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Former ‘Festival of Brexit’ kicks off in Wales despite scathing Commons report

Unboxed opened in Wales despite select committee calling it an “irresponsible use of public money"

By Joe Goggins

'About Us' event as part of Unboxed
A Commons select committee slammed the government's £120 million investment in Unboxed. (Photo: Unboxed/Press)

Unboxed, the showcase of Britain’s “unique strengths in creativity and innovation” formerly known as Festival of Brexit, kicked off its Welsh leg yesterday (March 30), despite a scathing report calling it an “irresponsible use of public money.” 

The programme of events, which was commissioned by Theresa May in 2018 whilst she was prime minister, was originally intended to patriotically tout the nation’s creative virtues, in a manner not dissimilar to the 1951 Festival of Britain. Since, fierce criticism has led organisers to shy away from any association with ‘Britishness’ in its branding, but the festival remains highly controversial.

Unboxed was launched in Scotland at the beginning of this month at Paisley Abbey with its first event, ‘About Us’, which features live music and art projections. It’s now moved to Caernarfon Castle in Gwynedd, Wales, per the BBC. The festival has resumed in Wales two weeks to the day since a UK parliamentary committee called the £120 million government investment in the project “an irresponsible use of public money.”

The March 16 report by the Commons culture, media and sport committee warned that it is “far from clear that [Unboxed] will deliver a return on investment”. The committee chair, Julian Knight MP, said in a stinging assessment: “The Unboxed festival acts as a prime illustration of an event with aims that have been vague from the start. That it took three years to come up with a rather nebulous name, which will mean little to the few that are even aware of its existence, does not bode well for its chances of delivering a true lasting legacy.”

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have rejected the report, and per The Art Newspaper, evidence submitted to the select committee was heard before the final ten projects were announced; they are now detailed on the Unboxed website. “The UK has a strong history of hosting incredible international events that deliver huge benefits for the nation, creating jobs and increasing investment in towns and cities across the country,” said a DCMS statement.

The parliamentary constituency within which Caernarfon Castle lies, Arfon, voted to remain in the 2016 referendum on European Union membership by a margin of 64.2% to 35.8%. “Lots have sussed it’s a Brexit thing, and are like, no,” said Sue, a local resident approached by the BBC.

However, a local choir, Côr Dre, defended its decision to perform at ‘About Us’, with secretary Jamie Dawes-Hughes claiming it was “nothing to do with Brexit. It’s about the universe, it’s about all of us. We did have to consider if this is the right thing for the choir, but the choir is there to promote the language, and this is a new piece of music in Welsh, which fits right in with what Côr Dre does.”