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A sponsored ArtsProfessional feature with UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK

What happens when creative minds from different sectors and disciplines come together to imagine and design bold, large-scale events to reach millions of people worldwide? Martin Green reveals what’s in store for 2022.

people looking at an art installation
About Us (visualisation) from 59 Productions, The Poetry Society and Stemettes

In September 2020, we embarked on a quest to answer this question with an open call. We invited UK-based creatives to form new and unexpected partnerships and apply to be part of a paid R&D programme focused on developing ideas for mass participation projects. We received nearly 300 applications from 3,000 professionals from the worlds of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM). 

More than 500 organisations and individuals, including over 100 freelancers, were selected to participate in the R&D - grouped into 30 teams. They encompassed musicians, conservationists, designers and astrophysicists, youth-led and community-focused charities as well as large arts institutions, universities and national museums. 

Over four months, in a purpose-built online creative studio, they questioned and challenged their ideas through a series of curated workshops and talks, working with a group of creative advisors including engineer Roma Agrawal, multidisciplinary artist Nwando Ebizie and mathematician Bobby Seagull. At the end of February this year, the teams pitched their concepts to a selection panel. 10 were chosen to be turned into reality.

Over a year has passed since we first asked creatives what a celebration of creativity in the 21st century could be. Today, we are thrilled to share their answers by announcing UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK.

The greatest showcase of creative ambition in a generation

UNBOXED is an extraordinary series of events, installations and activities aiming to reach millions throughout England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as online. 10 free, large-scale projects will take place from Dover to Inverness and from Omagh to Caernarfon between 1 March and 2 October 2022, alongside globally accessible digital experiences. Crucially, UNBOXED is supported by the four governments of the UK.

In five town and city centres across the UK, audiences will take a thrilling ride through 13.8 billion years of life, the universe and everything in it thanks to cutting-edge projection mapping combined with poetry, science, visual art, live performance and a soundtrack by musician and composer Nitin Sawhney, as part of About Us.

Art and neuroscience will collide in Dreamachine, an artwork (created by Turner Prize-winning architecture practice Assemble and musician and producer Jon Hopkins) that we will experience with our eyes closed, while Green Space Dark Skies will see 20,000 people come together to light up our lands in a celebration of the UK’s great outdoors.

Our Place in Space (visualisation) from Nerve Centre

Our Place in Space will send us on a journey around an epic scale model of the solar system, designed by artist and children’s author Oliver Jeffers with support from leading astrophysicist Stephen Smartt, while in Scotland, Dandelion will demonstrate the power of collective action in the largest ‘grow your own’ initiative of modern times.

Sustainability, diversity and augmented reality

In Weston-Super-Mare, See Monster will see a decommissioned off-shore platform transformed into a vast public installation. It will encourage conversations about sustainability, green energy and regeneration. 

Meanwhile, PoliNations will evoke the spirit of events like Holi and the Notting Hill Carnival through an enchanted forest garden celebrating the diverse global origins of our horticulture and communities. It will transform city centre locations into joyous and immersive spaces to play, connect and rest.

Tour de Moon, a festival of nightlife and countercultures inspired by the moon, will travel in convoy around England with a mission to creatively imagine a better future for and with young people, while StoryTrails will bring together augmented reality, new developments in 3D internet technology and young creatives to shape one of the most ambitious people’s history and archive projects ever undertaken, in partnership with the British Film Institute (BFI) and broadcaster and film-maker David Olusoga.

Finally, GALWAD: a story from our future, a transmedia story set in 2052, will be brought to TV and digital screens and to Merthyr Tydfil, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Swansea through a one-off BBC drama, digital immersive app and live performance. This near-future world will be imagined by communities across Wales working with Hollywood production designer Alex McDowell (Minority Report) and the World Building Institute. 

We only have space here to scratch the surface about everything UNBOXED has planned for 2022. For more information about each of the 10 creative commissions, and to sign up for the latest updates, visit unboxed2022.uk.

The role of collective creativity

Why are we doing this? Because we’re among the many people who firmly believe that, far from being the exclusive preserve of any one discipline or type of person, creativity is our most valuable resource and can make life better and richer for everyone. And that when creative minds work together, we can find innovative solutions to any problem.

Our hope is to fire imaginations, particularly those of children and young people, with wonder and joy. To help make this a reality, UNBOXED will offer a variety of learning and participation opportunities that will reach hundreds of thousands of school children and young people throughout the UK. These will include school poetry and coding competitions and community workshops. 

We’re also creating employment and training opportunities for diverse young creatives. Several hundred people are already working on the 10 commissions (including many freelancers), with more jobs to be created over the coming months.

Our partners are very much part of this journey. Together with the British Council, the BBC and the RSA, we will offer a wide range of channels and opportunities for international audiences to enjoy and engage with the programme.

To the hundreds of creatives of all backgrounds that have been part of our story so far – thank you. Without you, we wouldn’t be here. To all of you encountering UNBOXED for the first time and wondering what to expect – this is an open invitation to find out more about what’s in store and join us for an incredible year of creativity in 2022.

Martin Green CBE is Chief Creative Officer at UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK and Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.


This article, sponsored and contributed by UNBOXED, is part of a series of articles to showcase the value of creativity and what creativity means.

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