Creativity, opportunity, and optimism: how UNBOXED hopes to revitalise the UK
How is UNBOXED - formerly known as Festival UK - aiming to bring creativity and optimism to the forefront in the UK? Before he joins us at City Nation Place UK on November 3, we caught up with Phil Batty, Executive Director of UNBOXED, to understand what the festival hopes to achieve and what the opportunities are for cities, regions, and countries across the UK.
To begin with, can you give a quick overview of what UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK hopes to achieve?
It’s lovely to be speaking to you today! UNBOXED is a groundbreaking celebration of creativity taking place across the UK in 2022, designed to reach millions and bring people together. It’s being produced by some of the brightest minds from across science, technology, engineering, arts and maths (STEAM), and I believe that UNBOXED is one of the UK’s most ambitious showcases of creative collaboration ever staged.
The landmark programme features 10 major and very different creative projects, with hundreds of free events, experiences and activities, both live and online. The project is looking to explore the importance of creativity in generating new ideas and opportunities that shape the ways we work, live and play.
Through a year of unforgettable events, newly formed partnerships and collaborations across the STEAM sectors, the project wants to inspire young people and future generations of creative talent and put creativity at the forefront of policy.
UNBOXED is also creating employment and training opportunities for diverse young creatives. Several hundred people are already working on projects, including almost 100 freelancers, with more jobs to be created over the coming months.
There’s a lot to say about the 10 creative commissions – rather than talking about them all here, you can find out a lot more be visiting unboxed2022.uk.
Why have a festival focused on creativity now?
In short, it’s because wondrous and memorable experiences enrich our lives, ignite joy and spark our imaginations. We know that large participatory experiences are beneficial for social connectivity.
This might be through attraction to a common ground of shared interest, or reflective commemoration or attraction to a concept, or simply for personal pleasure of something different or unusual to collectively do. In doing so, public events represent spaces for people to share important moments in time and collective release.
Cross-sector creative collaboration has the power to inspire and shape new possibilities for how we live our lives. The ethos of UNBOXED is that collective creativity is an exceptionally useful tool when it comes to tackling some of the most pressing global issues facing us today.
I think there’s a real tendency to make assumptions about what sort of people, jobs or career paths are ‘creative’. We know it’s incorrect to believe that people from specific sectors look a certain way, so why are we so quick to assume they might think a certain way too? Creativity can be found in jobs all across the STEAM sector – we all have creativity in us, we just apply and express it in different ways.
What is the impact for cities across the UK?
One of the real advantages of this project in particular is that, unlike with major sporting events or typical festivals, it isn’t wedded to activity only taking place in the UK’s major capitals. UNBOXED has the remit and resources to extend its reach to towns, cities, coastal and rural areas all across the four nations of the UK – along with an extensive digital offering so people can experience the festival regardless of where they live.
Something which stood out for me personally was our commission called Tour de Moon, which is a festival of nightlife and countercultures inspired by the moon, travelling in convoy around England with a mission to creatively imagine a better future for and with young people. Through an open call, bursaries will be awarded across eight programming strands including sport, publishing, filmmaking, music, and debate - that will shape the content of Tour de Moon through unexpected collaborations.
This lines up with a core focus for UNBOXED – it’s not just about the physical activities taking place in 2022, but also developing skills, creating job opportunities, and ensuring that the talent pipeline in the UK remains strong.
Other elements of UNBOXED are created with the specific landscape or geographic features of a town or city taken into consideration. For example, we have a project called Dandelion which is about harvest festivals and growing food in Scotland, a project called Our Place in Space which features a 10 km sculpture trail in Northern Ireland, and a project called GALWAD: A story from our future, which combines people from communities across Wales with a Hollywood narrative designer to create a story set 30 years in the future – and told through a TV drama, a digital immersive app and live performance.
There’s so much more that I could say here, but on this point, I’d rather let the commissions speak for themselves!
Did the pandemic impact the strategy underlying the Festival in anyway?
Everyone working on this project, including the artists, freelancers, and all our partners, have done so throughout the pandemic and the challenges that has brought – particularly the economic challenges to the live events sector. But because of that, there’s a real shared view that now is the best possible time to bring people together again.
From the start, the digital element of UNBOXED was incredibly important, as we wanted people to have a genuinely exciting experience where ever they’re located in the UK. The whole organisation of course kept a close eye on changing regulations and considered adjustments where appropriate. One positive part of UNBOXED happening in 2022 is that, as part of its legacy, the project can hopefully play some small part for contributing to social cohesion and employment growth following such a difficult period.
What does ‘success’ look like for UNBOXED? Do you have any tips for places looking to measure the impact of their own event strategies?
The key goal with the project is to bring people together and showcase creativity to the world. Because of it, UNBOXED will measure its success by the people it reaches and the participants its live events attract. It will of course be putting a lot of emphasis on the success of its ambitious learning and participation programme, and what it’s able to achieve in terms of education impact. I’m also excited to see what sort of life these commissions have after UNBOXED – I expect we’ll see some of them continuing to tour, both domestically and internationally, helping to generate jobs and continue celebrating UK creativity to the wider world.
There are also less tangible KPIs which are just as meaningful. People coming together has a positive effect on mental health and physical wellbeing, and experiencing a moment of collective inspiration can only be a positive thing after so much isolation due to the pandemic.
As part of Hull UK City of Culture 2017, we saw the power of creativity expressed as a year-long programme which engaged 9/10 residents and arguably reignited pride across communities there. UNBOXED has a genuine potential to do this for millions, at a time when it would be most beneficial.
Finally, is there one aspect of the Festival that you’re most excited about?
If it hasn’t already become clear – the scale of UNBOXED means it is an enormous project. Being able to collaborate with so many different types of creatives, from different sectors, come together to create some of these commissions, has been astounding. UNBOXED wouldn’t be possible without the imaginations, generosity and creativity of the hundreds of individuals who are making the programme possible.
Quite honestly, I’m most looking forward to seeing how the public reacts to the 10 commissions and striking up conversations with people I’ve never met before about what their experience with one of the projects was like.
Phil will be joining us at City Nation Place UK on November 3rd to explore the festival in more detail and to provide insights into how you can leverage these opportunities to promote your own city, region, or place. Find out how you can join us in London HERE.
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