival right up until the day it opens, and will then surprise ourselves by grudgingly quite enjoying it".[32] One Unboxed project, Dreamachine, was indeed praised by a reviewer in The Guardian as "the one good thing to come out of Brexit and worth every penny".[33]

Some Brexit-supporting politicians, including Craig Mackinlay and Marcus Fysh, have expressed dismay at the removal of any mention of Brexit from the festival.[34]

A few months before the event was set to take place, in March 2022, a report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee criticised the event as "vague and shape-shifting" saying that it lacked clear direction and was an "irresponsible use of public money". The report added that the event was confusing and obscure and a "recipe for failure".[35][36]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Young, Angus (2020-01-13). "Brexit festival boss Martin Green wants to create 'joy and hope'". HullLive. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  2. ^ a b "As details of the £120m 'Brexit Festival' emerge, will it inspire the UK, or be the Johnson government's Millennium Dome?". The Art Newspaper - International art news and events. 2021-11-01. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  3. ^ a b c "'Festival of Brexit' to go ahead in 2022". The Week UK. 13 January 2020. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  4. ^ a b "Government urged to cancel Festival of Brexit and use £120 million for COVID-19 recovery". NME. 2021-01-25. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  5. ^ Jones, Branwen (2022-03-30). "A festival once dubbed a celebration of Brexit starts with a new name". WalesOnline. Retrieved 2022-03-31.
  6. ^ "Theresa May announces Festival of Great Britain and NI plan". BBC News. 2018-09-30. Retrieved 2022-03-31.
  7. ^ a b "Analysis: MPs say the festival of Brexit is a waste of money, should we be surprised?". The Independent. 2022-03-16. Retrieved 2022-03-31.
  8. ^ "FAQs". Festival UK* 2022. Archived from the original on 20 August 2021. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  9. ^ Lawrence, Ben (2020-11-26). "A UK festival promoting the arts is a cause for celebration - not cynicism". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  10. ^ tait, simon. "'Platinum' festival gets a name and a shape for the future". artsindustry.co.uk. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  11. ^ "Theresa May announces Festival of Great Britain and NI plan". BBC News. 2018-09-30. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  12. ^ "The country invited to a major celebration of creativity across the UK in 2022". GOV.UK. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  13. ^ "The Guardian view on the 'festival of Brexit': judge it on its results | Editorial". the Guardian. 2021-03-29. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  14. ^ "National tourism agency VisitBritain/VisitEngland sets out priorities to support tourism recover and rebuild". TravelDailyNews International. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  15. ^ Barrett, Christopher (2021-06-10). "Government's new tourism plan to help boost events". Access All Areas. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  16. ^ "PM encourages international tourists ahead of £10m VisitBritain marketing campaign". www.conference-news.co.uk. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  17. ^ "Post-Brexit UK festival chief seeks country's 'brightest talents' amid criticism over £120m cost". The Art Newspaper - International art news and events. 2020-09-09. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  18. ^ Fulcher, Merlin (2021-03-24). "AJ 40 under 40 talent Assemble wins 2022 Brexit bash contest". The Architects’ Journal. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  19. ^ "UK's £120m post-Brexit festival selects teams—including art organisations—for next step of controversial initiative". The Art Newspaper - International art news and events. 2020-11-16. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  20. ^ "30 creative teams awarded up to £100,000 each for Festival UK* 2022 R&D project". GOV.UK. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  21. ^ tait, simon. "Ten picked to create £120m UK-wide festival". artsindustry.co.uk. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  22. ^ "Jamie Oliver and Sonia Friedman to pitch ideas for 'Festival UK 2022'". BBC News. 2020-11-16. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  23. ^ "30 creative teams awarded up to £100,000 each for Festival UK* 2022 R&D project". GOV.UK. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  24. ^ "Ten teams selected for Festival 2022". ArtsProfessional. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  25. ^ Long, Molly (2021-03-24). "Designers announced for 2022 'Festival of Brexit'". Design Week. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  26. ^ a b "UNBOXED 2022 offers innovation - and employment". ArtsProfessional. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  27. ^ "Unboxed: Oil rig in lido to form part of UK-wide arts event". BBC News. 20 October 2021. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  28. ^ Dex, Robert (2021-10-20). "Plans announced for post-Brexit festival of creativity". www.standard.co.uk. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  29. ^ Morton, Tom (2019-11-19). "The Spectacular Emptiness of Boris Johnson's 'Festival of Brexit'". Frieze. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  30. ^ "migrants in culture / F UK 2022". migrantsinculture.com. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  31. ^ Farquharson, Kenny. "Don't be too quick to boo Festival of Brexit". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  32. ^ Hinsliff, Gaby (2020-11-27). "Don't snark – this 'Brexit festival' may turn out to be just the tonic we need". the Guardian. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  33. ^ Jones, Jonathan (2022-05-09). "Dreamachine review – as close to state-funded psychedelic drugs as you can get". the Guardian. Retrieved 2022-05-23.
  34. ^ Simpson, Craig; Hope, Christopher (2021-10-21). "Don't mention the 'B' word: 'Brexit' is taboo at festival to celebrate Britain leaving the EU". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2022-02-25.
  35. ^ Hinton, Megan (16 March 2022). "Govt accused of wasting £120m of taxpayers' money on 'Festival of Brexit'". LBC. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  36. ^ Smyth, Chris (16 March 2022). "Brexit festival 'a vague waste of £120m'". The Times. Retrieved 16 March 2022.

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