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Milton Keynes International Festival

  • Date: 19 May 2011
  • Artform: Combined arts
  • Area: South East
Two acrobats swing on top of poles Graeae and Strange Fruit: Against The Tide, Milton Keynes International Festival 2010, Shaun Armstrong

Milton Keynes International Festival transformed the city during 10 extraordinary days of world-class arts events that reached over 90,000 people, following Arts Council England intervention.

The festival was about raising the artistic ambition of Milton Keynes to encourage more people to discover that the arts are for them, show the city in a new light and support the visitor economy.

It presented UK premieres of international work, featured nationally significant companies, commissioned new work and supported emerging local companies and artists. A packed programme took in large-scale family events, concerts, comedy, cabaret, theatre, dance and music. Installations in temporary spaces and unusual locations drew inspiration from the city's architectural landscape.

Providing leadership

'The range of arts facilities and organisations in Milton Keynes is limited for such a fast growing city,' explains Ben Lane, Arts Council England, 'and the number of people taking part in the arts is lower than we would expect.'

'So we decided to invest in the city and invited its two major arts organisations - The Stables and Milton Keynes Gallery - to come up with ideas. They suggested piloting an arts festival and we brought potential partners together to make it happen.'

'We even accompanied civic leaders on a visit to France to see The Magical Menagerie, created by François Delarozière and produced by Artichoke. This astonishing interactive artwork became one of the centre pieces of the festival, which helped generate an impressive amount of national media coverage.'

Artichoke's partners Sky Arts sponsored The Magical Menagerie and became the national media partner for the festival as a whole. It made a documentary about the festival, broadcast throughout the run up to and during the festival, significantly increasing its profile.

Monica Ferguson, Festival Director and Chief Executive of The Stables says: 'The Arts Council played a pivotal role. The festival wouldn't have happened without its intervention.'

Brokering new relationships

Our brokering role also proved pivotal: 'The Arts Council got the right people round the table to get the right sort of project for Milton Keynes,' says Monica. 'It put in an enormous amount of time and hand-held me through the process of complex partnership discussions.'

Milton Keynes Council backing was crucial to the success of the festival. Yet The Stables, which produced it, had never really engaged with Milton Keynes Council before.

We brokered new relationships between The Stables and Milton Keynes Council, Milton Keynes Partnership, Milton Keynes Economy & Learning Partnership and a range of other organisations. 'We opened doors for The Stables that hadn't been open to them before', says Ben.

Monica adds: 'The investment and commitment from the Arts Council enabled discussions with Milton Keynes Council and Milton Keynes Partnership at the highest executive and political level, which levered in support from them.'

'A spectacular 10 days of inspiring and stimulating arts festivities,' is how David Hill, Chief Executive of Milton Keynes Council described the festival. '[The Stables] have demonstrated how Milton Keynes can host a programme of international events and how by being ambitious, we can achieve!'

The Arts Council has committed funding for 2012 and we're now working with Milton Keynes Council to find ways to sustain the event in the future as an ongoing biennial festival.

Engaging more people in great art

  • the festival attracted 90,800 over the 10 days
  • it reached new audiences and local people
  • hundreds of volunteers clocked up 2,500 hours
  • people had a great time - over 97 per cent of people surveyed said they would come again and 96 per cent would recommend it to their friends or family
  • audiences at The Stables have increased since

Boosting the economy

Our £562,000 investment brought in funding, goods and services from other public bodies, businesses, trusts and foundations. It helped deliver a festival turnover of more than £1.8 million, which generated over £4.5 million of economic benefit to the city.

Almost 72% of people surveyed said attending the festival was their main reason for visiting Milton Keynes. Some 500 hotel rooms were booked by visiting artists and production crews alone.

The impact of the festival on the visitor economy was obvious to partners. Colin Fox, Chief Executive of Milton Keynes Economy & Learning Partnership observed: 'It is clear to me that the city attracted new visitors and probably provided a different perspective on the city for those who may have been sceptics.'

Changing perceptions

Coming to the festival significantly improved people's perception of Milton Keynes, added to their sense of pride for the city and encouraged a sense of community.

'I felt such a powerful sense of community and collective pleasure and expectation', says Francesca Skelton, Trustee, Milton Keynes Community Foundation. '[The Festival] certainly had a big impact, taking Milton Keynes to a new level of ambition and experience.'