An epic scale model of the solar system and an “almost indescribable” artwork that is seen with closed eyes are included in a highly ambitious programme of live and digital events in UK towns and cities next year.
Unboxed: Creativity in the UK – formerly known as Festival 2022 and derided by some as a “festival of Brexit” – draws on arts, science, engineering, technology and maths in a government-backed £120m celebration of ingenuity.
Ten projects selected from nearly 300 submitted ideas form a “once-in-a-lifetime” extravaganza, according to Martin Green, Unboxed’s chief creative officer, who was the head of ceremonies for the 2012 London Olympics.
He said it was the UK’s “biggest and most ambitious public creative programme to date. Unboxed represents an unprecedented and timely opportunity for people to come together across the UK and beyond and take part in awe-inspiring projects that speak to who we are and explore the ideas that will define our futures.”
The festival was commissioned in 2018 under Theresa May’s premiership. It has been endorsed and funded by Boris Johnson’s government and the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
Free events will take place “from the Outer Hebrides to Dover, and from Omagh to Swansea, right across the UK” between March and October next year, said Green. Thousands of schoolchildren will take part in competitions and educational programmes, and hundreds of jobs and “opportunities for emerging talent” will be created.
“The future of creativity is about the combination of science, tech, engineering, arts and maths. Frankly, a lot of kids have been doing it already, it’s only the grownups that put walls around it,” Green added.
Unboxed will start with a journey through 13.8bn years of history, from the big bang to the present day. About Us, which begins in Paisley on 1 March before moving on to other towns and cities, incorporates live performance, multimedia installations, animation, poetry and music.
Another project, Our Place in Space, is a scale model of the solar system that combines 10km sculpture trails in Northern Ireland and Cambridge with an interactive augmented reality app.
Dandelion reimagines the traditional harvest festival for the 21st century, with miniature vertical farms in light cubes placed in urban and rural locations across Scotland. PoliNations is a pop-up forest of real and fabricated trees in the centre of Birmingham celebrating the multicultural origins of the UK’s people and plants.
Dreamachine is an immersive environment of light and sound creating vibrant imagery and kaleidoscopic patterns behind closed eyes. “People that have experienced the prototype have said how extraordinary and almost indescribable it is,” Green said.
Twenty thousand people will help create Green Space Dark Skies, a chain of lights across national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. See Monster is a decommissioned North Sea offshore platform transformed into a public art installation in Weston-super-Mare that celebrates British weather and the repurposing of redundant structures.
Galwad, meaning “call” in Welsh, combines television drama, live performance and an immersive app to tell a story set 30 years in the future. Augmented reality and 3D technology will be used to bring to life stories of the past and present in StoryTrails.
Tour de Moon is a “cosmic night-time adventure … an after-party of immersive experiences, new technologies and science innovation”, according to its director, Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stepanian.
Green said Johnson had been briefed on the designs. “The project is supported and funded by all four governments of the UK, not an easy feat these days. But once they saw what we were trying to do, they absolutely all bought into it.”
Dame Vikki Heywood, the chair of the Unboxed board, said: “The programme will support economic recovery in the UK by reanimating towns and cities and expanding our connectivity through new online communities. As the programme unfolds, it will both entertain us and inspire us to imagine what the future might hold.”