Report shows positive impact of Birmingham Festival 23

Evaluation highlights the appetite for arts, culture and entertainment in the city.

Birmingham Festival 23 has released the full evaluation results that demonstrate the positive impact the 10-day free event had on the city. The Festival was created to mark the one-year anniversary of the Commonwealth Games and was a celebration of the wealth of talent and creativity that the city continues to platform, develop and nurture.

Taking place between 28th July and 6th August, the packed programme included 153 individual projects and performances, created by over 800 artists, creatives and performers. 185 organisations took part and over 40 events were created from scratch or performed to audiences for the first time. There were opportunities to re-see 14 creative projects that were first shown during the 2022 Festival, and new partnerships and collaborations were formed for the Twilight Takeover strand of events. In addition to the core team delivering the programme, two Artistic Associates (Elizabeth ‘Zeddie’ Lawal and Mukhtar Dar) led the creation and direction of their own events as well as forming part of the programme decision-making team, ensuring representation and inclusion from Birmingham’s diverse communities.

Independent evaluation team FRY Creative Consulting, sums up the results in its report: “The original aim of Festival 23 and of Birmingham City Council – to have an outdoor, free-to-access festival, created by the people of the city for the people of the city – was successfully achieved. The festival was roundly celebrated as accessible, representative, and celebratory, all while continuing the strong sector development trajectory of the Birmingham 2022 Festival, and platforming an incredibly wide range of emerging and established creative talent, both on and off the stage.”

Over 123,000 people came through the festival site on Centenary Square over the course of 10 days – despite the weather – 46.5 thousand of which were engaged audiences who stayed for an average of three hours, demonstrating a high level of participation. And audiences came back for more, with the average spending 2.2 days enjoying the free entertainment and activities, 36% of whom said they had never attended an outdoor festival before and 52% of whom came from areas of high deprivation. 96% of audiences felt that public spaces like Centenary Square should be used more frequently for cultural events.

A strong partnership with United by 2022, the official legacy charity of Birmingham 2022, saw 74 volunteers from the original Commonwealth Collective work over 1300 hours on site, making an invaluable contribution to the overall success of the Festival with their infectious enthusiasm, energy and warmth.

A huge majority of audience members surveyed described the festival as different to anything they’d experienced before, saying it had helped them feel more connected to the community and a shared culture, and boosted their sense of pride.

Councillor Saima Suleman, Cabinet Member Digital, Culture, Heritage and Tourism at Birmingham City Council added: “The full evaluation results from Festival 23 demonstrate the three-sixty positive impact the free 10-day event had on the city and just how brilliant Birmingham is.

“Over 46,500 audiences engaged with the Festival, with many of them never having attended an event like this before, which highlights the appetite for arts, culture and entertainment in the city. Just like the Commonwealth Games in 2022, Festival 23 celebrated everything that is great about our wonderful city.”

Creative Director of Festival 23, Raidene Carter, said: “We’re delighted to finally have the full results of this year’s one-off festival to share with the city, and everyone involved. Evaluation of this kind takes time, but is so important for the city and cultural sector to keep building on the cultural legacy of the Games, as well as other legacy outcomes, such as volunteering, and health and wellbeing. Now, more than ever, does the city need robust evidence, useful insights and lessons learned to support its future ambitions for staging more large-scale cultural events, and to recognise the individuals and partnerships that need investment to make them happen. A huge thank you and congratulations to everyone who made the Festival happen this year, and especially to the audiences who came out with bags of energy.”

The packed Festival programme catered for all ages and interests, with each day beginning with welcoming participatory activities, including a regular morning slot hosted by Games Mascot Perry, who took on the additional role of supporting community and family engagement in Perry’s Party Picnic. Audiences gathered and occasionally ran for shelter from the unseasonal weather, but spirits would not be dampened as activities continued in surrounding venues including University of Birmingham’s Exchange building, B:Music and the REP. The positive response can only be described as “typically Brum” with tons of pride and at times, stirred emotions.